Both my sister and I are pregnant at the moment (people always said we were too close) and while there are going to be a lot of differences – Bill has felt nausea for 6 months while only being sick a couple of times, I have felt fine and vomited frequently! So hard, in fact, I have pissed myself on more than one occasion. Bill is a first time mum, I am having my second. Our parenting styles will differ and our births will be different. The one thing that is bonding us though (aside from adorable matching outfits for the upcoming additions) is the shite that people are saying to us. Passing comments from friends, families, and complete strangers, and even the medical professionals who are in charge of our care, are something every pregnant woman has to put up with. (I do want to point out here that I am sure I am guilty of saying stupid stuff – everyone suffers a slip of the tongue and I am not here to have a go if you have said these things in the past. It’s just something to mull over…)
So far I have had to deal with the doctor who performed my two terminations – oh yes, he will be birthing my baby – make jokes about how my illness is not interesting, or telling me I could have chosen a partner who didn’t carry the same genetic malformation as me (maybe they should talk to Tinder about adding that as an option), colleagues tell me that I won’t be able to cope with two, and consultants tell me I’ve put on too much weight (1kg in 7 weeks…come on!!) and I’ve had a complete stranger tell me two is best – to a woman who has been pregnant five times this is always going to touch a nerve. I’ve had people tell me what I should be doing – sitting, standing, not walking, walking, exercising, resting, blah blah blah… And I’m only just showing so I have a feeling that the fun is only just beginning!
I have been attempting to write this piece for a good few weeks now; I have been struggling with tone. Maybe a light-hearted approach to some of the ridiculousness I have encountered – but then that belittles some of the darker themes that crop up. Maybe a full on rant and moan – would I be taken seriously or just cast aside as a totem pole of hormones? Actually, what we say to pregnant women stems from the societal discourse we have built up around women. People feel it is appropriate, their right even, to pass judgement on our sexual history – who is the dad, how often we have done it, how close together we have done it, even by asking the due date someone is essentially enquiring into when the sperm exactly flooded our nethers. People feel it is appropriate to comment on our appearance – too tired, too fat, not fat enough. If you are a regular woman who is not used to being on the front page of Heat, or the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame then suddenly being thrust into this culture while you’re trying to grab a Gregg’s meal deal can be blindsiding and frustrating.
I went into the field and did a bit of research into the things that offend mums-to-be, and I asked a Facebook group of mums. A very specific sub sect of mums from the North East and within hours I had literally hundreds of comments. Nearly 600 in two days. People are nebbing in on pregnant women’s lives and frankly, we’re fed up!
Some are ridiculous but obviously come from a good, albeit misguided, place, ‘Oh you’re massive’ might mean what a lovely big baby you have in there but to a woman (and many of us have) who have had a troubled relationship with food in their lives this is the last thing they want to hear. Also, we’re uncomfortable, our clothes don’t fit, our bodies are changing, we know that our skin is going to stretch beyond recognition, excuse us if we don’t want to be reminded of this on the replacement bus service at 7.45 in the sodding morning.
‘Oh you have such a lovely tiny bump,’ might be meant as a supportive comment but what the woman might be hearing is ‘you’re normally so fat I’m surprised you haven’t turned full whale now you’re pregnant.’ Or to the woman having growth scans because her baby is measuring small do you think she wants to hear she looks tiny?
A lot of the comments were incredibly sexist, some are just astoundingly rude. Let’s share shall we…
- ‘Is it planned?’ ‘Do you know the dad?’
- ‘You’re huge’, ‘must be twins,’ ‘are you sure you aren’t having twins’ ‘what are you having, a litter?’
- ‘Is there even a baby in there?’
- ‘That baby must be massive, you’ll need a section’ – Quick aside, vaginas are designed to birth babies, stomachs were not designed to be cut open. We must stop with the pretence that sections are the easy option. All births are hard in their own way, every birth happens the way it happens for the best of the mother and the child, every woman fears the birth and this is not a helpful thing to say.
- ‘You and your husband could be brother and sister’ – A midwife said this to one woman. Why?!
- ‘Are you going to keep trying until you get a girl?’ or ‘oh another boy, what a shame’ – This is so ridiculous and gets said so often. I have been told frequently that one of each is just lovely, the best combination. My second daughter would have been nearly one now. I would have been incredibly happy with two girls. Why would a mix of genders make the family unit stronger?
- ‘when are you having another?’ SHUT. THE. FUCK. UP. People of the world, you cannot have it both ways. You do not get to judge women for having babies ‘too close’ together, or for not going back to work quick enough, or not going out and getting pissed quick enough and then also be asking her when she is going to reproduce again, Also, if you do not know the woman then you do not know her history, you do not know if that bundle of joy in her arms is a miracle after five rounds of IVF, you do not know if she has a history of miscarriage or whether that baby is adopted, or whether she only ever wanted one.
- ‘not long now’ – I mean if you don’t think 3 months is a long time then super for you.
- ‘what if you have another like your first child?’ – This is just so offensive. The first child in question is just ‘lively’, according to the mam. God forbid she have two children who are headstrong and independent.
- ‘oh that sounds like a dog’s name’
- ‘get your sleep now’ – I’d love to but my legs keep cramping up, I piss three times a night, I have a toddler, I can’t get comfortable because I can’t sleep on my stomach. Do you think if we could sleep we wouldn’t be through choice?!
- ‘you’re piling on the beef now’ – Thanks, hadn’t noticed, oh and WE ARE NOT LIVESTOCK.
- ‘enjoy your lives while you still have one’ – Jesus, if everyone paid attention to shit like this no one would have kids and the human race would die out.
- ‘do you not have a TV?’ – This seems to be the chosen phrase said to women with more than two kids. Like a telly stops people having sex, can you honestly say you’ve never tried finishing in time with the Countdown clock? This also has much more sinister vibes as it boils down to attempting to control a woman’s sexual and reproductive habits.
- ‘you’re lucky you haven’t got an STI, you’ve obviously had unprotected sex’ – WHAT????!!!!!
- ‘Do twins run in the family, no? Ahhhh IVF?’ – So many assumptions, so much lack of understanding of human biology. Also, if it was IVF then that woman might not fancy having that discussion with you strange lady in the street.
- “you’re starving your baby’ – This was said to a woman with a small bump. I would argue that there are three essentials to rearing a baby, feed them, keep them warm, love them. Why would anyone think it’s okay to tell a mum to be she is already failing in one of those areas? It also shows a complete lack of understanding of how the human body works (a common theme in these comments!)
- ‘well I know what you’ve been up to’ – Why is everyone so obsessed with the fact we’ve had sex?
- ‘oh I can guess when your husband’s birthday is’ – Said to a woman whose two children had similar birthdays, again there is a creepy obsession with our bedroom antics.
- ‘you look like a little dumpling’ – Try ‘you look like a fucking warrior queen, I salute you sister’.
- ‘You’re huge – should you be out and about like that? Does your husband know you’re out?’ – This lady was evidently talking a stroll through the 1850s.
- Someone’s Grandma actually said to them ‘you aren’t safe after your scan. You could hit 20 weeks and it could die’ – Every pregnant woman has looked at every statistic, we know the dangers and we are fucking terrified, thanks Grandma
- Or, ‘don’t get too excited or attached, anything can happen’
- One mam of a child with SMA was told, ‘Do you not think it’s a bit irresponsible? You’ve already got enough on your plate and there might be something wrong with this one too.’ – As if a huge difficult conversation hadn’t already taken place between her and her partner, as if she hadn’t factored in how much work two children is compared to one, and who are you to say there is something ‘wrong’ with her oldest?
There were hundreds of other comments, I cannot possibly write them all out.
I want to let you into a few secrets. I actually feel quite privileged to be the one to tell you these little known facts…
- Pregnant women come in a variety of ages.
- Slim women can get pregnant.
- Larger women can get pregnant.
- Pregnant women have different size bumps. (Please stop comparing us.)
- Babies take roughly nine months to bake.
- Pregnant women are well aware that their lives are going to change, pregnant women probs don’t care that much.
- Pregnant women are tired, they know they look tired, they know they will be tired for another few years, pregnant women want you with your 9 hours sleep to suffer a lumpy mattress for the rest of your life.
- Some pregnant women have had fertility issues.
- A significant amount of pregnant women already have a child, or children.
- Pregnant women have probably had sex.
- There is no right or wrong way to carry baby weight and we have little control over it.
- Pregnant women do not want you touching their belly unless they have asked you to.
- Pregnant women who are suffering hyperemesis are suffering from a legitimate, potentially very dangerous condition, do not tell them they are overreacting, do not tell them it’s good for weight loss, do not tell them to eat ginger.
Pregnant women have a lot of the normal everyday stresses to deal with – busy job, social life, exercise regimes, house renovations, holidays to book, body hang-ups, fall outs, family gatherings… all the while being a walking sack of hormones, worrying about a 10 stone mammoth destroying their vagina, booking doctors’ appointments, concentrating so hard on early baby movement that they keep missing their train stop, that they don’t need you adding your neighbour’s horrific labour story to add to the swirling mass of thoughts going on in their heads.
Here are a few ideas for things to actually say to pregnant women…
- ‘you look well’
- ‘that dress/top really suits you, shows off the bump lovely’
- ‘do you know if you’re having a girl or a boy? Not that it wouldn’t be lovely either way!’
- ‘your skin looks great, must be that glow’
- ‘is your little one looking forward to being a big sister/brother?’
- ‘have you had many symptoms?…THEN WHATEVER THE ANSWER… ‘Oh that sounds rubbish’
- ‘having a baby? Nothing better!’
- ‘your hair’s never looked better’
- Or just a simple, ‘hello human woman, how are you today?’