I would not have thought such a guide was necessary. Certain things seem self-evident to me. But now, on my fifth pregnancy, I see that the world apparently needs some guidelines spelled out. There are really just three simple rules to dealing with pregnant women. If there are more, please let me know.
1. NEVER, EVER ask a woman, “Are you pregnant?”
This is the Golden Rule of what should be self-evident etiquette. There are NO EXCEPTIONS. No, no, never, never, no. I don’t care if you are sitting in the waiting area for the labor and delivery room at the hospital. If you’re right and she is pregnant and talking about her pregnancy, a few sentences of polite conversation will reveal it. If you’re wrong, you have accomplished nothing other than making a grown woman cry inside.
I’d like to point out that this rule applies far and (pun intended) wide. I once ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while: her stomach was tremendous and, to my mind, obviously filled with baby. In uncharacteristic restraint, I simply asked “What’s up with you?” rather than commenting on her midsection. And then, she volunteered that it was her baby’s due date that day, we had a great conversation, and that was the end of it. Minefields were avoided.
I cannot stress this enough: YOU NEVER KNOW. You don’t know if someone has some sort of medical problem causing extreme stomach bloating. You don’t know if someone had a late-term miscarriage or abortion but still looks pregnant. You don’t know if someone is one month postpartum. YOU DON’T KNOW. The only way to find out is to wait for her to tell you, and if she wants to, she’ll do it without you asking her.
“I thought you had the baby already!” is also unacceptable. On this front, I volunteer the story of when I had my first son and he was in the NICU. He was indisposed with some antibiotic situation, so I went to the in-hospital breastfeeding class alone. A woman with her newborn in her arms looked at me and said, “I didn’t know they let pregnant women take this class!” I responded by punching her in the face. Not really. But in my mind, it was ugly.
Basically, when in doubt, keep your ever-loving mouth shut.
2. When a woman tells you she is pregnant, THE ONLY CORRECT RESPONSE IS “Congratulations!”
Yes, sure, you can say “B’shaa tova” to an observant Jew, or “Mazel tov!” or even “How are you feeling?” But this is not the time for your color commentary on the size of the woman or the size of her family.
Pregnant women are hormonally-volatile beings. They do not want to hear, “I THOUGHT you were looking kind of big!” or “Really??” (the latter, to a pregnant woman’s ears, sounds like, “Oh…I thought you were just fat!”).
In my case, of course, most people say things at this point like, “You are CRAZY.” Or, “Wow, YOU’RE really brave!” or “Three under three/in diapers–better you than me!” These responses would probably, on the surface, be considered rude, but since I suspect that all of them are correct, I let them slide.
3. If you are seated in a waiting area/subway/bus and you see a pregnant woman, GET UP.
This is one of my favorite parts of being pregnant. The sheer megalomania of the pregnant woman in this sort of situation is SO MUCH FUN. It’s sort of like being the Queen.
Now, there are many who say, “Well, what about rule 1? What if she’s NOT pregnant?” Then the worst case scenario is that you did a nice thing for a random, non-pregnant woman, so good for you. You can offer the seat silently, without saying something like, “Would you like to be seated, pregnant person?”
But in a case where you can see that a woman is pregnant–and, if like me, she is also carrying a baby and/or toddler in her swollen arms–you have got to get your skinny butt out of that chair. Pregnant–let alone pregnant plus baby/toddler–beats rock, paper, AND scissors. GET UP.
If you do not get up, and you run into me in one of those public places, note that I will be following my usual course of action, which you are welcome to try. I approach Lazy Skinny Person and say, with my sweetest smile, “Excuse me, would you mind moving over so that I can sit my big, pregnant and tired self down next to you?”
I have never known this not to get results, usually to the tune of a whole seat. As it should be.