I managed to avoid receiving unsolicited advice through most of my pregnancy, but now that it’s coming, it’s coming in droves. If you’re like me, far enough along that it’s too obvious to hide, you’re probably in the same boat. And while I don’t want to join the hordes of advice-givers, here’s the one thing I learned that, in retrospect, I realize kept me sane for most of my pregnancy: Delay announcing your pregnancy to a wide audience as long as you can.
This piece of advice might be coming too late if you’re as far along as I am (around 7 months), but for those earlier in pregnancy, heed my words! It’s common to wait 12 weeks to start announcing your pregnancy, but might I suggest holding out a bit longer? While I was very excited to find out I was pregnant, instinctively I knew that once I started telling people, I was going to get more information than I was ready to absorb. It also felt special to keep the news between my husband and myself for a while, allowing us to start dreaming about this new stage in our lives. You and your partner will be the only ones responsible for making decisions about your baby, so it’s good practice to hold and protect that space between the two of you, no matter how much you hear and read from others.
Instead of rushing to tell everyone in the world at 12 weeks, I started to make the announcement carefully, one by one, to family and close friends I saw in person. This one-by-one process made the experience of sharing the news both meaningful and manageable. Sometime between 4 and 5 months I began to feel more comfortable telling more people. I sent an email announcement to a select group of friends who I don’t often see in person, and I asked that they keep the news to themselves.
I vowed to keep the news off Facebook for as long as I could hold out. I have over 900 Facebook friends, many of whom are professional acquaintances, and this just seemed like the widest possible audience. Even so, many of my Facebook friends are also real-life friends and family who I don’t see often and only keep in touch with over Facebook. Sometime after 5 months I decided to spill the beans on Facebook. People were congratulatory and supportive, and amazingly, advice did not start pouring in.
Friends with kids would ask, “Are you getting too much advice yet?” It wasn’t happening. I wondered what all this mysterious, unsolicited advice was going to be, anyway. Secret tricks, magical solutions to problems I was not yet aware of?
The deluge of advice finally arrived in a way I should have been able to anticipate: I asked for advice. Specifically, I was looking for local hospital recommendations because I had to switch practices. First I posted the question to Facebook, addressing my local friends. Many of the responses were exactly to the point: I liked this hospital, here’s why. A few helpful sentences. That was all I needed.
I simultaneously posted the question to a neighborhood parent list serv. Perhaps that group of responders were just more intensely passionate about their experiences, but I got some very long, detailed responses from both friends and strangers. While many responses were helpful and to the point, others diverged into other random pieces of advice. I became somewhat indignant as the barrage of emails increased. Some of the advice felt pushy, too personal, even patronizing. “Make sure you hire a doula.” (I already have one!) “Make sure you do your research.” (I’m a grown woman!) “Make sure to compare all the C-section rates.” (I’m not an idiot!) Finally, I understood what everyone had warned me about. I had done such a good job avoiding getting advice, but now I had opened up a can of worms.
I began to wonder: What is it about pregnancy and parenthood that make people so intense about giving advice? I found the answer in a surprising source. One night my husband and I were watching a nature show. A first-time mama elephant was hanging out with her baby, who proceeded to fall into a relatively deep swamp and get stuck. The baby struggled and the mom tried every which way to get the baby out to no avail. A few minutes later, baby still stuck, its grandma appeared, knocked the mom out of the way (by the butt, no less!), and deftly boosted the baby out in one swift motion. I had an epiphany: The desire to offer parenting advice is based in animal instinct, in our species’ deepest drive for survival. That grandma elephant knew how to get the baby out of the mud, and she wasn’t going to watch it sink.
Perhaps as humans we’ve taken that instinct much too far, but we do mean well. So while you can delay receiving advice as long as possible, eventually, it will come. And so I’m told, it gets even more intense once the baby is out in the world. That precious, vulnerable creature will become everyone’s concern, whether we like it or not. And while our instinct will be to tune out the noise (and sometimes we should because, yes, we can handle this!), we can remind ourselves that our fellow humans are just trying to help… for the sake of the species. Their advice may not always be correct, but just like us, they are trying to make sure that baby doesn’t sink.