You’re at work. A colleague from another office arrives. You haven’t seen her in a while. She was quite slim last time you met, but seems to have gained a few kilos. Actually… now that you look at her closely… is that a BUMP under her dress?! Oh boy! She might be PREGNANT! You’d better find out right away…
You: Oh, wow! You’re having another baby?!
You: Go on, you can tell me! *meaningful glance at abdomen*
Her: No, really. I just had a big breakfast.
You: Oh god. Oh no. I’m so sorry. How embarrassing, I’m always putting my foot in my mouth…
Her: *spends 15 minutes detailing her 3kg weight gain, apologising for the abdominal separation she hasn’t managed to correct since her last pregnancy, generally body-shaming herself and trying to make YOU feel better*
In one more demonstration of how women’s bodies are apparently up for scrutiny ALL the time, yesterday I experienced my sixth variation in as many months of this excruciating exchange. I’m starting to feel like Jennifer Aniston with all the attention apparently devoted to my mid-section. Spoiler: I’m not pregnant, neither is she.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love a preggy belly as much as the next person, and will leap at any opportunity to discuss pregnancy, birth and babies with an expectant mama, but here’s the thing: unless she’s actually giving birth right in front of me, I wait for her to bring up the topic. And even then, I act surprised. Here’s a bunch of reasons why.
- She might not be pregnant. Duh. And if she’s NOT pregnant, she’s probably going to interpret your comment as an observation about how fat she’s getting. And you know how much most ladies love to be reminded of something like THAT. (I’m typing this between sets of shame-induced crunches and self-loathing planks right now, in case you’re wondering).
- She might not be pregnant, but might desperately want to be pregnant. Perhaps she’s been trying to conceive for months, even years. She might be on some godawful medication to boost ovulation in preparation for IVF, a rotten side effect of which is horrendous abdominal bloating. So, not only is she wishing and praying to conceive, she’s also feeling miserable, wearing clothes that are suddenly uncomfortably tight and probably not loving her body in many ways at all right now. In you swing with your one-two punch: She looks pregnant (ouch), and she’s reminded that she’s not (double-ouch).
- She might be pregnant, but not ready to reveal this fact. I know everyone loves to have the scoop with juicy news like this, but is your thrill at potentially being the first to know really more important than another person’s privacy? Most women don’t reveal their pregnancies until they’re safely past the first trimester. Sometimes their bodies betray them earlier (especially if their tummies have already been stretched by a previous pregnancy). Is it that difficult just to wait a bit longer and find out on her terms?
- She might be pregnant, but not happy about it. Maybe she’s reeling from news of an unexpected pregnancy and desperately trying to plan what she’s going to do. Maybe she’s already decided to terminate, or carry to term and adopt, or is still figuring out a way that she’s going to care for this surprise baby as a single mother, a mother with too many kids already, a mother in an abusive relationship, a rape victim, a mother with a terminal illness, or any other grim circumstance you can imagine. Whatever the situation, is it likely she’d want to discuss it with her barista, school acquaintance or work colleague? Probably not, hey.
- She might be pregnant, but know she’s going to lose her baby. It’s awful. It happens. I’m incredibly fortunate not to have had it happen to me, but it’s happened to people I care about and it’s one of the most painful things I can imagine. Not all pregnancies end in a healthy, whole baby, and thanks to modern scanning methods major birth defects or foetal non-viability can be detected in utero. Sometimes the baby’s heartbeat just stops without anyone knowing why. Then the devastated mother has to remain visibly pregnant for a period of time, knowing she won’t have a baby to take home at the end of it all. Is she up for a chat about that when she musters the strength to venture out of the house? I would imagine not.
- She might have recently had her baby. The postpartum body is an amazing thing. It lactates, it shrinks in size, it releases magical bonding hormones, it provides a handy tummy-shelf for resting sleeping babies or cups of tea on. However, to the untrained eye it looks very similar to the six-month-pregnant body, unless its owner is Miranda Kerr. Think carefully now. Use your powers of observation. Is this ‘pregnant’ lady holding a baby or pushing a pram? If so, under no circumstances ask her if she’s expecting another one already. She’s not. It’s not what she needs to hear.
- She might have recently given birth, but have no baby. Maybe her baby was premature, or very sick, and needs to spend weeks or months in hospital. Maybe, God forbid, her baby died at birth. These are awful, tragic things, but they happen. If life was in any way fair, mothers under these circumstances would be visited by a fairy who magically replaced their post-partum bodies with their pre-baby bodies, so at least they wouldn’t have to go about their business with a constant reminder that their bellies had recently housed someone they now can’t hold in their arms. But life’s not fair, to put it simply. Be kind.
Is it ever OK to comment on someone’s pregnancy on sight? I mean, we do want to celebrate women and their amazing bodies that create people from scratch, right? I suppose if two or more of the following criteria are met you’d probably be on safe ground;
- She’s got a huge tummy. Not a ‘maybe’ tummy. A ‘basketball up the shirt’ tummy.
- She’s rubbing her huge tummy, and smiling a dreamy smile. Even then, be careful. She might just be thinking about how awesome that big breakfast was.
- She’s wearing a cute maternity t-shirt with a slogan like ‘DOES THIS BABY MAKE MY BELLY LOOK BIG?’. That’s a green light for baby talk.
- She’s shopping for baby items, holding little outfits up to her tummy. Again, green light.
- She is actually giving birth right in front of you. (Very obvious green light, although it would probably be more appropriate to render aid than start chit-chat, just to be clear).
The ironic thing is, most pregnant women I’ve known are thinking about their pregnancy so constantly that it’s not possible for them to go five minutes without discussing it. So if you’re in any doubt, all you need to do is wait patiently and all will be revealed. If nothing is revealed – maybe there’s nothing to reveal. Meanwhile, the next time someone congratulates me on my non-existent third pregnancy, I’m going to smile politely and thank them. After all, in a roundabout way they’ve just compared me to Jennifer Aniston. Right?