Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

Rebirth Nurse is hosting a the second Rebirth Carnival about "what not to say to a pregnant or laboring woman". There have already been some excellent posts on this topic on other blogs I follow, and I'll be sure to put a link to the carnival once it's published so you can read them too, if you haven't happened by yet.

Since I was venting this story to my mom just last week - more than four years after it happened (again and again), clearly it made an impression on me. I found it infuriating at the time, and it still rankles now.

A little backstory: this only happened when I was pregnant the second time, after my 20-week ultrasound. My first child was a little girl, who was 2 while I was pregnant - she has the appearance of being a very girl-y girl since she wore lots of dresses and hairbows etc. At the ultrasound, I learned that my second child was a boy, so I could finally answer the first question my friends, acquaintances and strangers usually asked: "Do you know what you're having?"

"Yes! A little boy!" I would say.

I cannot tell you how many people then went on & on about how wonderful it was that I would have one child of each gender. And some went even further, "Oh, Daddy must be so happy to have a son!" And way too many people ended with a comment along the mind-boggling lines of this: "So now you can be done! One child of each - that's enough!"

Um, what? Assuming much are we?

Knowing that these people meant well, I said very little about how rude I found these comments. First, because of Assumption #1:
Everyone wants children of both genders.
Is this true in many cases? Surely. But it is it true always? Surely not. For a variety of very personal reasons, from medical to family history, some people may have a preference for one gender or the other.

Some people may in fact be offended that someone would assume that they somehow are experiencing more joy because a child is a boy and not a girl. I would have been overjoyed to have another girl. On some level, I was in fact hoping to have another girl, since I knew we were probably only having two children, and another girl meant my daughter would have a sister. And while I love my two brothers very much, there is no doubt I have much stronger relationships with my sisters. And I experienced a bit of trepidation around having a boy because of personal history. This is not to suggest that I wasn't overjoyed to have a son: I was very, very happy. And I love him very, very much. Because he's my child. Not because he's my son.

By the way, the people who simply commented: "Oh, one of each!" and made no value judgement were fine, in my book. It's the ones who went on & on about how great it was I was pregnant with a boy who I found irritating.

Assumption #2 may be even bigger, and more offensive to some people, the final comment that some people tacked on:
"Two children are enough."
Well, it turns out that two children are enough. For my family. But some people want three children, or four, or more. I come from a family of five children and have heard many, many comments about it directed to my mother, including:

  • What a lovely Catholic family! [We're not Catholic.]
  • Are all those YOURS???
  • Aren't you busy!!!
  • You do know what causes this, right? [wink wink]

    and I'm sure many, many comments she could add. She didn't appreciate them, I know that much!

    It's true that, in America in general, as well as in the area where I live, many families do have two children - that's definitely the norm. But I have a bunch of friends who have three children, and know plenty of families with more. I would never presume to suggest to someone that I knew how many children they were planning/hoping to have in their family!

  • So this isn't an exhaustive list, you'll have to go check out Rebirth Nurse's carnival for more no-no's! If you've heard some good ones, feel free to add them in the comments. It's unbelievable what some people find to be topics of appropriate conversation when they're talking to a pregnant woman!

    Christina @ Birthing Your Baby
    Independent Childbirth Classes for Central Maine
    Mamas & Muffins: New Moms Group

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    5 Comments:

    OpenID womantowomancbe said...

    I didn't get too many of these comments when I was pregnant. Of course, we also didn't find out what we were having until later, which may have had something to do with it. And I guess people realize it's a tad rude after the baby is born to imply to the mom that s/he is the wrong sex. It's rude before the baby is born, but somehow might not seem quite as "bad." Fortunately, most of the people I know have larger families, so they're not going to judge me about having "too many kids." I only have two boys, so I get comments suggesting I should have a girl. My MIL tells me that I should have a girl because she thinks my husband needs a daughter. Oddly enough, my husband didn't want boys and wanted girls before we had any children (but was thrilled when the late u/s we had showed that our first-born was a boy). Now he says, "Why did I want a girl? I don't want any girls -- I want all boys -- a hockey team!" ;-) Of course, if we have any more children, it's not exactly like we can plan the sex anyway, so it's an exercise in futility to want or try for one sex or the other.

    My sisters both had first-born girls (when they wanted boys), then had second-born boys (when they wanted girls). They both wanted a repeat of the sex because they were "used to girls," not because they wanted not to have a boy.

    -Kathy

    August 22, 2009 at 12:29 PM  
    OpenID talkbirth said...

    I have two boys and have gotten quite a few remarks about "trying for a girl." When I was pregnant with the second, my mother in law sent me a pink dress with a note that said "think positive." If it had said, "think pink" I would have been a little less hurt-on-behalf-of-the-new-baby I think. I love having two boys and I think having two of the same gender is better, in its way, than one of each. We plan a third child and if it is a girl, I hope my second son NEVER feels like he was the wrong gender and we had the third baby to "fix" that. My husband and I had lots of talks before trying for a third that we actually wanted a third CHILD and not a girl. We'd love to have a daughter, but we want a third baby, not a specific gender.

    Molly

    August 24, 2009 at 10:00 AM  
    Blogger Sarah H said...

    So true! I have twin boys who are five and now a girl who is one. Sooo many strangers and even friends have said "Oh, you finally got your girl!"

    ....like it was sooo tortorous that I had two boys and then a girl.

    ...and I still think I want one more child, so I get annoyed when people think I absolutely must be done now since I have two boys and a girl.

    August 24, 2009 at 4:00 PM  
    Blogger Amber said...

    AMEN! My sister pointed me towards this post and it's so obnoxious when people assume that I have 4 girls that my husband must somehow be unsatisfied with our family. Having more than 2 children is okay if you have all of one gender though- the question most asked of me (and I'm not pregnant) if I'm going to 'try for a boy for my husband'.

    The worst is when people say things like this IN FRONT OF MY DAUGHTERS!!

    August 28, 2009 at 12:21 PM  
    Blogger Kelly said...

    Okay, you definitely make some valid points. The only thing I would say, is why do you bother be offended by any of it. People come from their own value systems if you will, so they say what they say. They don't do it out of malice or anything, I am sure. I am not trying to be controversial here...so please don't be offended by what I am saying. I just don't think it is worth the energy to be offended by this kind of stuff.

    I have twin boys who are 7, a one-year old boy, and twins on the way. You should hear the comments I get. I could probably list them off, but really, instead of being offended, they are just really cliche, you know what I mean?

    The only thing that has bugged me this pregnancy is the comments I was constantly getting from my perinatologist. He kept making "jokes", that were NOT funny, about my new baby boy's anatomy, if you know what I mean. It was annoying, but I just ignored him and he stopped.

    Anyways, good post...thanks for making me think.

    August 28, 2009 at 1:35 PM  

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