Photo: iStock Photo
For the most part, sharing the news of my first pregnancy has been a joyful experience—our parents cried, our siblings squealed and our friends with kids welcomed us to the club (and generously offered hand-me-downs). However, there have been a few zingers, too:
“At least you waited until your 30s to ruin your life!”
“Get ready to pee your pants every time you laugh!”
Or, my favourite:
“Are you sure you want to bring a child into this uncertain world?”
(Damn, why didn’t I think about that when I was tracking my period and peeing on ovulation sticks for all those months?)
I know that starting a family isn’t all new-baby smells and morning cuddles in a fluffy white bed. I’ve seen the toddler meltdowns at Superstore. I’ve imagined the postpartum body woes. I’ve read the tell-it-like-it-is mommy blogs. So, when I share my pregnancy news (or you notice my rapidly growing belly), I don’t need anyone to remind me of these things. Please let me live in my (not-yet-sleep-deprived) bubble for the next few months, where I get to fondly rub my tummy and dream about the little person inside.
It’s not like I expect every person to feign excitement and act over the moon about my news. But, when everyone from your boss to the barista at Starbucks feels inclined to comment on your pregnancy, can we at least return to Kindergarten 101: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all? If you’re in the same boat as me, here are some ways to cope when people are less than enthusiastic about your burgeoning belly.
Take a deep breath People’s unexpected reactions can catch you off guard, and it’s easy to get defensive. While you have every right to feel annoyed, angry or hurt, it’s not always helpful to act on these emotions right away. Take a deep breath and acknowledge what you’re feeling (to yourself, that is—the cashier at Shoppers might be a little stunned if you suddenly announce you’re pissed off. Plus, research shows that naming your emotion in your head can actually help it fade away). Once you’re feeling Zen, you can steer the conversation in a better direction. Is someone warning you about those inevitable sleepless nights? Try humour (“Perfect, I’ve been needing a little help staying up past 9 p.m.!), casual positivity (“I’m hoping for the best!”), or curiosity (“How’d you handle that?”)—you’ll make the person feel good about being an “expert” and, who knows, you might learn some something.
Put yourself in their shoes (and remember, it’s probably not about you) People’s negative reactions usually have less to do with you and more to do with what’s going on with them. It can be difficult to see the shininess of someone’s pregnancy announcement if you’re in the throngs of sleep training, or if you’ve just cleaned up your third poop explosion of the day. And it’s important to be sensitive when sharing pregnancy news with those battling with the heartache of infertility. (I want to give a quick shout-out to the women in my life who fall into this category and who’ve been genuinely warm and excited when I’ve shared my news. In return, I promise not to take over our relationship with incessant chatter about my pregnancy symptoms or which stroller to choose.)
So, next time you’re questioned about your decision to become a parent or given an ominous prediction about your boobs, try asking yourself: “Why might this person feel the way they do? What are they dealing with that I might not see?” Putting yourself in the person’s shoes can help you avoid an unnecessary confrontation (because that’s just drama you and your baby don’t need). With any luck, your empathy will rub off on them.
Give them a chance Everyone puts their foot in their mouth from time to time, so try to cut people some slack and give them an opportunity to apologize—or at least backtrack. One of my mom-friends (of three, I might add, so she definitely has some clout) immediately made it clear when I shared my news that parenthood isn’t all that Instagram makes it out to be (“The first three months suck the life out of you!”). But, as my pregnancy progresses, she consistently checks in and is always there when I go to her for advice (like the time I texted from the hospital lab with my head between my legs: Did you also feel like passing out at your gestational diabetes test?!?!). For me, the positives outweigh the negatives—and I certainly know who I’ll be able vent to (without judgment) about my parenting struggles in the future.
Assert yourself If a negative reaction is really sitting with you (like that Teen Burger your baby had you craving all week), it might be helpful to address your feelings with the person. A friend of mine was hurt by the lukewarm reaction she received from her parents when she told them she was expecting. When she finally worked up the courage to talk to them (she’s not from a super open family), she learned they didn’t mean to be cold, they were just worried about the timing (she’d just started a master’s degree and had recently been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder). She says a candid conversation helped them set up a plan for how her parents could support her during and after her pregnancy, and that made them all feel better.
If you want to be more assertive, explain how the person’s words or response made you feel, rather than pointing the finger at what he or she did wrong (which usually causes defensiveness). Even so, people aren’t always receptive to this type of feedback, and be prepared for that. Take heart in the fact that you’ve gotten things off your chest, spoken your truth and tried to make amends.
Take space and surround yourself with support Remember that for every negative reaction, there will probably be at least a dozen happy gasps and hugs. Try to focus on these precious moments instead of the ones that leave you fuming. But, if someone is incessantly negative about your pregnancy or relentlessly offers unsolicited advice (and maybe you’ve tried talking to them and it hasn’t helped), you can choose to take space from that person. Instead, surround yourself with people who make you feel good. In doing so, you’re making an important decision for your health (research suggests social support during pregnancy is linked to better mental health and can lower one’s risk of postpartum depression).
A friend recently shared her pregnancy news with me. After expressing my excitement and joy for her, I asked her how, at six weeks along, she was feeling. “Great!” she said. A dozen responses went through my seven-months-pregnant veteran mind: Get ready for the nausea! Pelvic pain! Mom guilt! (because, yes, it’s started already).
Instead, I took a breath, told her how wonderful that was, and asked if she’d picked out any baby names.
Amy Green is a doctoral candidate in counselling psychology at the University of Calgary. Her work focuses on women’s holistic wellbeing in areas such as body image, motherhood, and prenatal and postnatal mental health.