Recently I attended a wedding where the bride and groom had assembled a colorful candy bar; glass jars glittered with gum balls, licorice, and Lemonheads. But instead of scooping up Jelly Bellies, the guests’ hands were all over the belly of an expectant mom who was 38 weeks along. I watched her wince as people mauled her midsection and then turned back to their food, drinks, and dancing.
It’s one of the planet’s most predictable phenomena: As soon as you start showing, a swarm of rude people and inappropriate comments descends. It’s as if a baby bump destroys any existing decorum. “For some reason, when you’re pregnant, your body and your decisions become public domain,” says Jodi DeSantiago from Coppell, TX.
Friends, family members, and even strang- ers sometimes just can’t help themselves when they see your growing belly—you are, after all, furthering the species. “Part of it is in our DNA; our biological imperative is so strong,” says Los Angeles–based mom of four and Girlfriends’ Guide author Vicki Iovine. “It’s like when I hear a baby gurgle: I get a rush, I feel happy, I feel that serotonin buzz.”
If the busybodies have you bumming more than buzzing, here’s how not to get stung.
Betsy Lange (not her real name), a stay-at-home mom from St. Clair, MN, was brave enough to get a tattoo on her abdomen before she was pregnant. But braving people’s probing palms once she showed her bump? No way. “They would rub my belly and touch my belly button, and I would just about vomit,” Lange says. “It was like they had grabbed my butt—you just don’t do that.”
Want tummy touches to stop? Gabrielle Brennan, a Sudbury, MA–based mom and founder of gabbybaby.com, which sells talk-back T-shirts for tots, has one solution. “When someone would grab my belly, I’d grab theirs back. They’d get so offended, but what’s the difference?” says Brennan, who launched a line of similar tees for moms in July.
If you’re not the type to retaliate, just speak up, says Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Walnut Creek, CA, who specializes in pregnancy issues. “The simplest thing to say is, ‘I need my private space,’ ” she suggests. “No explanations—change the topic. Women get themselves into trouble when they go on and on.”
Hey, we’ve all heard rumors of the Pregnancy Police, those folks who seem to think it’s a federal offense to snack on a piece of Camembert or sip a glass of wine.
Debunking myths is one of the best ways to handle comments about what you eat and drink, says Jessica Bryan of Twinsburg, OH, a mom of two. “I hated it when people asked ‘Can you really eat that?’ if I was eating Brie,” says Bryan. “I’d say, ‘Well, it’s a misconception that all soft cheese isn’t pasteurized.”
You can also put people politely in their place by subtly suggesting that their beliefs are outdated, suggests New York City psychologist Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “If an older woman is providing advice, it’s sometimes at odds with the practices of the current generation,” she says. “An expectant mom can say, ‘My mother (or grandmother) has said exactly the same thing!’ ”
Measure for measure
When Melissa Sheehy from Maplewood, NJ, was pregnant with her frst child, she was working as a Wall Street analyst. Overjoyed to find a stretchy fabric band that allowed her to wear regular suits, she took advantage of her usual business wardrobe well into her second trimester. “I thought I was looking pretty good until my middle-aged, male ob/gyn took a look at my outft and said, ‘You know, it’s really about time you start wearing maternity clothes.’ ”
Sheehy’s only one of millions who weather comments about their growing waistlines—and it’s not just the “Oh wow, you’re huge!” blurts that can hurt. Women who hear that they look small often begin to worry about their baby’s health. “These statements are really loaded psychologically,” HonosWebb says. Expecting mom DeSantiago says she’s constantly questioned about her seemingly small size. “I started telling people, ‘I’m gaining about a pound per week, which is normal.”
Sheehy’s response to her overbearing ob/gyn? “Not only did I take his advice,” she says, “but I also switched my doctor to a young mother of two in the practice who was much more sensitive to my tender, hormonal feelings.”
The vagina monologues
You’re at a neighbor’s barbecue—fnally able to eat a burger after all that morning sickness—when an acquaintance notices your bump and begins launching into a play-by-play account of her frightening delivery, from mucous plug to placenta. What gives?
“People get rhapsodic and egg each other on; there’s so much delusion and fantasy and they can’t stop,” says author Iovine, who stopped acquaintances from telling scary labor stories as soon as they started while she was pregnant. “I would put my hand up and say, ‘You know what? I prefer not to know. I have to believe every labor is diferent and I’d like to experience my own.’ Or just, ‘Please, you’re scaring me.’ ”
Minding your own P’s and Q’s can help bring some politeness back into the conversation. Brennan suggests saying, “Thank you very much for being so open and willing to share, but I don’t want to hear that right now.”
When push comes to shove
From gender-based comments (“You’re having a boy? Good luck!”), to advice on breastfeeding versus formula, there are hundreds of ways that expecting women encounter poor etiquette. In most situations, you can try to change the topic or simply excuse yourself—being pregnant means lots of bathroom breaks, remember?
And if nothing else, think of these pushy people like tough high-school teachers who help their students later handle college and a job. “This is my pregnancy and I’ll enjoy it the way I want, no matter what others think,” DeSantiago says. “This is just training me for how everyone will tell me how to raise my kid—Public Parenting 101, Session 2.”
— Sarah Tuff, a Vermont-based writer, is the author of the book 101 Best Outdoor Towns, and the proud (and mostly polite) mom of a baby girl, Dillon.