As children, we are taught to chew with our mouths closed, keep our elbows off the table, and follow all requests with a heartfelt “please.” But rarely are we taught proper protocol for handling the social blunders that inevitably surround pregnancy. In an effort to prevent any manners mishaps, here are a few tips to help guide you through the uncharted—and at times uncomfortable—waters of expectant etiquette.
Rubbed the wrong way
The moment you begin to show, it may seem as though everyone—from friends and family to office mates to strangers on the subway—suddenly has the undeniable urge to reach out and touch that blessed bump. While some women welcome the personal attention, others avoid it vehemently, which can be difficult to do without running the risk of offending someone.
“Before becoming pregnant for the first time with my daughter, I thought I would love the attention, but by 36 weeks, I couldn’t stand the thought of one more person reaching out to pat me,” says Lacey Vickers of Jackson, Mississippi.
Whatever your belly touching preference, remember that you are under no obligation to tolerate unsolicited interest. You’re not a pregnancy petting zoo—you have the rightto refuse belly access even to the most meaningful of well-wishers. The tricky part is learning to do so without biting the hand that pets you.
The conflict-free solution to those unwanted tummy touches would be to simply grin and bear it, but those that prefer to remain out of reach can take a more confrontational route. When you see an unauthorized hand making its way toward your midsection, take a step back and diffuse what could be an awkward situation with a dose of humor, saying something along the lines of, “Sorry, baby likes her personal space” or “Could I give you a verbal report instead?” Using a joke to make your feelings known will achieve the result you want without hurting any feelings.
Labor horror stories
Veterans of the delivery room love to talk birthing battle scars. Oftentimes it’s their way of reaching out to expectant moms in hopes of helping prepare them for the big day. But when it comes to sharing birth stories, there is such a thing as too much information.
Even the best intentions can lead to a labor saga that leaves a soon-to-be mom shaking in her boots. “I did like to hear stories so I had some idea what to expect,” says Chelsea P. Gladden, co-founder of parenting site BreezyMama.com and mother of five in Los Angeles. “Every once in a while, you get that one person who tells you about some nightmare situation. [Once] at a wedding, a woman I had never met launched into a story about how they had to revive her when her heart stopped—they weren’t sure if she was going to make it. My husband kindly got us out of that conversation. There definitely should be some sensitivity to how much you can freak out a woman who is expecting for the first time.”
The second a conversation takes that unpleasant turn into 48 hours of contracting agony where ice chips are thrown and epidurals aren’t available, swallow the natural instinct to cover your ears or run away. Instead, opt for a firm-but-polite interruption. Stop the person mid-story and say that you’ve heard every experience is different and you’d like to go into it without any expectations.
Are you planning to breastfeed? Are you going natural or getting an epidural? Were you trying to get pregnant? Curiosity runs rampant in pregnancy on-lookers, and while most of the inquiries asked can be easily answered or ignored, there is one question that an expectant mama should never hear: “You’re huge! How much weight have you gained?”
As far as pregnancy etiquette faux pas go, commenting on a mama-to-be’s size takes the cake as the ultimate manner mistake. “Since when is it OK to comment on someone’s physique?” asks Gladden. “How tempting is it to shoot back, ‘At least I’m pregnant—what’s your excuse?’”
Self-deprecating humor works well in these situations (Oh, I have no idea how many pounds I’ve put on—I can’t see the scale over my bump!), although an honest expression of your exasperation is just as appropriate (Gosh, it’s amazing how comfortable our culture has become asking personal questions, isn’t it?).
Two’s company, 14 people in the delivery room is a crowd
Not everyone wants to be seen in her hospital gown and stirrup best, but when there’s an uninvited presence in the delivery room, like a stubborn mother-in-law determined to have a front row seat, how do you ask her to leave without creating family drama?
“The only people I wanted in the delivery room with me were my mom and my husband,” says Gretchen Otano of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “Both our families came to the hospital for the birth, but thankfully, our doctor set a limit for the number of people allowed in the room, so I didn’t have to kick anyone out myself.”
When the doctor can’t act as your delivery room bouncer, don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for the privacy you want directly. You’re the one giving birth, which means you get to call the shots. If later you find a family member felt left out, take her aside and tell her how much it meant to you knowing that she was there supporting you, even though it was from the waiting area.
And if that doesn’t fix things, feel free to blame her exclusion from the delivery room on the contractions, the drugs, the lack of drugs, or the fact that you were busy bringing a new life into the world. If your delivery room crasher can’t appreciate that, you may decide to choose your battles wisely and move on.