As I approach my final days of being two people, I thought it might be useful to share the words and actions that were most helpful and comforting to me during this time. Even if you never plan to have your own children, chances are you will be called upon to support a friend or a family member who does. Obviously, this is my list, and it doesn’t apply to every woman on earth (some women might want to hear your most horrific birth stories — I don’t), but hopefully this offers someplace to start, especially when it comes to people with whom you’re not particularly close.
Things that helped:
- Making things feel as normal as possible: I really appreciated people’s thoughtful attempts to make life feel normal and not all about the baby. For example, my husband would sometimes make me a mocktail at the end of a long day. Even though it was non-alcoholic, it felt special and relaxing, and helped me to unwind almost as much as the spiked version. I also appreciated when friends would ask about something other than my pregnancy in conversation. It reminded me that they still considered me the same complete person I always was, and didn’t identify me solely as a mom-to-be.
- Questions rather than assumptions: I much prefer the questions “Can I help you with that?”, “Would you like to sit down?” or “How do you feel about sushi?” to the statements “Here, let me take that,” “You must want to sit down,” or “I vetoed sushi for lunch, since I know you can’t eat it.” Everyone’s pregnancy is different — I ate sushi and pursued construction projects throughout mine — and questions allowed me to continue living the way I wanted, rather than pigeonholing me into someone else’s perception of how a pregnant woman should act.
- Being understanding/forgiving when I lost my mind.: I was lucky to not have any truly incapacitating symptoms during my pregnancy, but there were still many days when I just wasn’t firing on all cylinders. Not getting enough food, sleep, or oxygen wreaked serious havoc on my brainpower. I was slower to complete projects and I made more mistakes. I missed appointments and forgot people’s birthdays, despite having a detailed organization system in place. Sometimes it would say 1pm on the calendar but my brain would read it as 2pm. It drove me crazy to lose so much control over my mental faculties, so I am deeply grateful to anyone who removed extra tasks/chores/worries from my list, gave me gentle reminders, or assured me it was okay when I totally blew it.
- Checking in: it was nice to have folks check in now and again, especially after I stopped working and didn’t have much daily interaction outside my own house. Just a quick call to see how I was feeling was always appreciated, as were gentle reminders that people were available to talk/answer questions if I needed it. I felt reassured and not alone — like if things got rough, help would be on the way. Knowing that safety net was there was a big comfort.
Things that didn’t help:
- Defining me by my “condition”: some women like to be fawned over during big life events. I am not one of those women. I do not like being called out simply for fulfilling some heteronormative feminine role (you’d never see me in anything that says “bride” in rhinestones, for example). It makes me feel like a sideshow, not a person. I was therefore mortified when, walking through a company function, a co-worker shouted, “Look out! Pregnant lady coming through!”, as though I were something so weird it warranted everyone’s immediate attention. I felt similarly dehumanized when referred to as “Preggers” or “Preggo” instead of my name.
- Comments about my size: I heard it all, from, “Only six months? That must be a big baby!” to, “You’re so lucky. You don’t even look pregnant!” I didn’t like any of it. I had a really hard time adjusting to all of the physical changes my body went through, while at the same time I worried about keeping my weight gain within the ten-pound range the doctors suggested. Comments about my size from non-involved parties only served to heighten the stress.
- War stories: I’ve done the reading, watched the videos, and gone to the classes. I’m fully aware of the horrors that await me before, during, and after childbirth. It requires daily effort to remain calm and optimistic about delivering and then raising a child. Rather than making me feel like part of the “club,” hearing stories about awful labors, babies who don’t sleep, and misshapen breasts just brings all my fears to the surface. War stories are meant to be shared between soldiers after the war is over. They don’t work as part of the recruitment speech.
- Unsolicited advice: when it comes to your first kid, everyone’s an expert. I’ve been given conflicting instructions regarding exercise, breastfeeding, discipline, pacifiers, sleep training, and just about every other topic you can think of. Hearing so many different opinions just made decisions more confusing and forced me to pretend I was on board with a lot of weird stuff (“Never wear a bra again after you give birth. It causes cancer.”) just to avoid an argument. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t given some extremely helpful information (I was), it’s just that it was information I had asked for, from a person I trust, or it was a source that someone had shared for me to explore on my own. For example, three different people thought I might like the book, Bringing Up Bebe, but none of them told me I had to read it, or pressed me about it later.
None of what I’ve just laid out should be taken as a universal proscription, but it can help to remember that your pregnant friend or relative is the same woman she’s always been. If you treat her that way, giving her just a little extra slack during this transitional and sometimes unpleasant period, it’s hard to go wrong.
Thank you to everyone who has seen me through this ordeal. I really and truly appreciate the love and support I have received throughout. You make me feel like an extremely fortunate woman.