Emily Post and Judith Martin, a.k.a. Miss Manners, those grand dames of etiquette and civility, are fighting a losing battle against the serious decline of manners in western civilization. Now I'm not talking about the horrors of using the wrong fork at dinner, but rather of an appalling lack of common sense and seeming indifference to other people's feelings -- pregnant people in particular. Surprisingly, there is no definitive etiquette guidebook on how to behave towards pregnant women. Although there are a baffling array of etiquette books for funerals, weddings, baby showers, dinner parties, wedding showers and every other conceivable major life event, not to mention how-to books on every obscure subject imaginable.
Go to your local bookstore and you'll find "The Complete Idiot's Guides" on every topic from Scrapbooking to Speaking Yiddish and Saltwater Aquariums. Yet there's no "Complete Cretin's Guide On How Not To Make a Total Ass Out of Yourself Around Pregnant People." Recognizing this information void, I've decided to take it upon myself to compile a short, informal list of pregnancy do's and don'ts for the complete cretin in your life. Feel free to print this out or use as a template for your own personal etiquette guide and distribute to loved ones and not-so-loved ones.
Resist the urge to be a color commentator
As difficult as this may be to grasp, we pregnant women will be able to sleep soundly at night not knowing how gargantuan or how tiny you think we are. If it is considered rude to make a personal remark on someone's size in normal situations, why is it suddenly acceptable when it's applied to pregnant women? How would you like it if I turned around and started commenting on your lard-ass? In my case, strangers and acquaintances alike are constantly telling me how "small I am for a pregnant woman." They are shocked and even concerned when they learn I am eight months pregnant.
It's kind of a backhanded compliment because the remark only serves to provoke anxiety that maybe the baby is freakishly small despite gaining a healthy 26 pounds. Conversely, I've also had people react with horror that the baby is going to be freakishly big because I've gained such a good amount of weight and since I'm carrying small, it must be "all baby." Either way, once the size observation is made, these same people love to hold me hostage with tales of that gargantuan pregnant lady they saw at the supermarket, museum or whatever. They talk about these sightings with the same awe and relish reserved for a Bigfoot encounter or a tall fishing tale of the big one that got away. Gee thanks. Am I supposed to be flattered by this comparison? That's like me coming up to a total stranger and saying, "Wow, you're pretty fat but not as fat as this obese woman I saw in aisle five at the supermarket the other day. Yeah, she was even fatter than you." Think about it.
Keep your hands to yourself
I don't give a flying fig if you think it's good luck to rub a pregnant belly, keep those grubby paws to yourself. And if you absolutely can't resist, for goodness sake, have the courtesy to ask permission before groping. Of course this rule doesn't apply if you're related to me, a close friend, or someone I know in the biblical sense -- and you know who you are. All others must risk being touched back and you'd be surprised at how much you will dislike it. Recently, a guy in my karate class I don't really like grabbed my burgeoning tummy and said smirkingly, "uh oh!" So I calmly grabbed his beer gut and gave his fat an extra squeeze and said, "uh oh!" right back. He flushed and quickly snatched his hand away and slunk off. He got off easy, because if a total stranger touches my belly, things will get coyote ugly pretty quickly and he or she will have to chew his own hand off in order to get away from me.
Don't join the staring squad
I know, I know, I'm pregnant. Get over it. I don't know what the big deal is but I can see you gawking at me. If you have to stare, at least try to be discreet about it and that means no pointing or worse yet, no nudging your friends and having them join the staring squad. I tested for my brown belt in tae kwon do last week and as I walked past a group of seated spectators -- mostly moms watching their children test, I felt every eye burning holes into me. Some were scandalized while others were curious, but all of them just stared at me relentlessly. Most of these spectators didn't stay for the adult test, but the few that remained continued to whisper and nudge and point in my direction. I'm just a pregnant woman, not a carnival sideshow.
Don't offer unsolicited advice
If I want your advice or opinion, I'll ask for it. Otherwise, back off. Resist the urge to play pregnancy police and get it through your head that my pregnancy is a private, not public event. I know a woman who is annoyingly obsessed with my salt intake. She's constantly warning me about the evils of salt, especially in the third trimester. What these evils are isn't clear since even my own doctor has no idea what she's talking about. She even corners my husband and grills him about how much salt I'm eating. I suspect she imagines that pregnant women are like slugs that will bubble up and melt away if you sprinkle salt on them.
As strange as this may seem, hearing your harrowing horror stories of fetal distress, perineal tears, or delivering your baby in your driveway because you couldn't make it to the hospital in time, does nothing to relieve my anxiety over my own impending labor. Call me crazy, but your near-brushes with disaster just aren't reassuring. Even if you wrap up your story with the usual "but in the end it was all worth it and besides, you forget all about it later." I don't doubt that it was worth it, and if you really do forget, how do you always manage to remember to tell me?
Don't ask me how I'm feeling
Gone are the days when people used to ask the perfunctory, "How are you?" without really caring what the answer was. It's an unspoken agreement that the only answer anybody wants to hear is "fine" even if you are not fine. But now that I'm an incubator, the new greeting is "How are you feeling?" And for some strange reason, "fine" just doesn't cut it anymore. When I try to get away with "fine" people just seem sort of disappointed as if they expected more detail. Apparently "fine" is boring and unacceptable. Everyone seems so expectant that I often feel compelled to follow up with, "well, my back hurts sometimes" or "I'm a little tired sometimes." Maybe you're genuinely concerned or interested in me all of a sudden and if that's the case then I'm truly touched. But despite the fact that I'm now pregnant, I'm still me and I'm still capable of talking about other topics like current events or anything else besides my condition.
Look me in the eyes, not in the belly
This also belongs in the category of wanting to be treated as an individual not merely an incubator. Unlike my well-endowed girlfriends, I've never had the experience of having eyes riveted to my chest while being complimented on my lovely eyes, so I was unprepared for all this interest in a protruding body part. But it's truly disconcerting to hold a conversation with someone who is talking to my belly instead of to me. So hey, yoo-hoo, I'm up here!
Don't ask me if the baby is here yet
Does it look like the baby is here yet? I'm obviously still pregnant so your question is completely asinine. Try to hone your powers of observation.
And here are some pregnancy do's that are actually helpful:
Do offer me a chair
It's amazing how the same members of the staring squad become mysteriously oblivious to your presence in a crowded bar, bus, train or waiting room. Be a decent citizen and offer up the chair.
Do let me go to the front of that restroom line
Ladies or gents, if this applies, have some mercy on a poor, pummeled bladder and give a gal a break. If you're concerned enough to glare at me in the Starbuck's line, then please be concerned enough to let me go ahead of you in the bathroom.
Do offer to carry that heavy parcel
It's hard enough to lug my extra girth around, let alone the groceries so any help will be gratefully accepted.
A back rub or foot rub is always appreciated
If you want to score points with that pregnant person in your life, then offer a massage. Chances are, there is some body part that aches and we can't get enough comfort measures.
So that's my short and not-so-sweet pregnancy etiquette guide. It's still a work in progress, but hopefully this will be a somewhat informative public service announcement, even in its crude state. Please let me know if I've overlooked anything, and I'll be happy to add to or amend this work in progress.