Maggie Baumann, M.A.: What's the worst thing someone said to you when you were pregnant?
It's been a long time since I was pregnant (my kids are 24 and 22), but I have found one thing that has remained a constant for pregnant mothers in my day and pregnant mothers today: People, especially strangers, say the dumbest things to pregnant women -- often with a negative spin, making you feel like your personal space and self-esteem have been invaded.
When you're pregnant, you are often barraged with comments from people who I think mean well, but just go over the line and cross your personal boundaries. In fact, you may have even made these comments to a pregnant woman yourself before. I know I have. Questions such as:
- How much weight have you gained?
- Can I touch your stomach?
- Want to hear my horror story of labor?
I recently read this wonderful book called, "Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?" by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei. Mysko is a body-image expert, and Amadei is a mom and former model who went public with her struggle with bulimia. Their book presents the essentials to loving your body before and after baby, covering such topics as body image during pregnancy, baby-bump expectations, sex after the baby, etc. I was particularly interested in the chapter that discusses setting appropriate boundaries with others when you are pregnant. That's where I stumbled upon how women should deal with irritating comments from people about their pregnant body -- and all that goes with it.
I'd like to summarize the steps they suggested. Here you go -- help dealing with everything from weight-gain guessing to tummy-touching!
There are five key steps to setting boundaries:
1) Decide early on which kinds of boundary-probing questions you're comfortable with, and which you aren't.
Are you comfortable talking about breastfeeding techniques with your hairstylist, or is that a topic best left to family members and close friends? You just never know what kind of advice or information you might receive from a complete stranger, so be ready with a "boundary-safe" concrete answer to questions you feel are intrusive. If something feels over the line, say, "I appreciate your concern, but I am not comfortable discussing that topic except with my close friends and family members."
2) Make weight and body-size conversations off-limits.
No one really appreciates weight gain-related questions, pregnant or not. But for some reason, people feel this need to know your numbers when you're pregnant. Is it for comparison purposes? Does it help them feel better about themselves?
Whatever the reason, hearing comments that you are waddling like an oversized penguin or that you resemble a beached whale never adds to anyone's self-esteem. These comments, unfortunately, are often the ones we hear from those we are closest to. And they hurt.
3) Set up a support team to help you stick to your healthy boundaries.
This is a time when you need to speak up for yourself! You may know in your mind what feels safe in regards to your boundaries and what doesn't, but unless you verbalize these boundaries to your support team, they won't be able to stand up for you if you should find yourself speechless one day against an attacking comment.
Select the people you trust, and ask them for their support if you get caught up in a bind when a stranger is asking you questions you'd rather not answer. Ask your friends, "If you find me in an awkward position with someone commenting on my body size, can you run interference for me and redirect the conversation?" As long as friends and family members are aware of your needs, they should be quick to help you when you need assistance protecting your boundary.
4) Pick your battles.
Well, there's one thing we know in life: We can't control each situation or each person we come into contact with. Sometimes, you may have to let unwanted advice just pass right through you -- especially if it's from someone you have a relationship with. If your outspoken grandma has been telling you how to dress and cut your hair since you were in your teens, she's probably going to have a lot of advice when you get pregnant.
Grandma probably isn't going to change. So in this case, avoiding a confrontation is probably the best solution. If you find yourself having to spend the whole weekend with Grandma, ask your sister or other relative to distract her, and then blow off your steam with someone who does support your boundaries.
5) Practice your boundary-setting message.
As I mentioned in the first point, have set answers to give to probing questioners. This will help protect you against unwanted advice or comments. The trick here is to verbally practice, practice and practice your "comebacks," so that when you're least expecting a boundary attack, you'll be ready to speak your mind quickly and assertively.
It's not your obligation to answer anyone's questions that you feel are intrusive to your boundaries. We've come to believe that we have to answer these questions because most people do. But you can respectfully decline to answer. Voicing your boundary is not being rude -- it is your right to privacy and feeling good about yourself.
So what's the most annoying advice you got when you were pregnant? I'll come back to this topic in a future post ....