Every pregnant person has struggled with unsolicited advice and comments on their body. Spinoff Parents columnist and mum of two Thalia Kehoe Rowden has tips and ways to reply to well-meaning strangers who are overstepping or oversharing.
It starts early.
You’ve seen two lines on a pregnancy test. Your body is GROWING A PERSON! What an exciting time of life!
That must mean you are now craving unsolicited advice from strangers!
Surely you can’t wait to hear about a cousin’s neighbour’s postie’s very difficult birth?
As a pregnant person, you must certainly want people to rain on your parade, as often as possible, with predictions of how things will only get worse from here, yes?
One of the hardest things about being pregnant, for some of us, is coping with a new kind of social awkwardness. People say all kinds of nonsense to pregnant people. Mostly they are well-meaning people, our friends and family, who are excited about the baby. Sometimes they’re strangers in shops. Whoever they are, they can unintentionally ruin your day, and their words can sometimes haunt you for months.
But don’t worry! Here are some pregnant person Jedi defence tricks you can use to deflect unwanted advice, politely stop intrusive questions and protect your heart from sad stories you don’t need to hear right now.
What to say to deflect unwanted advice
Most first-time parents do want advice. You just might not want it from every random person who comes across your path. Or on personal, private subjects like the state of your perineum. Or about things you have already decided. Or when your feet are killing you and you just want to scoff down some gherkins on fruit toast with vegemite.
When the advice that flies towards you is not welcome, for whatever reason, here are some things you can say:
- ‘That’s something to think about [+ change the subject].’
- ‘We’re still figuring that stuff out [+ subject change].’
- ‘Good tip! Now tell me, what was your favourite thing about being pregnant?’
- ‘Actually, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed with advice at the moment, let’s talk about something else.’
This is important: you don’t need to engage with every person who wants to influence your parenting, either to take their advice on board or to tell them that you’re not going to. You can just say ‘Hmm,’ and move on, if you want.
What to say when someone starts telling a traumatic story
Sometimes it feels like there’s a cone of silence around birthing rooms – and there shouldn’t be.
It’s extremely important for all parents to be able to talk about their experiences with birth – the positive parts, and the difficult parts. Here at The Spinoff Parents, we try hard to make space for all kinds of stories.
Pregnant people don’t always want to hear stories of birth trauma, though, and that’s okay, too. Everyone prepares for birth in their own way.
If at any time in your pregnancy you aren’t in the right headspace to hear a difficult story that someone starts to tell, here’s an idea from my wise friend Sarah. When she was pregnant with her first baby, she started interrupting people early on and saying something like:
- ‘Does this story have a happy ending? Because I’m finding I don’t want to hear sad stories at the moment.’
Try it, it’s awesome! Also:
- ‘I’m going to stop you there. I’m trying to focus on positive birth stories.’
- ‘Please only tell me encouraging things at the moment.’
- ‘I need your support to reassure me. Tell me what went really well.’
If you have a partner or supportive friend or family member who can say these things for you, that could be great, too. Recruit them to the cause, and ask them to intervene whenever they think there’s something brewing.
What to say when someone minimises your feelings
Some people lurve being pregnant. Some people have a terrible time for nine months. Most of us are somewhere in between. All of us have plenty of moments when we’re pregnant where we are sad, anxious, sore, sick or just plain fed up.
Pregnant people are allowed to have those feelings.
You don’t have to let people tell you you’re not feeling the right thing.
Feel free to just link some people to Emily Writes’ immortal piece on being told to be grateful.
Or Glennon Doyle Melton’s wonderful Don’t Carpe Diem, for people who tell you to ‘enjoy every moment’.
Or for the slightly less satisfying – but more achievable in real life conversation for the wusses among us – approach:
- ‘Yes, of course I am grateful. I can feel sad/worried/disappointed/overwhelmed at the same time, though. I can feel both things at once.’
- ‘Actually, I don’t think I need to enjoy every minute. Some minutes I’m vomiting. I’m going to try to enjoy most minutes.’
- ‘Okay,’ and then go and spend time with different people who actually listen to your feelings.
Plenty of times, this stuff doesn’t need any answer, as long as you can just recognise it for what it is: someone not able to accept your valid feelings.
Make sure you have some other people in your life – online or in person – who will take your fears, griefs and hardships seriously.
Please feel absolutely free not to waste your emotional energy on people not equipped to respond appropriately. You don’t have to educate everyone. You can just smile, nod and zone out sometimes.
What to say when someone says ‘Just wait!’
‘Just you wait!’ is like fingernails on a blackboard while Phil Collins is being played on loop. The worst sound in the world.
Any time you dare to complain about how tired you are (and let’s remember that your body is growing not just a human being, but an entire new organ, the placenta, in the first few weeks – no wonder you’re exhausted!), someone will utter those worst of all words.
‘Just wait till your baby arrives and wakes up every 45 minutes!’
‘Just wait till they’re a teenager!’
I get it. People who have been through the trenches of early parenthood – and everything that follows – sometimes can’t help themselves. It is often kindly meant, a sort of time-travel-solidarity. They’ve been both where you are and where you will be.
But it’s another way of dismissing your feelings. You are tired now. It’s irrelevant if you’ll be tired later.
Or you’re elated, now, full of hope and happily making lullaby playlists and baking lactation cookies for the freezer. It’s not actually necessary to deflate your happy mood!
Again, you might want to pick your battles here. It’s going to happen a lot, probably, and it won’t stop when the baby is born. If you can just ignore it and move on, that might work fine for you.
If you do want to say something to push back a bit, here are some ideas:
- ‘So you’re saying that insomnia in pregnancy might be bad, but it’s only going to be worse when the baby arrives? That’s actually not very helpful to hear.’
- ‘Yes, I’m sure each stage will have its own challenges. My challenge at the moment is [repeat what’s on your mind now].’
- ‘Yes, I know there will be challenges. Please let me enjoy this stage while I can!’
I clearly remember the day a stranger stopped his car in the middle of the lane and invited me jay-walk across the road in front of him, just because I was heavily pregnant. Pregnancy can bring a smile to the gruffest of faces.
If you can redirect or deflect kindly meant but unhelpful comments, you can harness the goodwill of friends and strangers to help you through an intense nine months.
Congratulations on your pregnancy. May you find all the support you need to thrive in it.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden is a former Baptist minister and current mother and development worker. She writes about parenting, social justice and spirituality at Sacraparental.com.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.