Monday, May 19, 2014

When to ask: are you pregnant?

When I was fifteen and drop waisted dresses were in, I was wearing one that puffed out at exactly the right place to inspire a stranger to ask, "are you pregnant?"  If you knew me then you would have known it was a very odd question.  I hardly knew where babies came from!  I wasn't offended as much as I was baffled.  Who would ask such a thing?

Fast forward to now.  I've been married for seven months, my husband and I are old enough that if I become pregnant it will be considered a "geriatric pregnancy," and we've talked about family life enough that it's generally known we'd welcome children.

Having not been asked the "pregnant" question since I was fifteen, suddenly I'm fielding it again from a variety of fronts.

Now I know that I've gained ten pounds since I got married.  They're my happy pounds - the result of wonderful nights of skipping the gym and hanging out eating ice cream with my husband instead.

I also know that people who ask that question love us and are simply curious out of their hopes for us.  I shudder to think of how often I've blurted out that question to others because I'm so excited at the thought of it.

So when is it ok to ask the question: "are you pregnant?"

The answer is simple: Never.

Certainly don't ask it about couples you know are trying to become pregnant.  You don't know where they are in their process or the private pain they might be carrying about a miscarriage, infertility or marital stress.

Certainly don't ask it to a woman who looks to be in the early stages of pregnancy.  She might not be pregnant and your question is either a searing reminder of that fact or just another way of saying "you look fat."  Also, she might be pregnant but waiting to let people know until she's past the first 3 or 4 months.

Certainly don't ask it if you are someone's boss.  If your workplace doesn't have clear family leave policies (which should include at what point in a pregnancy you discuss coverage for leave) then get those in place and make sure that every employee, male/female/old/young knows them.  Otherwise, it's none of your business.

Even if a person is obviously very very pregnant, don't ask.  At the moment when you are obsessed with the size of her belly - especially in a professional setting - she's probably just trying to get her work done.  She's pretty aware of her pregnancy; you don't need to point it out.  Also, different cultures have different norms for talking about pregnancy.  In Malawi, for instance, it is considered bad form to talk about a child before it is born because of the uncertainty in childbirth.  The child doesn't exist for the public until it is visible for all to see.

If you are curious about someone with whom you are close, it is appropriate to say privately something like this. "You've talked before about wanting to have children.  If you ever need to share how that's going, I'm here for you."

You can trust that when a person wants you to know she is pregnant, she will tell you.  But until then, as hard as it might be to contain your hopes and excitement, you'll do her a kindness if you just don't ask.

-Be at Peace,
Pr Sarah