Several women I know are pregnant right now. This should be a joyous experience, and mostly it has been despite the physical symptoms that are no picnic, but one thing that’s causing all these women some grief is:
You, the friend, family member or random asshole in the grocery store who feels the need to advise them on what they should eat, do, wear, be around or name their offspring. You, the person who hassles them with all the horror stories of all the pregnancies you’ve ever heard of third person, let alone experienced. You tell yourself, “Oh, I’m being so helpful – five points to me on the scoreboard of life!” but really, you’re just being a smug turd and using this woman as an object to bolster your own ego. You need to shut right up, and failing that, our society needs to accept that if a pregnant woman stuffs a very smelly sock down your throat, it’s not that her hormones are acting up: it’s that you are being an asshole and objectifying this woman.
Unless you have solid reasons to suspect this woman isn’t under a doctor’s care at all or is smoking pounds of crack or something equally drastic, shut up. Do not think to yourself, “She’s buying brie cheese and cat food – clearly, her doctor is a quack or she’s ignoring the doctor’s advice, so I, a mid-level manager in a factory, should immediately dispense second-hand medical advice in the interest of saving not one but two lives!” And here we get to the real reason why you feel the urge to intervene if you think a pregnant woman’s being exposed to cat turds: it’s a two-for-the-price-of-one dime store hero act. You go home and tell yourself you’ve saved a baby and some vessel-thing it was in, so YAY YOU!
Except not. This is how the ego works: it lies to you to get its way without interference from your conscience or common sense. All you’ve really done is contribute further to her stress levels which, ironically, is not so good for the health of her or the baby. You haven’t helped anybody. You’ve actually done some harm, and if you’d engaged your empathy before using her, you might have noticed her discomfort.
Why, oh, why is the mean old feminist being so mean to you? Well, let’s talk about that.
- When a woman gets pregnant, a lot of people around her lose sight of the fact she’s a human being. She becomes an object/event, and people limit their discourse with her to the topic of her pregnancy. Suddenly, everything she does twenty-four hours a day is supposed to be about the baby. She disappears from the equation. A woman’s brain does not hibernate for nine months because there’s a baby inside her. If you don’t think she deserves consideration as a human, then at least be aware that an “incubator” who’s stressed and unhappy is not an optimal environment for the developing new life you actually value. Doctors understand this: that’s why they aim to keep both the woman and the developing baby as healthy and comfortable as possible.
- Pregnant women are not “crazy” because their hormones go all funky. In fact, pregnancy has a stabilizing effect on several mental illnesses. Pregnant women only appear “crazy” to you because they are suddenly being subjected to harassment like they’ve probably never experienced before, but you have the privilege of not realizing this (and yes, even if you are a formerly pregnant woman yourself, that doesn’t mean you realized how badly you were being treated before passing on the same behaviors). They’re under tremendous stress, because there’s all sorts of contradictory information about what they should do to ensure their baby’s well-being, and they’re doing their best, and they know if anything goes wrong, not only will they worry like crazy, but they know they have to look forward to assholes like you sitting in judgment…
- …because that’s what it’s really about for you. It’s about feeling superior.
“But but but,” you say, aghast at my terrible attitude, “I really just want to help! I don’t feel superior! Well, I mean, obviously I know something she doesn’t so I feel better informed, perhaps, but not superior, per se.”
My response follows. Observing that someone is pregnant and giving them unsolicited advice about it is a lot like observing someone has a really fantastic secondary sexual characteristic and giving them unsolicited comments about it. What you are saying is, “I’m monitoring your body for you. As a representative of your overlords, I have to tell you, here’s what we think of your body and what you are doing with it.”
Not only do you not know everything, but neither do doctors. Different doctors make different recommendations to pregnant women regarding diet and activity. Different countries tend to give contradictory advice. Who died and made you S/He Who Knows What You Should Really Do When You’re Pregnant?
You need to realize that this behavior is actually all about you. It’s about your need to feel special, your need to participate in what’s none of your business, your need to connect with someone (and your discovery that pregnant women are easy targets). Get over it.