My recent piece on Medium, delving into ten of the most nonsensical pieces of unsolicited advice you can hear while pregnant.
“So, you’re pregnant. Congratulations! You are embarking on a magical journey of wonder, excitement, worry, and high anticipation. You’re also about to learn the most earth-shattering lesson a parent can know: You have a bun in the oven, so everybody else has an opinion. Not just your partner, not just your medical professional — everybody in the world has something to say about it, and most of it is nonsense.
Let’s take a whistle-stop tour of some prime, well-worn examples.
1. “I can tell it’s a girl by the way you’re carrying…”
First of all, why is this person staring at a pregnant woman’s bump, hips, and backside? Truly, it is never more evident that your body is not your own than during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Not only has a strange person taken over inside, but outside, everyone is having a really good look at how you’re ‘progressing,’ and freely sharing their thoughts about it. And that’s without the daily requests to touch.
Second of all, what’s with the insistent discussion about the sex of an unborn child? Maybe you, the parents, already know the sex, and choose not to share that information. Maybe you don’t want to know at all, and would like to find out the age-old way of looking at the baby when it’s born. Either way, it doesn’t really concern anybody else, does it? Yes, there are parents that like to find out, and then make some kind of “announcement,” but that’s their prerogative.
In truth, there are only two reasons why someone other than the parents seeks to engage in speculation about the sex of an unborn child. One reason is so that they can feel self-satisfied after the birth announcement when they find out they were right, and the other reason is to project pre-conceived notions about sex and gender onto a person that hasn’t even arrived yet. Either way, that conversation is entirely about them and the effects of our sexist society, not the baby or its exacerbated parents.
2. “Make sure you massage that perineum!”
Ah, another example of the world being all up in your business, just because you are with child. This pearl of wisdom comes from the idea that regular massage of the perineum (the area between the vulva and the anus) — preferably with olive oil, apparently — comes from the school of ‘tear prevention.’ That’s right, ladies. There is an argument that reaching down over that enormous, uncomfortable bump to rub olive oil into your secret garden will help ensure that your little bundle of joy doesn’t tear you a new one when they finally crawl out. The more flexible that area, the easier it will stretch, so they say.
But here’s my question: Isn’t that area already ‘flexible’? In an adult woman who enjoys a healthy diet and a healthy sex drive, doesn’t it already receive a lot of… massage? In one way and/or another, it really is a high traffic area under normal circumstances, isn’t it? Not to sound paranoid, but could this one have been concocted by the lotion/lube/olive oil industry? Because, with the best will in the world, you can rub litres of the stuff on there all day long, but if your baby is large, or happens to emerge arm first, it’s still going to look like they busted out using a chainsaw. Do your pelvic floor exercises, power through, and hope the person attending you is good at sewing.
3. “Moisturise, so you don’t get stretch-marks.”
More opportunity for the lotion industry to profit from mothers-to-be. Rare is the woman who doesn’t get stretch marks while growing another human being inside their abdomen. Seriously — everything stretches. Tummy, thighs, bum, boobs… You could sleep in a vat of Aveeno, and still come out looking like a glistening tiger at the end — that’s just the way skin and pregnancy works.
And who, by the way, decided that we needed to spend valuable and precious mental energy and income trying to prevent stretch-marks? What makes stretch-marks such an egregious assault to our senses? Could it be that the sight of someone else’s stretch-marks is a threat to the perfectly manufactured ideal that we’re all encouraged to hold about the female form? Lest we forget, the world expects us to conceive, carry and birth actual people, before immediately returning to our pre-baby appearance, attitude, and availability, for the benefit of the male gaze.
Yes, that’s the expectation — and it is nonsense. Your body is forever changed, and post-pregnancy stretch-marks are simply external signs of the fact that you made a human. You earned every single one of those stripes.
4. “You have to give birth in a hospital, otherwise it’s irresponsible.”
Repeat after me: You can give birth wherever you damn well please. Sure, the ante-natal care, post-natal care, and birthing services available to you will depend on a number of things — your location, being chief among them. In the United States Of America, for example, it will involve consideration of your health insurance, and income. But, make no mistake — you could be sat at the North Pole, and if this baby decides it’s time to arrive, then this baby will arrive. Outside of chemical intervention, contractions and amniotic fluid wait for no man.
That’s why this unsolicited piece of advice is among the most ridiculous. The only person that can make an informed decision about which place is the most ‘responsible’ to give birth, is you. You know what the status of your pregnancy is — the level of complication, and the need to factor in any additional considerations that may apply. Most importantly, you know where you will be comfortable. This is a huge factor in any birthing experience, because a comfortable, relaxed mother can greatly aid the passage of travel for the baby.
It’s true — leaps in medical science have afforded us the ability to facilitate labour and childbirth, with interventions and pain relief as necessary. But, at the same time, if medical interventions are not needed, why would anyone seek to limit a woman’s options? Medical science has evolved, but the physical process of a vaginal birth has not changed — so if you are complication-free and would rather squeeze your wee one out in a paddling pool in your lounge — or on a tarp in your garden under the stars for that matter — get the green light from your medical professionals and go for it.
5. “Have you tried having your nipples tweaked?”
There I was, five days overdue with an 8lb 12oz baby — queuing to buy a kettle in a UK department store, in the middle of the 2004 heatwave.
“Gosh,” said the lady at the checkout. “You look ready to pop!”
“Yes,” I sighed, through gritted teeth. “I just want to get on with it now.”
“Have you tried having your nipples tweaked?” the man queuing behind me yelled, with the deepest sincerity. “They suggested that for us when my wife was overdue. Something to do with stimulating hormones, I think…”
While I fantasised, in that moment, about tearing his own nipples from his body with my bare, swollen hands, I simply could not summon the energy for more than a withering death-stare.
Really, my point here is two-fold. First, if a woman is heavily pregnant, I would strongly advise against going anywhere near her nipples unless she makes an explicit demand because, at that point, those things are their own science experiment — perched atop little lactation factories that are literally aching to leap into action. Her entire being is at its absolute limit — hormones, fluids, stress on joints and muscles, vocal fear of imminent labour, unspoken fear of motherhood, trying to figure out how the baby monitor works, suppressing doubt about the choice of colour for baby’s walls, panicking about not massaging the perineum enough — this is a woman on the edge. Do you — a random stranger — really want to suggest she let someone other than her midwife manhandle her body parts?
No. We all know that any moment now the function of her breasts is about to become central to public discourse, and central to her every waking thought — so just leave her nipples alone…”
You can read the other five examples, and my conclusion, here: “Have You Tried Having Your Nipples Tweaked?”