A few months ago I came across a poignant post by author Emily Bingham on my Facebook feed. The direct and honest post was about why one should not ask a woman about her very personal plans for having children. It is no surprise the post went viral because her message speaks to a broad community of women. I honestly wondered, with its impeccable timing, if Ms. Bingham somehow wrote this post just for me.
At the time Bingham’s message graced my consciousness I just had the experience of being asked by an acquaintance at a social gathering about my husband and I’s plan for having children. According to our societal standards of acceptable conversations her questions were fair game. Except I happened to be quietly pregnant that very moment and experiencing a myriad of conflicting, confusing, and intense emotions that are not deemed socially acceptable for a married woman with a ticking clock. My initial instinct was to dial up the sarcasm to 10 and ask an extremely inappropriate question back.
Instead I took the kind road: A deep breath and the words, “that’s a very personal question that I don’t feel comfortable answering.” The result? A visibly flustered, apologetic woman and an awkward social moment. Reflecting on the experience later that night, I wondered how many women do not feel comfortable setting a clear boundary for fear of making the other person uncomfortable or coming across as “bitchy.”
Fast-forward 5 months. I am sporting an obvious baby bump and fairly comfortable answering the standard social questions: When are you due? Is it a boy or a girl? How do you feel?
Still, the more obvious my pregnancy the more I find myself facing bold assumptions about what my experience as a mother will be and unsolicited comments about my body.
You’re going to love it!
It will be the best thing that ever happened to you!
(Are you psychic?)
You’re going to just fall in love.
(What if I don’t?)
You’re carrying so well!
(Would you say something if I wasn’t?)
You’re glowing and thin in the face so it must be a boy.
(It’s a girl).
Watch out! Girls are so dramatic.
(That’s a sweeping generalization).
You’re due when? You’re so small.
(The doctor says she’s perfectly healthy).
My daughter is not as far along as you and she’s HUGE!
(Every BODY is different).
And that brings me to the whole point of this article: Everybody is different.
Every woman is different. Every woman has her own unique experience of pregnancy and motherhood and she deserves to be with her experience without judgment and assumptions from others, even well intentioned friends and family and especially know-it-all strangers.
Motherhood is not all starry-eyed love and rainbows. Nor is it all dark and stormy scary moments. It is both of these extremes and EVERYTHING in between. Bliss. Uncertainty. Sadness. Fear. Happiness. Doubt. Contentment. Grief. Appreciation. Peace. All of these are okay because none of these feelings last forever. They swell and crash like giant waves on the shores of our hearts and retreat silently back to the giant ocean they came from.
I wish for women to come together and create a culture of understanding and respect for motherhood with all its nuances. One where we don’t judge each other for our choices, but honor each experience, support one another in growing through the process and accept that the ONLY right way is the path each mother chooses for her particular family.
This is why, despite my overwhelming desire to meet judgment with sarcasm, I will be mindful to choose kindness and communicate clarity instead. Perhaps in each interaction of unsolicited advice or judgment there is an opportunity for raising awareness.
My challenge to anyone reading this: The next time you interact with someone you think should be a mother by now, an expectant mother or an actual mother, instead of making an assumption or giving unsolicited advice, inquire about her experience, listen, and ask, “How can I support you?”