As discussed last week, a pregnancy is a very intimate affair and yet has a certain community-oriented side which I have been very lucky to experience both as a non-pregnant and pregnant community member.
There are still, however, many boundaries that need to be respected. Learning how to identify and respect these boundaries is further complicated by each person’s individual preferences, cultural background, experience, etc. It’s about building understanding in an increasingly multi-cultural world to learn to live with diversity in a way that suits both the people within a community and the community itself.
To Touch The Belly Or Not To Touch The Belly?
When it comes to a woman who is not pregnant, I’m pretty sure none of you would ever reach out to touch their bellies. When it comes to pregnant women however, there is a pretty wide range of reactions: from those who avoid even looking down at your belly to those strangers who will just walk up to you and place your hands on your belly.
I strongly suggest to pregnant women to be kind to those who are uncomfortable even looking at a pregnant belly. If this uncomfortable person is a friend, I would suggest offering once the possibility of touching your pregnant belly, and then leaving it at all—you let the uncomfortable person know that they are welcome to experience a pregnant belly but respecting their extreme discomfort. And I also strongly suggest to pregnant women who love having their belly touched neither to push these uncomfortable people nor to take offense; it is their path to walk at their rhythm.
Similarly, I strongly believe that those of you who are not pregnant should be careful not to just touch a pregnant belly—whoever’s it may be. It’s simple: if you wouldn’t touch her non-pregnant belly without asking, then you shouldn’t touch her pregnant belly without asking. Also, don’t take it personally if she says no; it’s not a reflection of your relationship, but of how she is feeling. When you are in pain, uncomfortable, or feeling gaseous or nauseous, the last thing you want is someone touching and prodding you.
The bottom line to me is that a pregnant belly is a magical thing; if you want to take part in the magic, make sure it is not at the cost of the pregnant woman’s comfort. And if a pregnant woman doesn’t want you to touch their belly, remember that it’s not about you or about her, but about her condition.
Unsolicited Medical Advice in Anxious Times From Non-Medical Professionals
Another thing that happens around pregnant women is the sharing of advice. It’s an almost automatic thing which I feel most often is about surrounding the pregnancy with any form of “protection” that is available.
There is unfortunately a certain lack of wisdom that doesn’t always temper this eagerness. From personal opinions to advice based on quickly read articles to those dating from days before recent medical discoveries, pregnant women are bombarded with it all—without anyone taking the time to really understand the pregnancy’s reality. A simple example: a pregnant belly at the same gestational age can be a lot bigger than another, and both can be just as healthy depending on the family history.
Making a comment like “your belly is so big/small for XX weeks” might seem innocent enough in itself. But while the non-pregnant person making this comment is reflecting his/her own experience, they are not being considerate of the experience of the pregnant woman. Because being pregnant comes with so many anxieties and worries about the baby that it’s not considerate to add anything more to it.
You don’t know what the pregnant woman is going through—if she has gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, if there is a history or chance of miscarriage, if there is a family history of malformed babies or premature births, etc.—so don’t comment on how big or small the mother seems to you.
The only thing you should do is to inquire about the health of baby, mother, and father. Because at the end of the day, that’s all that matters, however it looks like.
Parents Commenting on Pregnancies
A sub-genre of advice that also comes the way of every pregnant couple is advice from parents. This advice comes as a double-edged sword depending on the way it is conveyed as received.
It is a great gift to pregnant couples to receive advice from those around them with experience. But they have to be very careful in remembering that the advice comes with a lot of history and baggage; just because successful parents have done a certain thing or another doesn’t mean that this will work for every other parent. Take the advice with gratitude, analyse it in the light of your own experience, and make an informed decision as to if you are going to implement it or not.
As for the parents sharing their experience and advice, it’s important to remember that if the expecting couple chooses not to follow in your footsteps, it doesn’t mean anything about you as a parent. You do know what you are doing—but within the context of your own reality. You have to trust the expecting parents to have listened carefully to your advice and have done with it what they deem best within the context of their own situation.
The more I think about it, the more it feels like the ego is one of the biggest contributors to creating situations in which individuals clash and the community suffers. It’s important to reflect on misunderstandings created by the veil of the ego because of the negative effects they have on community-building. It’s also really important for all of us to be constantly working on controlling our ego—using mantras for example and keeping at it even when the ego comes back again and again. It will no doubt help not just the strengthening of the community at large, but also the little “community” that parents and children form in every single house in the world.
This post is part of the brand-new
Friday Family Focused Feature
on Sahar’s Blog