How to deal with judgement and expectations during pregnancy and childbirth – a personal story from Findus
My best friend back in Sweden used to roll her eyes and say “nobody knows your children better than a stranger does”.
When I first heard this I thought she was just unlucky to be met with so much judgement and so many snide comments. Only when I announced that I was pregnant myself did I understand the full extent of her sarcastic statement; and unfortunately it went on even after childbirth.
From complete strangers staring at or even touching my belly, to people pointing at it and announcing what sex the baby was, I quickly found myself in an uncomfortable state of mind. I had chosen not to find out the sex of my child and I got mixed reactions from people when I told them about it. Most people, with or without children of their own, were very quick to predict to me that I was going to have a boy. And boy (no pun intended), were there many reasons for this.
“You’re carrying high”
“You have a lot of morning sickness”
“You have cravings for savoury things rather than sweet things”
“Your skin is glowing”
“You are showing late”
Or just “I can see it”. They all sounded completely certain, oozing with confidence in their opinions, although most of the comments above stem from outdated folklore rather than science.
Although I had specifically told the people guessing that I had no interest in finding out the sex, it, unfortunately, didn’t keep any of them from guessing. One of my colleagues at the time kept saying I would owe him a bottle of wine if I ended up having a boy. A bet I hadn’t agreed to but said in a joking matter to accentuate how convinced he was, that I was going to have a boy. A few months later I visited with my newborn daughter and the wine bet was never mentioned again.
I am of course not the only one who’s had this happening to them. I want to take a moment to explain how this example above felt like an intrusion of my privacy.
Although I think it is safe to assume the people doing or saying things like in the example above had good intentions, it nevertheless felt like an intrusion. Whether I was actually going to have a boy or a girl has nothing to do with it, as I felt that I had made myself clear saying that I didn’t wish to find out the sex.
I guess I felt disappointed that the people I saw every day weren’t acknowledging my wishes.
There are a lot of opinions and judgement as well as unsolicited advice out there, to begin with, but there is something about babies that makes people very outspoken.
Perhaps it’s because the subject of children is something we can all relate to. We’ve all been children and most of us know a child. We all have our frame of reference passed on from our own experiences and how we’ve been brought up. So naturally, people want to share their viewpoint as a way to relate to what I’m going through. But with that, we perceive things differently.
Someone tenderly caressing someone’s pregnancy belly most likely has the best intentions and sees it as a way of showing they are happy and excited for the mother to be. To the mother to be, however, it might feel uncomfortable or even a bit insensitive. Maybe this has already happened to her several times today, causing her to almost flinch when someone touches her.
And then there are the comments and unsolicited advice. A lot of pregnant women receive comments about their bodies. They are told not to gain “too much” weight for this or that reason and some are even given diet advice before they’ve given birth, which could be perceived as a way of policing our habits, rather than being helpful.
It might feel upsetting when people take the liberty to tell you how to eat, how to exercise (or not exercise) and even how to give birth! Being pregnant, giving birth, life with a newborn – all examples of incredibly vulnerable times of our lives and they all come after one another.
So don’t beat yourself up if certain comments upset you. If all aspects of life were like this, I think we would all feel pretty overwhelmed and emotionally drained.
Here are some tips that I personally found very helpful on how to deal with the comments and judgement from others:
1. Find an ally
It is difficult to put your foot down, especially at such a vulnerable and emotionally exhausting time. Regardless if you are met with this whilst pregnant or as a new mother, it is difficult to hear.
Sometimes it’s easier to take a step back and to hand over part of the responsibility to someone who understands you. It can be a partner, a close friend or family member or a doula who can step in and take your side.
This can mean anything from just being present in the room to make you feel stronger and supported, to taking the wheel for a bit when you don’t have the energy to do so. Some people will need to get asked to do this and some people will do this naturally, but just knowing someone has your back is priceless.
An example of this is when a friend of mine had just given birth and was beyond exhausted when an entire hospital tour entered the room, without asking her if she was OK with that. Her husband stepped in to tell them all to leave. This was something she didn’t feel like she could do at the time, understandably.
2. Focus on the people that matter and make them aware
This might sound easy, but a lot of people struggle with actually taking the time to explain why they don’t want unsolicited advice or why they don’t want to hear certain things.
So many times I told people I didn’t want to know the gender of my unborn child, but somehow it didn’t keep people from guessing. Were they purposely being disrespectful or did I not make myself clear? Perhaps a bit of both. Because it is difficult to explain why it is disrespectful when you have different backgrounds, different views and different aims.
To so many people it was outrageous that I would even say that I didn’t care about the gender of my child. “I could NEVER do that”, “that would drive me INSANE”, were the most common comments, followed by guessing the gender…
To be realistic, I wouldn’t have had the time nor the energy to explain to each and every one why I don’t think gender is relevant. Not without making it into a sociological lecture on how gender is a social construct. But I did make sure to explain it properly to the people I was in close contact with, such as friends, family and close coworkers.
I don’t think all of them agreed with me and that’s fine, but they did respect my decision and it brought us closer together. In a way seeing me struggle with the remarks made all of them my allies.
3. Seek replacements if possible
This advice is mainly aimed towards professionals working with you regarding your pregnancy, childbirth and life with a newborn.
For example, back when my daughter was only a few days old, I had a health visitor coming to my flat to check on us and to see how we were doing.
I was doing fine, despite being tired and hormonal, but the health visitor kept pushing me to admit that I was feeling depressed. I wasn’t. As far as I was concerned, life was pretty good.
She proceeded to ask me very personal questions about my past and when I told her I didn’t want to talk about certain things, she interpreted me being reserved as a sign of depression and stared intensely at me until I actually got upset.
This of course only reinforced her belief that I was depressed and before she left she gave me a pamphlet on postnatal depression groups nearby. This was of course done with her best intentions, but I felt that she had already made up her mind and worked deductively to confirm her beliefs rather than listening to me.
I made arrangements to get a new health visitor. This was what I needed to do and there were no hard feelings about it. No questions were asked. I just got a new health visitor sent to my home.
She was lovely and made me feel much better. Remember that you CAN change doctor, midwife, doula, health visitor etc. if you feel like it’s not going to work out.
They know from experience that not all people will have a great rapport with each other and that’s fine.
4. Quick exits
A friend of mine who has a daughter the same age as my daughter taught me the English expression ‘each to their own’. It’s so simple, yet a stern way to tell people it’s okay to agree to disagree.
Sometimes these quick exits serve as a polite way to say that you have no interest in discussing nor arguing about the matter any further. Besides, it is something people tend to agree on. After all, we’ve all been at a place where we disagree with someone and want to leave it at that without it turning into a discussion.
It has the potential to bring awareness to the fact that people will think and believe in different things.
Another quick exit is to simply say “I’m fine, thank you” as a polite way of saying no.
5. Take control
Sometimes it helps to clarify that you are the one who needs to deal with whatever decision or situation that has or will occur.
It is unfortunately quite common that women are told how to or when to breastfeed for example. Although what people say or do might hurt your feelings or cause you to feel anxious, remember that you are in control – not them.
If one way doesn’t work for you, announce that you won’t be doing things this way and leave it at that. Some people will want to challenge what you’re saying, but it’s your body and your baby and thus you have the power. It might not feel like it, but you do.
It is perfectly fine to ask for help and support, but you are still in charge and no one should make you feel inferior in your beliefs.
6. Talk to someone
If there is something that needs to be addressed or something you need help and support with, there is help to get. You are not alone and there is so much love in your life.
Having a baby might make you reflect on things or feel a bit vulnerable and that’s all normal. But if the comments are getting to you and affecting you more than you think they should, it might be a good idea to consider getting professional help. We at NISAD are here to help you.
Finally, I would just like to say – you’ve got this! Although you may feel tired or annoyed and insecure for some reason, you will in time become an expert at your own child.
As a mother of a 17-month old I can only say that comments that used to bother me, I am more able to shake off now. Because the more time you spend with your baby, the more it makes sense to follow your own gut feeling and to just see what works rather than being bombarded by contradicting advice and judgement from people that don’t know your baby as you do.
Each to their own.
BA Social Psychology
Findus is a social psychologist and analyst working with NISAD on a number of our projects – in particular, currently, with the development of ELK.Health’s #CertainAbout Uncertainty programme which is planned to be available, free, at the end of this year.
She is Swedish and lives and works in southern England.
Views expressed by Findus in this blog are her personal opinions which we welcome and value but are not intended as a policy statement by NISAD or NISAD’s products and services arm, ELK.Health.