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Everything Else You Need to Know When You're Expecting
The New Etiquette for the New Mom
By Paula Spencer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Paula Spencer
All rights reserved.
Spreading the News
Congratulations, you're pregnant! Along with all the new physical and emotional changes you're about to undergo, you're also on your way to the strange new world of maternity manners. The questions start, literally, as soon as your doctor (or, more probably, your little home-test stick) provides the confirmation: To tell, or not to tell? Whom to tell? When to tell?
Letting the world know you're expecting a baby is delicious fun. Here's how to get things off to a good start.
What's the proper time to announce a pregnancy?
No one blinks anymore when couples spread the word the minute the home test turns positive. (Or even sooner, as when they reveal that they're "trying.") Being pregnant is incredibly exciting, after all But there are good reasons to hold off a few weeks, as people did before the advent of the instant, super accurate home pregnancy test.
First of all, the risk of miscarriage is highest during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy (the first trimester, or twelve weeks counting from the first day of your last menstrual period). In the terrible, but unfortunately not uncommon, event of a miscarriage, all of the people who have been told about the pregnancy will wonder, a few months down the road, what's happened. Unless the couple goes back and informs everyone about their misfortune—not a fun task—the friends are placed in the awkward position of worrying but not wanting to ask directly. Then, when they learn of the unhappy news, they will feel bad too.
Yes, we live in a sped-up, instant-gratification, zap-mail, drive-through-dry-cleaners kind of world. We want it all, right now. But birth is a mystery with a pace all its own. You have nine months ahead of you. Savor the news. Keep it to yourself for a little while. Many couples find that sharing this special secret draws them especially close.
You are rightfully ecstatic about the baby growing within you, but the rest of the world will be far more interested in the actual baby. Tell too early, and you spend the next eight-and-a-half months hearing, "Haven't you had that baby yet?" If you think nine months of pregnancy is an eternity, imagine how it stretches for interested observers, who don't have firsthand experience of your aches and pains and kicks to keep things fascinating. Couples who spread the news the day they find out shouldn't be disappointed if their friends and relatives seem a bit bored by the subject as the weeks wear on.
Especially at work, the later you wait, the better, so your physical state won't distract others from your performance, (See Chapter Pregnant, "5 at Work.") Unless you make it so, an impending birth is really nobody's business until you start to show.
Women who can't stand to keep such a momentous secret might want to let a close friend, a sister, or their mother in on the news, ideally someone who's already a mother herself. This gives the mom-to-be an outlet for her excitement and complaints, as well as a source of advice, without having to tell the world.
Is it better to wait to tell other people until after a doctor confirms the pregnancy?
If you're gung ho to spread the word immediately, there's little point in waiting for an official medical confirmation. Performed properly, home pregnancy tests are now considered 99 percent accurate. A doctor cannot foretell whether you're likely to miscarry or not. Note: if however, an early ultrasound (around six weeks into the pregnancy) detects a heartbeat, your odds go up tremendously that you will remain pregnant.
WAYS TO TELL
Is there a preferred way to say it?
Choose the words you're comfortable with: "Guess what? Bob and I are expecting a baby next June!" This phrasing is discreet, inclusive of your mate, and also preempts the inevitable next question, "When?" Most people aren't squeamish any more about the word "pregnant," thank goodness, so you can also just blurt out "I'm pregnant!"
Single women and lesbian couples who are expecting will inevitably raise lots of eyebrows. Bold friends may go so far as to ask, "How?" or "Who's the father?" Needless to say you are under no obligation to disclose any details. This is no time to be coy. Simply say, "I'm sorry but that's private." Or, "I'd rather not go into that." And change the subject.
Can I send printed announcements that we're expecting?
Printed, no. Written, yes—though only in the most casual way, that is, to mention your pregnancy in a letter to a friend. Ideally, this is the sort of news most people like to hear about in person or by phone, so they can give you a congratulatory hug or at least get an immediate reply to the question of "When?" Save printed announcements until the egg is hatched—which is a far greater accomplishment than merely fertilizing it.
What about sending retail cards that mention where we're registered for baby items, as a way to spread the news?
Let me make this very clear: You may not send these preprinted cards to inform friends and relatives that you are expecting. What's more, you may not even send them when you are nine months along and due any day. You may not even give them to a friend to slip into the baby-shower invitations.
Cards provided by retailers to herald your news and the fact that you are part of their gift registry—no matter how cute they are—are naked expressions of greed. To the recipients of such notices, they are a demand for a gift. But gifts can never be demanded, only gratefully received and acknowledged. No one who receives such a notice is under any obligation to do anything with it. Besides, if you've just found out you're pregnant, it's far too early to think about baby's gifts, unless you're the eager grandma-to-be who's been itching to go baby shopping for the past ten or fifteen years.
Is there a certain preferred order in which to tell people?
The very first person to be informed is the father—even if he's out of town, unreachable by phone, or on the outs with you. And that's true even if you can't get hold of him and are itching to tell your best friend or your mom. (I once FedEx'd my husband the little test stick with the bright blue line on it. No other message.) Of course, if your mate is standing right next to you watching the test results, you can move on down the list.
Beyond the daddy-to-be, let the depth of your relationships be your guide. It's nice if Mom and Dad are fairly high up on the list. You don't want them to hear the news from a distant relative, even if your relationship hasn't been especially close lately. After all, this is their grandchild.
How should I break the news to a friend who's struggling with infertility?
Nobody likes to cause misery. But a true friend will be happy for you, whatever her personal situation. It's tempting to bend over backward to avoid offending her by not telling her at all. But don't put it off so long that she hears the news through the grapevine or guesses it herself. That's uncaring.
Do show sensitivity to a friend's fertility problems by telling her in a one-on-one meeting, rather than in front of a large gathering. Acknowledge that you're nervous about telling her in the light of her difficulties. She'll eventually share your joy, though perhaps not immediately. (Of course, spare her such details as that you conceived on the first try.) Don't be surprised, however, if she cries or seems cool to you for a while. Don't take it personally—she's not reacting to your situation so much as her own. Even if she's thrilled for you, she may need a little time to absorb the news.
How do I respond to people who ask if I'm pregnant, before I want to tell?
Let's set aside the intrusiveness of their question for a mo-ment. If you say no, and you are, then you're lying, which is not usually very comfortable for most of us. But that doesn't mean you should be badgered into confessing something so personal before you're ready.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was determined to wait the full twelve weeks of my first trimester before breaking the news. I thought I was doing a great job of it, too, until one afternoon when the woman in the next office blurted the question. "Why do you ask?" I stammered, trying to keep my hand from floating up to my belly.
"Well, you're wearing your skirt untucked, and I've noticed you stopped drinking coffee," she replied in a triumphant, "ah-ha!" tone. (Office busybodies don't just hear everything, they're incredibly sharp-eyed, too.) Determined that this woman would not hear my happy news before my own mother did, I just laughed something like, "Well, I read that untucked shirts are very big this winter. And as for caffeine, don't you think we all drink too much of it for our own good?" My colleague probably saw through both sidesteps, but she also got the message that she had intruded too far.
You could also turn the tables, and say, "Why do you ask? Do I look fat?" This deflects the embarrassment off of you and onto your questioner. If she has the nerve to persist and say, "Well, a little," it's tempting to retort, "Well, I was thinking the same about you." But that wouldn't be very nice. So instead toss off a wry. "Thanks for the compliment," or, "Well, I'd better go take a walk, then"—and do.
When's the best time to tell older siblings? We want them to be in on the secret but don't want them to blab to everyone else.
When to tell a child that a baby brother or sister is about to join the family depends on the child's age. Some pointers:
Toddlers: A toddler has no sense of time. He or she may even be oblivious to your growing belly (until your lap completely disappears, anyway). You can talk about the baby growing in your tummy but don't expect the news to register completely. Be low-key. It's usually best not to emphasize the forthcoming baby until your last weeks of pregnancy. (And don't even bother bringing up the finer points of biology. When I was nine months pregnant with my second child, my twenty-one-month-old son poked me and asked, hopefully, "You got a ball in there for me?") Even with preparation, a toddler is apt to be amazed when you actually bring a baby home.
Minimize feelings of displacement by moving the older child out of his crib or into a new bedroom at least four to six weeks before you're due, or wait until a couple of months after the birth.
Preschoolers: Kids ages three to five are a bit more aware of what's going on around them than young toddlers are. They're apt to notice your swelling belly and increasing fatigue. But times moves painfully slowly for them, especially when special events and "gifts" (like a baby brother or sister) are involved. It's therefore best not to tell a preschooler until you begin to show, or better still until he or she notices. Read books about babies and how they are born, let your child practice with his or her own baby doll, and consider enrolling in sibling-preparation classes, offered at many hospitals. Let your child feel the baby move. Let him or her help you pick out a special toy or nursery items for the new born. Curb expectations, toward the end, by reminding your child that the new baby will be small and helpless, not a readymade playmate.
Older children: Whenever you choose to break the news, certainly school-age children deserve to know about a pregnancy before outsiders do. The best strategy is to tell your child just before you're ready for others to hear. Most school-age kids ask detailed questions about how babies grow and are born; answer them honestly, in simple terms. Look for age-appropriate books. Let them help you make things ready for the baby.
Should I announce the fetus's gender and name or keep them secret?
It's your call. Now that prenatal tests such as ultrasound and amniocentesis have made it possible to find out your baby's gender before birth, the majority of expectant parents these days want to have this information. So, in turn, do their friends and family. And so the first question many moms-to-be are asked, after "When are you due?" is "What are you having?"
It's certainly your prerogative to buck this trend and enjoy the grand mystery of birth as it was originally intended. But even if you choose to know—maybe because you want the baby to seem as real as possible or because you're the type who just likes to have all the facts—you may want to think twice before sharing that info with the world. Take shower presents, for example. If you announce that you're having a girl, you're apt to receive countless frilly baby dresses, all size three months. Few women let loose in a baby department knowing that they are buying for a baby girl will be able to resist these tiny pretties. And should you announce the baby's name while he or she is still in utero, brace yourself for a volley of criticisms or alternative takes.
Some people actually act irritated when told that you don't plan to learn the gender. When one woman's family members complained they wouldn't know what to buy for her baby, she replied, "Just assume it's human and work from there,"
Of course, people will be excited by word of the baby's arrival regardless of how much they know about him or her in advance. But it does add an extra dollop of excitement when they can say to one another, "It's a boy!" rather than, "Oh, Arthur Alexander finally arrived ..."CHAPTER 2
One of the least anticipated aspects of pregnancy for many women is the effect that your new state has on others. Veteran mothers begin doling out advice by the paragraph. Your husband monitors your every move. Your friends tell stories that make pregnancy sound more like a horror flick than a blessed event. And if that's not dismaying enough, wait until you start to show! You're asked questions more personal than anything Oprah would dare, even during sweeps week. Perfect strangers reach out to grope your midriff in ways that would ordinarily get them arrested.
What's a nice mom-to-be supposed to do, especially when she's had (and heard) enough? Read on.
WHEN YOU'RE NOT YET PREGNANT
I'm not pregnant yet, but what do I say when I'm asked: "Are you trying?"
Some blunt people go around asking straightforward questions all the time. Others assume (incorrectly) that questions surrounding procreation are fair game for couples of a certain age and relationship status. For many people, such inquires have become benign, cocktail-party fodder, something to ask besides "What do you do?" and "Are you married?" Even ordinarily discreet folks tend to lose all pretense of civility when it comes to babies. Though the questioners may be probing out of love or good intentions, they are nevertheless way out of line. Very personal questions are impolite, and never more so than when they surround one's sex life.
You're not obligated to answer any questions you don't want to, just to be nice.
Say, "Excuse me?" to signal that your questioner has overstepped his bounds. Another appropriate response: "I'm sorry but that's a difficult and personal question. I'm sure you'll understand if I don't answer it." But if he persists, lightly take evasive action: "Well even if we were, it's certainly not something I want to go around talking about."
What do I say if I'm asked, "Was it an accident?"
It will surprise many people, who have come to regard all matters concerning babies as a matter of public interest, that to ask details about a baby's conception is unspeakably rude. It's rude because it is intrusive and prying, and concerns a subject that's just about as private as you can get. On top of being nobody's business, it cruelly implies that if the answer is yes, the baby must not be as cherished or wanted as a baby who was planned.
If you're feeling charitable, you might arch your brows at your questioner, and say, "You know Freud said there is no such thing as an accident." Or you could say, "Why? Does it matter?" (Watch the backpedaling that then takes place.) But you're well within your rights to simply deliver the iciest stare you can muster, and say, incredulously, "I beg your pardon?"
It's only slightly more tactful for someone to ask, "Was it planned?" But the net implications are the same.
Unfortunately, such questions have become so commonplace that they've become part of the vernacular of pregnancy. Although one might be tempted just to chalk them up to another tiresome toll of being pregnant, none deserves answers unless you really care to provide them. It's the questioner who's out of line, not you.
Excerpted from Everything Else You Need to Know When You're Expecting by Paula Spencer. Copyright © 2000 Paula Spencer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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