Friday, February 28, 2014

What not to say when they're expecting

You've probably seen or heard a pregnancy announcement. An ultrasound picture, a cute shot of the couple or family with a little pair of baby shoes. Maybe a phone call or a chat over a cup of tea.

If you're like me, your heart fairly bursts with happiness for the new life God has created. How wonderful! You rush to offer well wishes.

But what if the circumstances seem less than ideal? Should you offer condolences, admonitions, or ask them if they "know how that happens?"

No. You shouldn't. It's not your decision. It never will be, and it never was. New life is cause for celebration and joy, no matter if the couple has zero, four, eight, or twelve children. It doesn't matter how many bedrooms their house has. What matters is the tiny miracle developing in the warm comfort of his or her mother. God chose them as parents. That's what matters.

What if it's their first child, and you already have children? Shouldn't you tell them how their lives will change forever?

No. You shouldn't. It's an insult to their intelligence, for starters. In this age of information, they're probably overwhelmed with all sorts of facts and opinions about life as a parent. If they are curious about your experience, they'll probably ask.

What if the relationship (if one exists) is not a stable, happy, marriage? Shouldn't you tell them how terrible this is-or worse, say it to everyone you know behind the mother and father's backs?

No. No. NO. Absolutely not. "Congratulations!" is appropriate. Leave it at that. If you're close to the new mother, offer your support-"I'll help you in any way I can. I'm here for you." Maybe that means knowing she has a place to stay if things aren't going well at home. Maybe it just means accompanying her to a doctor's appointment to help her get the best care possible. Maybe it's something much more powerful, like offering emotional support if she chooses to give up her baby for adoption. Maybe, for a mother of several littles, it means offering to help her family through her crippling all day sickness in the first few months. Your support in these cases could be life changing.

What if they've got several other children already? It's our duty to make them aware of "how that happens" or the current state of the rest of the world, right? Your only duty is to congratulate them, and offer to help if you can. Bring a meal. Come over to their house and watch the other kids so the expectant mama can go to a doctor's appointment in peace, or just so she can put her feet up. Unload the dishwasher. Fold some laundry. Offer her a list of ways you'd like to help them out and support them, then let her choose and follow through.

Our/my life ended when we had children, and it's my mission in life to pass that on to every first time expecting couple I meet. Right?

Absolutely not. First of all, if you actually feel this way, I'm sincerely sorry and I'll keep you in my prayers. Second, it's not your job to pass on your own regrets to other people. Yes, they will sleep again. Maybe not until noon on weekends, but sleep comes eventually. So do dates and regular clothes. And the fullness and richness of parenthood more than makes up for this, in my experience. So strike this from your lexicon.

Finally, if you flubbed your response to a pregnancy announcement, it's okay to apologize and admit you were wrong. I've done this. A close friend announced a new baby on the way, and I said (honestly) that it was  a surprise. As soon as it left my mouth I knew it was wrong. So I apologized, and expressed my joy at the new life they'd been blessed with. Turned out it had been a surprise, but the apology was still appreciated, if not entirely necessary.  So if you think you may have said the wrong thing, don't hesitate to go back and make amends. Chances are you will be glad you did!


  1. Along these same lines...people used to ask Donna Pearson if she knew where babies come from. She does, after all, have a larger than average number of children but I'm sure it was still irritating to hear. I believe she once told me her response was usually, "yes, don't you?" Lol

  2. Yes!!! I'm not even pregnant and I still have people ask me if I "know what causes that?" Ugh. So tiresome. (Oh yeah, and I only have 3 kids. People are just rude!)

  3. Congratulations are always wonderful. I know for me, when we were expecting unexpectedly, it helped me love our unborn child even more when others were excited for us.

  4. I agree with this post! Why are people so nosy?!!?

  5. Great post Sarah, I've been appalled by the things people have said to me about my twin pregnancy: "Oh congratulations, or should I say condolences!" or "My best friend had twins and she and her husband were divorced after two years!" or my favorite, This is the worst possible time for you to be pregnant!" (simply because we are both finishing grad school). When someone says something like that it basically feels like they are insinuating that you should have an abortion... I can't understand why people think those comments are ok

  6. "Ugh, due right at the holidays? Didn't plan that too well, didja?"

    This remains my "favorite" awful pregnancy comment. Somehow I just smiled and made a comment about how the baby would just be a bonus present...when I *wanted* to say, "Plan? Every time we've been intimate for the past three years has been planned, down to the hour! So we're perfectly fine with this due date, sorry it'll be inconvenient for you. "