PERSONAL
11/15/2019 12:07 EST | Updated 11/15/2019 17:26 EST

Stop 'Complimenting' A Pregnant Person's Body Size

What if we just didn't comment on pregnant bodies at all?

Pedro Linares / EyeEm via Getty Images
Want to give a pregnant person a complex? Tell her she barely looks pregnant at all!

I knew exactly how things would go down when word got out at my son’s preschool that I was pregnant again, but that didn’t make it any easier.

The lovely teachers flocked around me at pick-up while my three-year-old put his boots on the wrong feet, as he always does. They congratulated me, squealed when I said it was another boy, then asked how far along I was.

“I’m 24 weeks.”

All eyes turned to my gut, currently squeezed into my too-small puffer jacket. Then, it started.

“WHAT?!”

“THERE’S NO WAY!”

“I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU’RE PREGNANT!”

I felt the need to unzip my coat to prove it. All hands went to my belly.

“YOU’RE TINY!”

“YOU DO NOT LOOK 24 WEEKS!”

“ESPECIALLY FOR A SECOND PREGNANCY!”

I chuckled, wrangled my kid into the car, took him to his swimming lesson, put him to bed, ate half a McCain chocolate cake in the fetal position (Yay, pregnancy), eventually put myself to bed, then lay awake for hours imagining that my baby wasn’t developing properly; that my placenta previa had curbed his growth; that I was going to lose this pregnancy.

But thanks for the compliment, ladies!

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson, 24 weeks pregnant, looking a little haggard after barfing in the sink while brushing her teeth.

The thing about commenting about pregnant women’s bodies is: stop commenting on pregnant women’s bodies. Seriously. Stop it. Whatever our size, we don’t want to hear it.

Some women carry bigger, like my sister, who had strangers commenting that she “must be nearly due” since she was 28 weeks along (a typical pregnancy is 40 weeks). I watched a man watering his garden actually shout this to her as she walked down the street beside me. This made her feel like a whale and question her diet choices, and in the end she delivered a teeny-tiny five-pound baby, which just goes to show you that how ‘big’ or ‘small’ someone might be is not a predictor of anything.

Some women carry smaller, like me. When I was pregnant with my now-three-year-old, I never “dropped” into that “perfect” basketball belly. I was more like a swollen globe, kind of round all over, but I got comments that I was tiny everywhere I went. A waitress told me there was “no way” I was 32 weeks, and I almost made my husband drive me to the hospital to make sure the baby hadn’t been re-absorbed or something.

I gave birth almost a month early, at 36 weeks, and even then, my son was well over seven pounds. The nurses told me I was lucky: if I’d gone full-term, he might have been a 10-pound whopper.

You see what I’m getting at?

Natalie Stechyson
Natalie Stechyson thanks her son, on behalf of her vagina, for coming a month early.

In a society obsessed with thinness and dieting, women are exposed to a constant commentary about their bodies.

But pregnancy in particular brings with it an open season on unsolicited commentary. We do it in the headlines (I’m not sure how Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle take it all, to be honest), and we do it in real life. We do it to pregnant bodies, and we do it to postpartum bodies.

It’s called weight stigma, and it’s really common

A 2019 study found that weight stigma is “increasingly prevalent” during pregnancy and carries a pretty heavy psychological burden for moms. The authors note it can be “highly distressing, and associated with an array of negative health and psychological outcomes” — including depression. And the more commentary they get, the worse their outcomes.

“These findings reflect the powerful negative social meanings of weight gain faced in pregnancy and often unachievable social standards of ‘dropping the baby weight’ as new mothers,” the authors concluded.

In other words, these seemingly harmless comments? Actually pretty damn harmful! 

I do understand that people mean well when they tell me I’m tiny. No one is trying to be malicious or cause me any harm, but the opposite. Being told I’m “tiny” is often followed up with “and so cute!” and “You look great!” I get it from friends when I post the occasional gut pic on social media. I get it from my dad, with a tinge of pride in his voice (Ugh, why??). And I certainly get it whenever I enter my kid’s daycare.

But here’s what most people don’t know when they pay me a “compliment” about my pregnant bod. 

WATCH: How to support someone who’s lived through miscarriage. Story continues below.

 

This is (hopefully, all signs point to “yes”) my second baby, but my fourth pregnancy. I miscarried before each of my healthy pregnancies, and both losses were incredibly physically and psychologically traumatic.

I’ve since been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder ― I take medication, I see a psychiatrist, and I am considered high-risk for postpartum depression ― thanks to my history of loss.

I spent the entirety of my second pregnancy, the one that gave me my son, convinced I would lose him. I would often excuse myself from a room to go check for blood, and was sure I would see the tell-tale signs every time I wiped after going to the bathroom. For eight months, I lived every day in fear.

Being told I looked tiny would make me spiral. Every single time.

With this pregnancy, on the heels of my last miscarriage, I have a lot of the same fears (although these are slightly dulled, thanks to my new BFF, Zoloft). But on top of general worries that I could lose this baby, I also have more specific ones. The complication I have that I mentioned earlier, called placenta previa, puts me more at risk for bleeding and pre-term birth. 

Telling me I “barely look pregnant” brings all those fears to the front of my mind. Every single time.

But of course, most people don’t know that. Why would they? How can any of us know what any pregnant woman has been through, or is going through? And by the way, she doesn’t have to have gone through a thing to feel like utter garbage about a not-actually-quite-so-harmless comment about her appearance.

Natalie Stechyson
Pumpkins comes in all shapes and sizes.

So, next time you feel the urge to comment on a pregnant body — ‘big’ or ‘small,’ carrying high or low, even if you think it’s a compliment — maybe just ask the person how she’s feeling, instead. Or offer them a seat (they’re probably tired). Or a snack (she’s definitely hungry).

Or, say nothing at all about their appearance, just like you would to a non-pregnant stranger you see walking down the street. Again, for the people in the back: stop commenting on pregnant bodies!

I saw my OB-GYN this week and breathed a sigh of relief when we heard baby boy’s strong heartbeat. I told him I’d been feeling anxious because people keep telling me how tiny I am, and because he is very kind, he measured my abdomen for me.

“It’s exactly where we would expect it to be for 24 weeks,” he told me, feeling the contours of my uterus and the placement of the baby with his hands.

“If anything, I’d say this baby is on the bigger side.”

Just like his brother. God help me.