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Pregnancy Shaming: What It Looks Like, Why It Sucks, and What To Do About It

Too many kids? Not enough kids? Pregnancy shaming is real, and it’s none of their business.

Growing up in a large Roman Catholic family, I always knew I wanted to have anywhere from 4 to 7 kids. Both of my parents came from families with 7 kids, and their parents came from even larger families. Family gatherings were memorable and delicious! So much food and plenty of cousins to play with while passing the time.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

—Genesis 1:28

I whole-heartedly believe in Genesis 1:28, but before you jump on me for a plethora of reasons, let me explain.

Having and raising children in the 21st century is vastly different than in biblical times. For starters, they did it all in-house! No medical bill for tens of thousands of dollars! The downfall to this would be maternal, and infant mortality rates were much higher. What I’m getting at is that even though all children, planned or not, are a blessing, but some of the responsibilities and factors that play into having a family have changed. Some for the better, others for the worse. Pregnancy shaming falls on the latter end.

With all of the physical, emotional, and financial considerations, now we have to worry about being judged on whether we are having too many kids or not enough—it saddens me. What is suitable for one family may not be right for another. My (and my husband’s) decision to have more children does not affect you, so if you have nothing nice to say, then it’s best to say nothing at all.

Pregnancy shaming can be avoided by keeping to yourself. This is a picture of a hand over the mouth of a drawn face.

In 2013, while pregnant with our 3rd son, I experienced my first encounter with pregnancy shaming. It wasn’t anything mean, although some people can be pretty uncensored with their opinions. Just a simple, “Wow, you’ve got your hands full!”

Did I? Did I really have my hands full with a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and one on the way? Maybe my hands were full, but were they TOO full? I let it roll off with a simple, “If you think my hands are full, you should see my heart!” And it was true, but the statement still caused me to stress over the decision we had already made.

When I was pregnant with our fourth, I had a mini-panic attack. As we stood at mass, I realized no one had more than three children with them. What the heck were we doing having FOUR kids! It was already happening. No going back. Had the seeds of doubt not already been sown because of previous pregnancy shaming, would I have had those feelings?

What is pregnancy shaming?

What is pregnancy shaming? This is a picture of a woman looking at a board with a bunch of confusing scribbles.

Pregnancy shaming is when anyone—family, friend, coworker, or stranger—comments on your pregnancy, or lack thereof, in anything less than a positive way. A few examples might be:

  • You’re pregnant again?
  • Was it planned?
  • Do you know how that happens?
  • You do know how to prevent that, right?
  • Is this the last one?
  • How will you pay for all those kids?
  • Don’t you have enough already?
  • You’re crazy.
  • You should get a hobby.
  • That many kids would drive me nuts.
  • The world is already overpopulated.
  • That (having another child) is irresponsible.
  • That (having another child) is selfish.
  • You’re being unfair to your other children.
  • You won’t be able to give each of them the love and attention they deserve.

Let’s not forget the flip side to being shamed for having too many kids is being shamed for not having enough. Maybe you’ve heard a few like this:

  • You’re only having one? She’ll be so spoiled.
  • Your child will be so lonely.
  • Your child is so beautiful; you should have more!
  • You’re depriving your child if they don’t have a sibling.
  • He won’t know how to share with or love others as well as kids with siblings.
  • When are you going to try for another child?
  • Why aren’t you trying for another child?
  • You’ll regret not having (more) children.
  • That (only having one or two kids) is pretty selfish.
  • Of course you can buy your kid the expensive stuff, you only have one.
  • Your life is easy; you don’t have a bunch of kids.

Other comments not related to family size but still fall in the category of stupid things not to say to a pregnant woman:

  • Any reference to a woman’s weight or body during pregnancy.
  • Any question of their ability to provide for their child.
  • Any question of who the father is.
  • Questioning if it is a real pregnancy or not.
  • Any unsolicited medical advice.
  • Any unsolicited job-related advice.

Why pregnancy shaming sucks.

Pregnancy shaming downright sucks. This is a photo of a pregnant woman sitting on the floor and crying in her hands.

Babies cost money. From the outside, you might be able to assume someone’s financial situation. Whether their financial situation is known or not, making comments about having another child based on someone’s financial situation is rude and none of their business.

While Joe was active duty military, we had Tricare as our healthcare insurance. Our first two children were paid for, 100%, through our insurance. Once we were in the civilian world, we had to figure the expenses into our budget and make things work from there. Having our zero-based budget was a HUGE help to set realistic goals, but paying for another child is not an easy bill to swallow. It is also no one’s business to criticize.

Pregnancy is already a physically and emotionally tasking time. A mother’s body is visibly changing, gaining weight, changing shape, and discovering new, unwanted marks. None of that is easy to watch happen, no matter your pre-pregnancy starting weight.

Aside from physical changes, there are the hormonal and emotional. A mother’s body is adapting to creating new life in her womb, drawing on vital nutrients for her growing baby, and changing hormones to promote the baby’s growth. One minute you are bright and cheery, and then the end of Toy Story 3 comes along, and you are crying a bucket of tears, even though you know the aliens save the day.

Now throw in someone’s insensitive or poorly timed pregnancy shaming comments. Do you think they will go over well? The answer is no.

Pregnancy shaming affects mental health. This is a photo of the word NOPE on a piece of paper pinned to a corkboard.

Whether it’s because of family size or other things in your life, pregnancy shaming is harmful. It has a stressful effect on a mother’s mental and emotional health. The insensitive comments harming the mother, triggering stress and anxiety, are also hurting the baby.

Maternal stress during pregnancy increases the risk of the child having a range of altered neurodevelopmental outcomes.

—Vivette Glover, MA, PhD, DSc

What to do when facing pregnancy shaming.

As much as I’d love to tell you to answer each one with a witty comment (I will provide a few at the end!), it is much more important to choose the high road at times and consider the motive behind the comment.

Pregnancy shaming can come in all forms. This is a photo of a woman with her back to the camera with many others holding callout bubbles around her.

Some comments come from family and friends being interested in your future family plans. Your relationship with each person will help you determine if their words came from a place of selfishness or genuine love and concern.

Then you can choose your route of response. You can be honest with people with whom you have a close relationship. If you struggle with weight or infertility, they’ll be understanding. If it is someone you aren’t close to but are still related to or interact with regularly, it will benefit you to respond with a polite or even funny answer.

If a complete stranger says something that is outright rude, I suggest responding in one of two ways. “That was rude.” or my southern favorite, “Bless your heart.” Leave it at that and walk away. Your time is valuable, and it would be better spent talking to a brick wall than explaining your choices to someone who can’t make good choices about what is appropriate to say or not say to a stranger.

Ignore pregnancy shaming from others. This is a photo of a coffee cup that says, "SORRY NOT SORRY."

Do not ever feel like you have to explain yourself, especially to strangers or people who do not truly care about you or your life. If helping someone understand your decision or your circumstances is your goal, it may require some self-disclosure, which isn’t always a bad thing. Raising awareness of issues can help mitigate any future shaming comments someone might make about another mother.

Here’s a handful of fun comebacks for stupid pregnancy shaming comments:

You know how that happens, right?

  • Yes, we do, and it’s pretty fun!
  • We still haven’t figured that one out. Can you explain it in detail?

You’ve got a lot of kids.

  • You know you get trophies when you’re good at something.
  • It’s not a lot compared to all the practice it took to get them here.

You’re having more kids?

  • Yes, well, we thought the world needed more good people and fewer jerks, so we decided to help the cause.
  • We plan to keep going until we get an ugly one.

So when will you have another one?

  • You know what they say, practice makes perfect!
  • Nine months from conception.

You look really big for only being that far along.

  • I know, right? It’s like I’m growing a whole other person in there.
  • I didn’t realize you were an OB now.

You’ll regret not having more children.

  • Kind of like how you regret saying that comment?
  • Thank you! I absolutely 100% never considered that.

Stand tall, moms and dads.

Stand tall through pregnancy shaming! This is a photo showing the silhouette of a man and a woman happily jumping in the air with the sunset behind them.

I see you, momma! You and your spouse are real parents whether you have one kid, ten kids, or have suffered a miscarriage or death of a child. Having any number of children poses its own challenges, and catching pregnancy shaming from others shouldn’t be one of them.

Please remember, it is not ok for someone to tell you how many kids you should or shouldn’t have. Having children is a matter of love and family, not population and resources.

When I was young and naive, I said stupid comments to friends concerning their desire to have more children. I’m sorry for not knowing better. Now I do, and I want others to know and do better too.

So what was one of the dumbest things said to you during pregnancy or just when you were out with your little ones? Did you have a good comeback handy, or did you let it go in one ear and out the other, only to dwell on later (like so many of us do)? Let us know in the comments below!

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