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What Not to Say to Someone Who Is Chronically Ill and Pregnant

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Most comments we make to pregnant individuals are made out of kindness, but they aren’t always received that way. The reason for this is something I feel should be obvious — because we don’t know what that person is going through, in pregnancy or otherwise. It’s usually best not to make comparisons or assumptions when it comes to chronic illness, but especially if the recipient is pregnant and struggling emotionally or physically, they might not perceive your response in the way it’s intended.

1. “Don’t worry, I didn’t glow in pregnancy either.”

It’s fine to say to someone that you had a difficult pregnancy. It’s OK to relate to what they’ve expressed, but if they tell you they’re struggling, don’t tell them you “didn’t glow either.” Firstly, it implies the person isn’t glowing (a little rude) and secondly, unless they’ve explained their situation and it’s the same as yours, you’ve probably had different experiences. Not glowing isn’t the same as experiencing extreme pain because of chronic illness. You can empathize without using comparisons.

2. It’ll be worth it in the end.

This is my least favorite and it’s one used most often. Most people who are pregnant know that it’s worth it. We know when we make sacrifices during pregnancy that it’s for the good of our baby; we know once we have our baby it’ll be worth it. However, those who are chronically ill and pregnant make many sacrifices, including reducing and stopping medication they need, in order to give their baby the best start. They are also prone to more complications in pregnancy, which means there’s a strong possibility that there could be complications present you aren’t aware of. To use a generic term like “it’ll be worth it” before knowing someone’s story may inadvertently invalidate their struggle.

3. “As soon as you hold your baby, you’ll instantly forget all of the pain of pregnancy.”

Many people with chronic illness experience pain every single day. Our mental health is often affected as a result too. We don’t get the luxury of forgetting what it feels like. Yes, our bundles of love, our children, can make it all seem worthwhile, but to suggest we just forget isn’t true for everyone.

4. “The rush of love you’ll feel once you’ve given birth is like no other.”

Stop! It’s suggested around 1 in 7 people are diagnosed with postpartum depression in the year after giving birth. The likelihood is a lot more suffer but don’t get an accurate diagnosis. To suggest everyone feels a rush of love as soon as their baby is born is damaging to those of us that don’t feel it instantly. It’s one of the reasons many feel ashamed to admit that it didn’t come easily to them.

Another reason this is damaging to people with chronic health conditions is that we often already feel like we have to hide how we really feel to make others feel less uncomfortable. Some of us may be in too much pain initially to bond with our baby instantly. Some experience extreme anxiety after giving birth, and many take longer to adjust to parenthood. It’s not to say the love doesn’t come, but it’s not as always as instantaneous as this comment would have us believe.

5. “Wow, that’s a big bump.”

I’ve had to stay on bed rest since 14 weeks gestation. I’ve put on a lot of weight because I’m not moving. I’m aware of this; I’m also conscious of it. I don’t need it highlighted to me by way of a flippant comment. In my first pregnancy, I was immobile from 16 weeks too. I also experienced preeclampsia which caused me to retain large amounts of water. I looked like a beach ball; even my hands and feet were puffy and my face was as round as a full moon. Never did I appreciate having that highlighted to me.

6. “All women go through this.”

They don’t. Not all women will be juggling the full-time job of growing a healthy baby whilst also managing chronic and debilitating health conditions. Not all women become completely immobile as a result of their pregnancy. It is true that many people experience ill health during pregnancy. It’s also true that many enjoy pregnancy and feel well. Again, stop comparing. Period.

7. “What medication are you taking?”

Mind your business. Some people will have natural pregnancies and some will depend on medication to function and in some cases survive. We don’t need your judgment or to give you an explanation. It’s a hard enough task trying to decide what to do for the best when managing ill health and pain during pregnancy. A bit like those who choose to have natural births without pain relief, it’s not for anyone else to decide how someone chooses to manage pregnancy and birth. It’s their decision alone, in consultation with medical professionals, not with the general public and not even with close friends unless they choose.

Supporting a chronically ill person can be hard and nobody expects you to know the right thing to say all of the time, but it’s OK to say nothing, or to ask questions instead of trying to provide solutions. The same goes for parenthood; we all experience it differently. Some people will be aware early on of complications with their pregnancy, they may want your support or they may want to deal with it in private. Ask them! Don’t tell someone how they should or will feel, because you don’t know either to be true. Offer up your support, tell them you’re there if they need someone to talk to and let them know you support their decisions. If your friend does decide to open up, look up their health condition and research the complications they share with you.

Don’t compare someone else’s pregnancy to yours. No two are the same.

Getty image by Lordn.

Originally published: June 3, 2021
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