What do I say to strangers who comment on my pregnancy?
NOTE: Daniel and Kelly speak to this question on Episode #7 of The Abel Speaks Podcast. You can listen on Apple, Spotify, or your app of choice.
You’re out in public, or you’re running to the grocery store, and people just love pregnant moms, right? So they want to comment on how cute you look, or ask if it’s a boy or girl, and offer any other number of comments and compliments. And yet, for mothers whose child has received a life-limiting diagnosis, these well-meaning strangers have no context for what you’re actually walking through. As your belly grows and that baby bump is on full display, it can be hard to go out in public and get a lot of comments. Given how universal this experience is in our culture, I’m often asked how I would handle this difficult dynamic.
Before I respond to that question, I want to quickly note that this is something that only the ladies fully experience, since dad’s outward appearance remains unchanged while mom’s belly gets bigger. In and of itself, that factor makes this difficult as it can feel like this is a little piece of the journey that you are experiencing daily in a way that is unique from your husband or significant other. It’s okay to put words on that, and it’s good to share that hard reality with him.
Like most of the topics we touch on, there’s not a definitive “right or wrong” way to respond when a stranger comments on your pregnancy, but I can share how I approached it.
Responding to well-intended remarks
Most of the time when someone said congratulations and asked about gender, I would just say, “Hey, we’re really excited about being pregnant, and thanks for being excited with me. I’m having a little boy, but our son is actually really sick, so if you’d just be willing just to pray for him and pray for us if it comes to mind, we would really appreciate that.”
And then there’s the person who throws out, “Hey, as long as it’s a healthy baby!” and other things like that. In those moments, it can be easy for those remarks to feel ignorant, hurtful and frustrating. Some days I just had to keep moving, but as much as possible, I’d try to take that opportunity to say, “Well, actually he’s not healthy — but we are so grateful for his life and honored that the Lord has chosen us to be his parents.”
Sometimes I would get totally blank stares. Sometimes I could tell it made them feel a little bit uncomfortable. But other times, I’d hear, “Oh, wow. I’m so sorry. We actually lost a baby too,” and they would feel freedom to share their story with me. Or I would have people who didn’t have a similar experience but would feel really moved by the openness and vulnerability.
Suddenly, what began as a casual comment became a conversation about my child where I got to share what the Lord was teaching us through Abel’s story, how much his life had already impacted ours, what we’d learned about the value of each and every life, and so on. Every parent loves to talk about their kids, after all, and that just happened to be what I had to share about mine in that season.
So on the days where I felt capable and able, I really tried to view these well-intended questions and comments as an opportunity to do just that — and it usually ended up turning into some really sweet conversations.
Extending grace to yourself and others
I wanted to provide some sample language above, but I also want to clearly say that there were plenty of other days where I was just running lower on emotional bandwidth and had less capacity today to engage in this conversation. So I would just say thank you and smile and move on.
A painful sentiment that I’ll sometimes hear from moms is, “I feel like I’m failing my baby or letting them down and not being faithful in that moment if I don’t say something.” So I want to say clearly that there is unlimited freedom and permission on those harder days to simply smile and say thanks and keep on walking. Your faithfulness and your love for your child is never what’s at stake here. So please, extend grace to yourself on those difficult days and know that you are free to respond quickly and cordially.
While you’re at it, I’d also encourage you to do your best to extend grace to those on the other end of these exchanges. Daniel and I have both thought, “Gosh, I wonder how many times I said something along these lines to somebody and I just had absolutely no idea? I certainly didn’t mean anything by it.” For crying out loud, there are still occasions where we accidentally say the totally wrong thing at the wrong time. So we came to view these situations as a chance to almost “pay it forward” in a way that believed the best in others and grew our own ability to empathize and extend grace to people who mean well and simply don’t have all of the information.
Practically speaking, it could be beneficial to take a moment before going in public to assess what “kind of day” you’re having and how you plan to respond if/when someone says something about your baby. You can certainly change your mind at any point, but this can help you prepare your head and heart for how you intend to engage with people in those settings. Just take it one outing at a time, and one day at a time.
Ultimately, if our hope and our aim was to cherish, to steward, and to really savor our child’s life now and forevermore, then these exchanges can be small opportunities to do those very things. Each and every time I did choose to share, especially when I didn’t think I had it in me, the Lord never failed to give me the energy and the words to say in those moments.
You’re not going to do it perfectly. I sure didn’t. But while Abel was alive and with me, then and there, the innocent comment of a stranger was an open door to actively integrate my son’s life into mine. And even if I didn’t feel this way at the time, I am truly grateful for that.