It is the age old rule: if it is not 100% confirmed that she is pregnant, do not ask any questions about her being pregnant. The iteration of this rule often brings to mind the ever awkward scenario of inquiring about a woman’s due date only to find out that she is not pregnant and you have just called her fat. However, once pregnancy has been confirmed, it really serves to open the floodgates for people to weigh in on various aspects of pregnancy. Whether it be a woman’s body or weight, what she eats, what she does or does not drink, or invasive requests to touch her stomach, normal boundaries seem to be forsaken upon discovery that a woman is laboriously nurturing another life into existence. The respect and autonomy given a woman is taken away with pregnancy as if the woman suffered from an illness or was otherwise debilitated in a way that meant that she could not make it without external intervention, regardless of how familiar the outsider was with her.
To provide an example of the invasive nature of strangers who feel entitled to criticize and advise women because they are pregnant, let us look at the latest headline grabbing Facebook trend.
Lea-Ann Ellison posted a photo of herself lifting weights while 8 months pregnant with a caption that read, in part, “…strongly believe that pregnancy is not an illness,” and was met with outrage and condemnation. Questions of the sense of her level of exercise were laced with attacks on her ability to parent.
“Sure you look and sound cool, but we’re only human…why would you risk hurting your baby just to stay in shape? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s not a time to kick ass, it’s a time to be protective of your unborn child. Normally I’m for crossfit, but this doesn’t make any sense to me”
“You may have mastered the squat but need to work on motherhood ..8 months doing an overhead squat really??!!!”
“Clearly she should loose any custody to the fathers child and he be awarded full custody as she is unfit to be a co-parent.”
This notion that a woman is pregnant and therefore a workout away from hurting her baby is an extremely loaded mindset. Mothers tend to try to protect their children; there is a bit of an instinct for it. To blame any possible hypothetical future complications solely on the mother’s actions, based entirely off of a picture, is thoughtless. Pregnancy is not something that makes a woman suddenly become frail or infirm with illness, and if something does happen to her or her child, piling blame on top of her emotional turmoil is cruel.
The argument that keeps surfacing in Ellison’s defense — other than that exercising is healthy and she knows more about her situation than you do — is that women have historically always had to work hard, and often very physically, during their pregnancies. There have always been complications in pregnancies as well, yet one does not equate the other. A woman who exercises during pregnancy is not guaranteed a tragedy, nor should she avoid exercise because one is possible. A lot of things are possible in life.
The other thing that is always completely ignored is the emotional damage that comes from shaming and judgment that manifests itself in attacks on a person’s identity. She is being called selfish for not protecting her child. It appears that the only way for her to avoid being selfish is to sacrifice first her emotional well-being by buying into the ideals of others — which actively attack her own ideals as morally flawed — and then her physical well being regardless of the truths she holds for her own life. It is a double standard.
It is also no one’s business what she does to exercise during her pregnancy. Nor does any other pregnant woman need to answer for anything she eats, or how much weight she gains, or how fast she does or does not lose it, or what kind of breastfeeding practices she chooses.
Even after it is established that a woman is pregnant, it is still rude to comment on her size. She is not about to burst and it is hurtful to say so.
It is best to just remember that the majority of women have managed to pull this pregnancy thing of without crawling into a protective bubble; and to remember that this imagery promotes a notion of illness and fragility that is not supported with science. Trust those mothers, or mothers-to-be, to know what they can do to best provide for their child. People should mind their own business and if consultation is needed, remember that they will not have to raise the child or live with any of the imagined consequences that are prompting such a sense of immediate meddling.
Written by: Vanessa Blanchard