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Dealing With Rude People

You would think that with all the things that could go wrong and all the anxiety this causes a mother-to-be, people would be extra careful about what they say. In fact, the opposite is true: When it comes to pregnant women, people have a special disregard for manners.

It's not everybody. There are the people who offer you a seat on the bus as if you're royalty, or flash knowing "welcome to the club" smiles. On a good day it can be thrilling to be the center of attention. On a bad day, though, you are a magnet for those with no judgment. And because you're already extra sensitive and often not feeling that great, those negative remarks can really get to you.

It's as if the world regards pregnant women as public property. "Oh my gosh, you're so huge" is a comment that almost every pregnant women hears at least once -- but who would dare say that to a woman who wasn't pregnant?

People are curious and happy for a soon-to-be mom, notes Paul Geltner, a psychologist at New York University. But because they are simply looking out for her, friends, relatives, and even strangers feel they have the license to do and say things that they wouldn't otherwise.

So how are you supposed to deal with tactless behavior from people who just want to help? Mendie Cohn, a New York City psychologist, says that in general you'll feel better about yourself if you take the high road rather than resorting to rudeness. Of course, rudeness toward pregnant women comes in many forms -- and a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't always work.

Here are the four types of rude behavior that you're bound to encounter and how to respond:

1. The size monger

When I was three months pregnant, a girlfriend said to me "You're gaining so much weight. I don't know how you can cope with that." Even though I was still wearing my regular clothes, I went home and cried. Weeks later, an older woman said to me "You're carrying so small, you need to eat more." That freaked me out so much that I actually asked her how big she thought I should be. She made arcs with her hands over her own stomach and offered me a bit of her cookie. It was clear that she had no idea. That set of remarks taught me that most people don't know what they're talking about -- and the best response is to ignore them. Sometimes, though, you're in no mood to let things go. Let's say a member of the food police is making you feel guilty about the doughnut you're about to dive into -- or the broccoli you have no intention of consuming. Politely tell her that your doctor is monitoring your weight gain and is happy so far.

2. The uninvited toucher

Once, when a friend of mine was innocently shopping in a department store, a woman approached her and said, "My daughter-in-law never lets me touch her stomach," and proceeded to pat hers! My friend said nothing, hoping the woman would go away. But in this case, ignoring the rudeness only encouraged it. The woman placed a second hand on my friend's belly! So she finally said "I don't let people touch me either," and the woman got the hint. In general, the best way to deal with intrusive behavior is to calmly say "I'm sorry, that makes me uncomfortable. I need you to stop," suggests Charlotte Ford, author of 21st-Century Etiquette (Lyons Press, 2001).

3. The workplace vulture

We all want to feel in control when we tell people at the office that we're pregnant. Unfortunately, coworkers don't always cooperate. Another friend of mine was eight weeks along when a colleague said, "I heard you throwing up in the bathroom. Are you pregnant?" She hadn't told anyone at work because she preferred to keep the news quiet until 12 weeks. How do you respond when you're put on the spot like that? Ford suggests offering a vague response, like "My stomach really isn't agreeing with me." Later, when you announce your pregnancy, you can explain that you just weren't ready to go public when asked about it earlier. However, she notes, it's unrealistic to expect that people who see you every day aren't going to notice that something's up, so you might want to take one or two people into confidence.

4. The linguist

This is the person who comments on your list of names as if she were an expert. Frequent assessments include "You will ruin your kid's life with that name. It's too unusual." Or, "You will ruin your kid's life with that name. It's so common, everyone will have it." My husband and I picked out a name early. We ran it by one of my uncles, and he said "That means 'old table' in ancient Hebrew." By the time I told our son's name to the 20th person, it was clear that people did not like it. So when someone said, "Is that one of those family names that you have to use even though it's awful?" I smiled and said, "No, we picked the name out of a book because we love it." The person said, "Oh, I like it too."

Finally, before you come down too hard on the rude masses, don't forget that you may someday be guilty of a faux pas yourself. Just take it all in stride and remember that it only lasts about nine months.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.