A woman I know has a condition called diastasis recti, a post-pregnancy muscle separation that leaves her with what looks for all the world like a baby bump. She has gamely tried to shrug off congratulations from well-meaning strangers, but recently reached the end of her rope and announced that, “No one should ask a woman if they are pregnant. Ever. Period.”
As a society, we tend to view pregnancy as a happy state of affairs, so it’s not unusual for people to want to participate. But if you have to ask someone if they’re pregnant before congratulating them, you should probably think twice.
Many years ago, I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow, sitting at a bar with my much older boss, when the bartender asked, “When are you due?” I was not, in point of fact, pregnant. I was, however, wearing a billowy sundress that might have led him to that conclusion. I was thrown by his question, less because he thought I was pregnant than that he obviously thought my boss and I were a couple. That was truly horrifying.
So, I would have to agree with my frustrated friend, you should neither ask if someone is pregnant, nor when they are due. Now you are thinking, but if I’m 99% sure that person is pregnant, can I say congratulations? If the person is a stranger, my answer is no. What if the pregnancy is not a cause for celebration? You wouldn’t say to someone, “Congratulations on breaking your leg.”
Here’s what you can do. If you are a woman, cis, trans, or other, you can smile at a pregnant stranger in the name of sisterhood. You may or may not get a smile in return. It’s even possible that you will get a scowl. Some pregnant women may be offended if they think you are smiling because they are pregnant. They may not want you presuming on their pregnancy. (I know whereof I speak. I was one of them. In hindsight, I should have smiled back. Because really, why not? Must we all go around ignoring each other all the time?)
If you are male, smile at your own risk. But only speak to say, “Please take my seat,” or “Let me get the door for you.”