In the past month since I announced my pregnancy, I've learned that a growing belly is a sign that others read as "Please tell me what to do because I completely stupid and have no idea." Being pregnant means getting tons of unsolicited advice. I can handle this, to some extent. I mean, I was a single gal for a long, long, long time and dealt with all of the advice on how to snag a husband (I even wrote a satirical "how-to" paper on this as an undergrad, but that's another story). And as a young woman in ministry I learned to cope with the overabundance of advice from well-meaning older ministers (men) on how to handle life in the congregation (because women cannot figure this out on our own - ugh!). But the rate at which I am given unsolicited advice has picked up exponentially since I let word get out about my pregnancy. And there's only so much I can take.
Here I am. A woman in my late 30's. I have worked in health care for over five years of my career, two of those years in women's health, covering units for high-risk pregnancies and the neo-natal ICU. Terms such a subchorionic bleed, placenta previa, incompetent cervix, listeriosis, etc. are all part of my vocabulary. I am very well-educated, perhaps over-educated. I am a woman who has lost several pregnancies and gone through multiple fertility treatments. I had the very best fertility doctor in the province who has given me wonderful (professional) advice and referred me to his mentor as my obstetrician, who has also taken excellent care of me. And if he ever stopped taking good care of me, I have more than one obstetrician I would call as a back-up. And as a woman with a high-risk pregnancy, I have been well-monitored and taken care of. I work in health care, and I know of every hospital in the city, and I have known which hospital would be the best for me, my pregnancy, and my delivery long before I ever got pregnant. I know my shit. I have done my research. And I happen to be hooked up with a scientist, a professional researcher, and anything I haven't been able to find out, he picks up the slack and gets answers.
So, yes, I do know the old advice about abstaining from caffeine during pregnancy. And you know what? I also know that this is old advice. And yes, I do know that soft cheeses are to be avoided when with child. And I also know that this advice applies to unpasteurized cheeses, so not all brie is bad. Furthermore, I also know that it's the doctors in North America that are hyper-vigilant about this and that most European women wouldn't dare eat pasteurized cheeses, even when pregnant. And I know the risk of listeriosis is relatively small, even among those European women. And I know what they say about sushi. And I know what they say about smoked fish, undercooked eggs, alcohol, you name it. As I said before, I know my shit. I don't need you treating me like an idiot and assuming I don't. And if there is something I don't know, I'll freakin' ask!
When I get advice like this, I try to be gracious. I say, "Thank you." Or "I did know that, but I appreciate you telling me." I don't contradict them or tell them if I plan to do something other than follow their advice. But inevitably, online, this response invites other unsolicited advice along with attacks on the original advice giver. When I have tried to graciously receive the advice of one Facebook "friend", another jumps in, "Don't listen to that! It's just bad advice or the science has changed or your friend so-and-so is stupid and so are you if you listen to her." Yes, I know the advice given to me might be outdated. I have no intention of following it. But I also have no intention of alienating my friends. So, how can I win?
I've come to accept that I can't. I am just going to be inundated with advice. And to think I have five more months of pregnancy! And I can only imagine the advice gets worse with parenting. But at least there, I feel as if I might need a little more advice. I don't feel as educated on every issue that could arise with parenting.
I don't want this to sound like I don't appreciate hearing from people who have been through what I am going through. I truly love making connections around shared experiences. And it is such a joy to hear from somebody who understand what is happening to me, someone who's been there and done that. But instead of telling me what I should be doing, I wish more folks would be like a friend of mine who said, "Man, when I was pregnant, they told me not to eat sushi, and all I was craving was sushi, and it was so hard. Are they still advising pregnant women to stay away from sushi?" She didn't jump on my case when I told her what I was craving (it was chili con queso made with pure, processed Velveeta), telling me how the chemicals would be bad for my baby and how I shouldn't even expose my kid to the fumes of processed foods, etc. She just got that I was having a craving and shared her experience. She didn't tell me what I should do or shouldn't do. She didn't try to make me feel stupid or bad for even thinking what I was thinking. She just let me know that she was with me. And I appreciated that.
And then there was the friend who lifted her shirt and said, "If there is anything you can do to avoid stretchmarks, I hope you find it." And when I replied, "I'm hoping Craig rubbing cocoa butter on my belly each evening does the trick," she said, "I hope so, too." No advice, just comradery. Just somebody who has been on this journey and wants to walk it with me. If more people were like these friends, well, then I wouldn't be writing this rant, I guess.