In social justice movements, we talk a lot about how to be good allies in our public and private spaces. I would argue that pregnant folks need allies too in those public and private spaces. Still, I think it’s hard to be a support person, to know the “right” thing to say, and to feel that one can really be there for someone else. If your friend, child, partner, significant other, client, or colleague says, “I’m pregnant,” maybe that person is looking for an ally. Here are some starting suggestions for how to provide that support.
Hold yourself accountable for creating safer spaces. There’s a lot of stigma around about who should and should not be pregnant, sex, parenting, adoption, and abortion. It’s more likely that you’ll be able to support someone you care about if you “advertise” yourself as a safer space. Remember to not make assumptions in your public or private life and to think critically about what you say. For example, don’t make the assumption that because someone doesn’t have a child that s/he has never been pregnant or make negative statements about single/young/queer/poor/undocumented/disabled mamas.
Thank that person for telling you. Regardless of how someone is feeling about being pregnant, this might be big news. Even if it’s not, that person told you for a reason, so showing you’re open to having a conversation is a great first step. This could be an amazing day for your friend or an incredibly hard one that has caused your loved one to ask a lot of big questions. Either way, you should feel honored that s/he made the choice to tell you.
Ask that person how s/he’s feeling. A lot of the time, we can put a lot of pressure on ourselves to say or do the right thing. The great thing is that you can let yourself off the hook and not have to intuit anything. Just ask. Remember that s/he might not be sure how s/he feels and that any feelings s/he’s having are okay.
Don’t make assumptions about what your loved one might want to do with the news that s/he’s pregnant. S/he might not even be sure of next steps, and it’s okay to help your loved one sort through options. A lot of times we make assumptions though about what a pregnancy means to someone. Some people might assume that younger or single folks might not want to parent or that a person in a committed relationship would not consider abortion. Even if someone has told you previously what s/he would do if s/he became pregnant, still take the time to ask. A real positive pregnancy test might lead to different thoughts than a hypothetical pregnancy.
Ask what you can do to provide support. Some people might want a hug or a ride or to talk or to stay silent or to have someone come with them to an appointment. Everyone’s different, so show that you care but ask first.
Keep the focus on the person you’re supporting. When you care about someone, and s/he mentions going through something that you also went through, it’s a normal first reaction to start giving advice, to start a play-by-play explanation of exactly what you did in a similar situation. The key is that each person is different and what might have worked for you, might really not work for your friend.
Educate yourself so you can provide accurate information and referrals. There is a lot of inaccurate information floating around about pregnancy, fetal development, abortion, parenting, and adoption. Knowing the facts can help improve your ability to help someone you love. Knowing what resources are available in your area that provide high quality, medically sound, and personally supportive care can be really helpful. There are even hotlines that you can call as a support person to get more information.
Take care of yourself. Compassion fatigue is real. Helping others without taking the time to support yourself can lead to taking on someone else’s pain. It’s also possible that if your loved one’s pregnancy could affect you personally. The key is to find a way to care for yourself without harming your loved one or taking away your friend’s right to make her/his own decisions about the pregnancy.