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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How do I tell the office my pregnancy body is not water cooler talk?

The main thing is: don’t stress. You and your baby are going to be fine with or without the crass colour commentary, writes Ellen Vanstone.

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Ani Castillo / For Metro

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Dear Ellen,

Since I announced I was expecting, everyone constantly stares at or comments on my changing body. Yesterday, a co-worker exclaimed loudly, "Oh, look at your tiny baby bump! Are you wearing maternity pants?" Today, another pointed at my belly and said: "Hey, it's showing now!" Whether they mean well or not, it makes me very uncomfortable, and I know it's only going to get worse. I’m usually pretty quiet and want to avoid being snappy or confrontational. I'd appreciate your advice. Thanks.


Dear MC,

Congratulations on your pregnancy. I am thrilled for you and wish you all the best.

And that is the last you will hear about it from me, or from anyone else in your life who has proper manners.

As you note, your co-workers probably mean well. And many pregnant women *love* having their condition be the centre of attention. Even so, it’s never okay for anyone to comment on anyone else’s physical appearance unless you are related (“Honey, I thought we agreed you’d wait till high school before getting your face tattooed?”) or a close friend (“Your hair looks great — did you do something different?”) or a paid professional (“Yep, that bone sticking out of your leg does look serious — we’re going to have to operate”).

The only time you’re allowed to comment on anyone’s appearance is if you can help with information they presumably *do not already know*: e.g., quietly informing a co-worker she has great shards of kale hanging out of her teeth before she gives an important presentation, or warning a stranger who’s leaving the restroom ahead of you they have 10 feet of toilet paper stuck to one shoe.

It’s tempting to resort to passive-aggressive deflections: “Yes I do have an expanding belly, because I’m pregnant — what’s your excuse?” Or: “Yes, I am wearing maternity pants — and I’ve been meaning to ask you, what the hell are you wearing under that godawful outfit of yours?” But people with our excellent manners would never stoop to such vindictive tactics.

What you can do is politely tell a co-worker that you appreciate the positive energy, but comments about your appearance are distracting and discomfiting. If that doesn’t work, ask a trusted co-worker to spread the word that such comments are inappropriate and unwelcome. If that doesn’t work, and if — god forbid — anyone dares to touch your belly, go to HR. The main thing is: don’t stress. You and your baby are going to be fine with or without the crass colour commentary.

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