I had something happen to me a few weeks ago that forced me to both look at and accept the views I have about pregnancy.
It seems that almost every semester I learn that one of my students is expecting a baby. This last semester, two of my male students’ wives gave birth, and I had one pregnant woman in my class. I honestly haven’t thought much of it other than knowing how a newborn will impact them as my students.
This quick acceptance changed when one of my former students (who I had known prior to becoming one of her teachers) mentioned to me in passing that she was pregnant. Rather than immediately congratulating her, my mind first jumped to, “How old are you now?” and “Did you get married?” and “What did your family think about this?”
I didn’t ask these questions, but I did note that my immediate reaction wasn’t positive. This knee-jerk reaction wasn’t life-affirming. As I see it, these negative reactions are an underlying problem in our culture.
In truth, none of my reactive mental questions mattered; this student and this new life mattered. She chose life, and this choice should be celebrated.
I may be wrong, but I think most of us struggle with how to react when we learn about some pregnancies. If the picture includes a well-established husband and wife with a good income, we don’t question it. However, our perceptions change when pregnancy includes a very young woman, an unmarried woman, a woman in poverty, or a woman with several other children.
What can we do to change our perceptions and reactions?
Maybe you can come up with more ideas, but I’ve latched on to the following three.
1. Celebrate Life
These women, no matter their situation, chose to bring life into the world. If we are supporting the pro-life movement, we should celebrate that they didn’t choose abortion.
Those of us who react negatively (even if only in our minds) need to retrain ourselves to react differently. This is sometimes easier said than done, but we need to remind ourselves of the bigger picture and celebrate the life they chose to bring into the world.
Retraining your brain takes time and meditation. A prayer could include Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” You could also aim to frequently remind yourself each time you see a pregnant woman to imagine the words “I chose life” printed across her belly. This may sound silly, but you may need that reminder.
- Develop Empathy
When possible, we need to engage these women in conversation to hear their stories. Learning her story will help us see her rather than a label.[Tweet “Listening with our hearts will help us develop empathy.”]
Sparking up a conversation with a stranger may seem odd to you, but this is actually a pretty common experience for pregnant women. Simple conversation starters include: “When are you due?” “Are you past the morning sickness phase?” “Do you know if you are having a boy or a girl?” Obviously, you can start by sharing some of your own story if you have been pregnant: “When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had heartburn so bad. They say this means the baby will have lots of hair.”
Therefore, do what you can to change your emotional view of these women who need your support. This will come from your heart.
- Offer Help
The third thing you can do is offer help. What can you do to help her be successful as a parent? What can you do to encourage her?
Sometimes this comes in the form of offering to buy diapers or some sleeper pajamas for the baby. However, this doesn’t have to be a monetary means of helping, and it could be something small. For instance, maybe you could entertain a crying baby or a rambunctious pair of children while their mother is trying to pay for her groceries.
One of the most touching moments of support I received was in a woman’s bathroom.
I was still in high school and was experiencing morning sickness. One of the teachers came into the bathroom and told me she had left some peppermints by the sink to help settle my stomach and remove the taste in my mouth. This small act of kindness brought tears to my eyes and helped me feel confident in my choice to remain pregnant.
Help comes in the form of love. Show these women that you care for them rather than ignoring them or showing them judgement. They might get enough of that already. Even in small ways, we can counteract that negativity.
Now that I am more aware that my reactions toward some pregnant women need to change, I am determined to shift my focus to the bigger picture. I will work harder to develop empathy by recalling my own experience of being pregnant in high school or by engaging in conversation with pregnant women to encourage them. I will aim to find ways to help in both big and small ways.
Ultimately, it is counterproductive to want women to choose life but then to let our mental or even outward actions speak a less triumphant “Congratulations!”
If you find yourself questioning how to respond when you see a pregnant woman who doesn’t fit what you see as the ideal situation, I ask that you join with me to actively change your perceptions!