“Congratulations” is basically the norm when someone announces they are pregnant. Growing up, that’s what I learned to say, followed by visible excitement. With time, I learned that, although the prospect of a baby
is can be seemingly happy, there are a lot more subtleties to it.
When I was 18, one of my close friends got pregnant. Her mom had passed when she was 9, there was no partner in the scene, and she was struggling at a retail job. Nonetheless, she broke the news to me with a big smile on her face. I said “Congratulations!” as a reflex, but then I realized how complicated this could be for her, and I immediately followed it with “How are you feeling?” – and she started crying. She had always wanted to have a child, but the circumstances were … less than ideal.
A few years went by, and a cousin tells me that she was pregnant midway through her second trimester. I was so happy for her, I only had joyful and positive things to say to her. Or was it at her? I didn’t ask any questions. I just celebrated. A few weeks later she miscarried. Later, I found out she had miscarried before this pregnancy also. To this day I regret not having a real conversation with her. I regret not asking her how she was feeling. I regret not being there for her. I regret not providing more than just a minute of fragile celebration.
Now it is my turn, I’m on the other side. The second person I told about my pregnancy was a random nurse who picked up the call at the hospital I go to in town. I started with “I took several pregnancy tests, and they are all positive.” As I still had my mouth open to ask a gazillion questions, she emphatically said “CONGRATULATIONS!” As I tried to understand how to navigate this new world, and what appointments I needed, she would answer it vaguely followed by “again, congratulations.” This interaction ended up being so overwhelming to me, that I had to process everything for a few days before calling again to finally schedule my first appointment.
Language evolves over time. I don’t know if there’s a better word than congratulations, or even if I have a real qualm with it. It is nice when your pregnancy is celebrated, and I am certainly thankful to all who have shared joy over my announcement. What I do know is that for anyone who tells me they are pregnant, I’ll welcome them with “how are you feeling?” – and then go from there.