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10 Things You Never Say to a Person Giving Birth

Photograph by Getty Images/Vetta

1. Just relax!

It’s hard to figure out how to “just relax” when everything hurts. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t encourage relaxation.

Try directing the birthing person’s attention to a part of her body that she can relax. Remind her to release her shoulders. Help her to slow down her breathing. And remember that, as a blanket statement, “just relax” often provokes anything but relaxation.

2. You’re only … ?!

You’re only 4 centimeters dilated? (No one likes to feel more discouraged than they already are about their labor progress.)

You only had a 2-hour labor? (Fast labors don’t always equal easy labors.)

You’re only going to try for a C-section? (The decision about how to give birth is best left to a pregnant woman in consultation with her care provider.)

Here’s the problem: That word "only" belittles the work that a person has already done, and it can magnify the work that lies ahead. So tuck it away and leave it for another day. A simple “You’re doing an amazing job” will suffice.

RELATED: 7 Ways I'm Overcoming My Fear of Labor

Let time and labor unfold as they shall and leave all mention of childbirth horror stories at home.

3. You know, you could say that with a nicer tone

There’s no place for the tone police when it comes to childbirth.

If a person is in the throes of labor, they’re likely limited to short, terse utterances. It’s hard to fit in a “pretty please” and “thank you” when you feel as if your hips are going to explode out of their sockets. And if a person is recovering from a C-section, they’re faced with the formidable task of recovering from major abdominal surgery, all while caring for a brand new human. They’re allowed a little leeway when it comes to the way they speak to others.

4. Your cousin Sarah was in labor for 62 hours

Hearing about a 62-hour labor is scary enough when you’re not actually in labor. It’s freaking terrifying when you are in the midst of labor.

Let time and labor unfold as they shall and leave all mention of childbirth horror stories at home.

What was easy for you might be difficult for someone else.

5. Your cousin Sarah looked like a model right after she gave birth

Oh, that cousin Sarah.

Look, some people look like runway models and some people look like human train wrecks right after giving birth. They’re all superwomen. They all deserve medals. And they all deserve one damn day where they can be gorgeous in their own right and not in comparison to any other person (including this insufferable cousin Sarah).

6. I had a C-section, and it was awful

I’m sorry. Sometimes C-sections suck, and sometimes C-section recovery is a beast.

But that is your own experience. This person’s experience might be different, and they deserve to go into that experience without any extraneous negativity.

But if you want to help make their experience better than yours was? By all means, go forward with generosity and sensitivity. Take them dinner. Help them care for their older child(ren). Do a couple loads of laundry. Turn your awful experience into someone else’s positive experience.

7. I had a C-section, and it was no big deal

That’s fantastic! For some people, C-sections and C-section recovery are smooth—and perhaps even easier than vaginal birth and recovery.

But that’s not the case for everyone. What was easy for you might be difficult for someone else. So instead of brushing off C-sections as “no big deal,” take what you learned from your positive C-section experience and help make this person’s experience as positive as it can be. (Again, meals, childcare or housework, anyone?)

What’s more, an epidural is a wonderful labor tool, but it is not a magic cure-all.

8. I didn’t have any drugs at all, and it was no big deal

Good for you. I’m sure your contractions still felt like a big deal while you were having them.

More importantly, every pregnant person and every birth is different. Going without pain medication doesn’t make someone morally superior, just as choosing pain medication doesn’t make someone a wimp.

But being supported in whatever pain management choice one makes does make a person feel loved and empowered.

9. Just get the epidural already

Choosing to go without pain medication doesn’t make someone a martyr, just as choosing pain medication doesn’t make someone a superior decision-maker.

What’s more, an epidural is a wonderful labor tool, but it is not a magic cure-all. If a laboring person really wants an epidural, then by all means, they should have access to one. But if they’re not yet ready for one, then they shouldn’t feel pressured to get it.

RELATED: My OB-Gyn Threatened Me With a C-Section

10. At least you have a healthy baby

Though generally well-intentioned, this statement demeans the pain of parents who do not, in fact, have healthy babies. Their pain should not be used to shame other parents for having less-than-rosy feelings about their birth experiences.

And those feelings don’t ever warrant shame, no matter what they are. Sometimes our emotions are complex, even contradictory: joy mixed with sorrow mixed with relief mixed with disappointment. As long as those emotions aren’t getting in the way of a person’s ability to care for themselves and their baby, it’s OK to let them be without judgment and without reductive comments.

And if you’re ever at a loss for words? A simple, “You and your baby are incredible” is always welcome.

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