By speaking out about their experiences, these stars are giving voice to the all-too-common problem of pregnancy speculation in our culture. They’re shedding light on something so many of us have faced—because while celebrities can speak loudly about this issue from their large platforms, they’re certainly not the only victims of pregnancy speculation.
Nearly every woman knows what it’s like to turn down a drink and have someone ask “ohhhh, do you have newwwwss?”. If you’re married or seriously partnered up, you’ve almost certainly been asked when you’re having kids (as though such a thing is always predictable). And if you’ve ever experienced weight gain or bloating, you’ve probably fielded questions or even congratulatory wishes (do people really still not know that pregnancy isn’t the only thing that’s allowed to change a woman’s body?). Somehow, we’re here in 2022, and “are you pregnant?” is still a question we’re being asked.
We’re finally starting to have conversations about how it’s absolutely not okay to speculate about reproductive issues, but clearly, not everyone is listening. Maybe that’s because we don’t have a true societal awareness of how deeply problematic and damaging pregnancy speculation can be.
The truth is, speculating about a potential pregnancy can hit some truly painful nerves. Maybe someone is undergoing IVF and that “baby bump” isn’t a baby bump at all, but bloating caused by the medications she’s taking. Maybe your friend who turns down a drink isn’t doing so because she’s expecting, but because she’s having an issue with addiction. Maybe someone isn’t feeling nauseated because she’s facing morning sickness, but because she’s dealing with the aftermath of chemotherapy. Maybe someone is visiting the doctor repeatedly because she’s dealing with a terrifying health issue. Maybe someone who “looks pregnant” has recently lost her child to a miscarriage or stillbirth. And maybe that person who is facing pregnancy speculation actually is pregnant, but not ready to reveal that news.
With very few exceptions (think: You’re about to perform a procedure on someone and need to know if they could be pregnant for safety reasons), there’s never a good reason to speculate aloud about a pregnancy, or worse ask someone “are you pregnant?” point blank. Because if they are and want you to know about it, they’ll tell you. No questions required.
Thanks in part to the celebrities who have been open about their experiences with pregnancy speculation, we’re finally initiating conversations about how much we need to change the culture surrounding this—but it seems as though we still don’t have a great societal awareness of why pregnancy speculation can be so harmful. A few women who have faced this issue spoke with Motherly about the effect pregnancy speculation has had on them, and what they wish others knew about how harmful it can be.
Sarah Cetra, 30, says she’s been asked if she’s pregnant “so many times” and has extremely strong feelings about this question.
“I’ve had two miscarriages in the last six months. Asking if I’m pregnant reminds me that I’m not [and] reminds me of my losses. I have to live with the grief of losing two pregnancies, and it’s hard to find an answer to that question without making everyone uncomfortable and sad,” she says.
Cetra believes people aren’t trying to be rude when they ask if she’s pregnant—and that just indicates how badly we need to be talking about this issue and all that comes with it.
“I do think people are excited for a potential baby, but there’s no reason to reduce a woman down to only her child-bearing utility,” Cetra says. “[People need to know] just how devastating it can be. I was actively miscarrying for the second time, at my grandmother’s memorial service, being asked when I’m going to have a baby. Meanwhile, I was heartbroken, crying when I had alone time, and in physical pain. Asking me if I’m pregnant unsolicited added pain to an already painful situation.”
“You don’t know other people’s stories,” Cetra continues. “Not asking this question can be an easy way to prevent hurting people you care for.”
People who have miscarried can be devastated by pregnancy speculation—can you imagine being asked if you’re pregnant while you’re still reeling from a loss? But they’re certainly not the only people who are affected.
“A family friend asked me [if I was pregnant] when I declined a drink during a holiday gathering. The kicker was, I actually was pregnant but we weren’t sharing the news with anyone yet,” says Brittney Coburn, 33, who dealt with secondary infertility. “I sort of laughed and said ‘no’, but then I pretended to take a sip of my husband’s drink to avoid speculation. Also, my housekeeper told me she saw my prenatal vitamins and a medication prescribed by my OB and congratulated me on my pregnancy. I recognize it came from a kind place, but that felt particularly intrusive. Of course you can decline to share details but being put on the spot, especially if you’re not expecting it, feels uncomfortable. [If] you’re not prepared, you may find yourself stumbling awkwardly through a response. It can feel like you’re losing the ability to share what you want, when you want, when you’re already in a situation where you can control very little.”
As much as we welcome open discussions about things like miscarriage and infertility, and as badly as we need to normalize the choice to put off parenthood (or say no to to it altogether), we also need to respect that fertility can be an intensenely personal thing. But it isn’t just fertility concerns that are tied up in pregnancy speculation—general health and bodily changes may be factors as well.
“If I am having a bad body image a day, it reinforces the idea that my stomach looks fat enough to be hosting a fetus,” Michelle Seger, 33, says of her experience with pregnancy speculation. But for Seger, it’s much deeper than that, too.
“I can’t have babies because of my medical past, so it’s traumatic for me to be asked. It all started in 2018 when I was asked [about pregnancy] nearly every day for a year. My stomach continued to expand and I was in pain. I had always had bad periods but was told I was ‘a wimp’ and ‘dramatic.’ I had to have emergency surgery because I was riddled with fibroids and one was about to break my ribs,” says Seger. “I wasn’t crazy. I wasn’t pregnant. I wasn’t fat. I had a life-threatening medical condition.”
“I had a hysterectomy and the nurse in the ICU told me ‘this pain is nothing—wait until you have a baby’,” Seger adds. “I told her I had a hysterectomy and had her removed from my team. There was no way to save my uterus because I had been ignored for so long. I was also diagnosed with endometriosis during the surgery so I bloat sometimes and I am still to this day asked if I am pregnant. The question brings back all the trauma I went through. It’ll ruin my whole day.”
Pregnancy speculation can be truly triggering for some, but that doesn’t mean that people without traumatic histories are fair game for this sort of invasive questioning. “Earlier this year, I had a male colleague put his hand on my back and ask if I was pregnant as he just knows how ‘a woman’s body looks when it is with child’,” shares Elisabeth Blum, 35. And that just touches on another point (no pun intended) about pregnant bodies: People feel entitled to touch, or comment on our bodies when they assume we’re carrying children within them—but this just further perpetuates this whole idea that pregnancy speculation is harmless or acceptable. Our bodies are still our bodies, whether or not they’re housing babies. And everyone needs to simply mind their own business.
So let’s take this as a rule of thumb: No one (except for a medical professional who needs this information for safety reasons) ever has the right to ask anyone if they’re pregnant.
At best, this question is inappropriate—at worst, it’s hurtful enough to ruin someone’s whole day.