Why You Shouldn’t Ask a Woman if She is Pregnant

Last week at work I had an absolutely humiliating encounter with a man in my workplace. Generally we enjoy a level of camaraderie in our interactions. That will no longer be the case.

I was walking in the hallway on the way back to my office when he approached to talk to me.

“Can I ask you something?” he said.

“Sure”, I replied, figuring it was something related to work.

“That dress looks sort of maternity style. Are you cooking something?”

Color me dumbfounded. This is 2017! What in the world was he thinking, making that comment and asking me that?

This conversation took place in the hallway, outside of my (shared!) office door and next to two other offices, in audible range of three of my summer interns.

From where I was standing in the hallway, I said to one intern, “(intern name here), did you just hear (offensive coworker’s name here) ask me that?”

“Yes.” (intern name here) responded.

I turned back to the clueless man.

“No.” I responded. “And don’t ever ask me that again.”

“Oh, well, you know, it sort of looks like the kind of dress my wife wore when she was pregnant with our two children”, he attempted to excuse himself.

So, if he is thinking my dress looks like a maternity dress, does he think I look like I’m pregnant? That’s certainly dangerous territory for anyone to tread with a coworker.

“Well, you could be just really early in pregnancy and not really showing yet.”

I’m very well aware of this possibility. But I probably wouldn’t be wearing a maternity dress yet if I wasn’t showing.

At first I tried to blow it off in my mind. I walk by his office multiple times a day, so each time, I could just comment about how I can’t believe he thinks I look fat, to help drive the point home. Well, no, at some point that’s going to cross the line to being harassment. I need to continue working with the department he is the head of, and I’m somewhat of a low person on the totem pole in my own department. This is common theme in workplace sexism / harassment / assault experiences: a higher ranked man versus a lower ranked woman. I like my job. What power do I have to educate him in his terribly mistaken ways?

WHY you don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant:

To be fair, he never actually said he thought I looked pregnant, just that he thought my dress style looked like a maternity dress and that made him wonder if I was “cooking something”.

To be fair, he doesn’t know that I have self-image issues because of bloating. It’s an unfortunate part of my monthly cycle, and a side effect of my lactose and soy intolerance.

To be fair, he doesn’t know that last year I had a silent miscarriage, which shattered my heart into thousands of tiny pieces, and I’ve only recently become comfortable enough to talk about it with friends. Miscarriages occur in 10–25% of clinically recognized pregnancies (those that resulted in a positive pregnancy test). Later in pregnancies, stillbirths occur in less than 0.5% of pregnancies, up to the day of birth.

To be fair, he doesn’t know that my husband and I have been struggling with infertility for years, and we desperately want to start our family. About 1 in 8 couples have problems conceiving.

And for experiences beyond my own:

He probably doesn’t think about the fact that some women have trouble losing weight after a pregnancy and still haven’t lost all of the weight more than a year later.

He probably doesn’t realize some women have medical conditions rendering them unable to have children, but give them the appearance of pregnancy at times.

He probably doesn’t think about the fact that some women do not wish to share their pregnancies.

He definitely didn’t think about the fact that it’s none of his business.

So, before you make the mistake of asking a woman if she’s pregnant, think over the possible reasons she may appear pregnant, read this graphic and read this comic to find out when it is appropriate to ask (hint: NEVER), and ask yourself if it’s really that important for you to know. If that’s not enough to deter you, then I have no pity for you when the goddess you have offended rains fire on your existence.