Monday, December 13, 2010

Congratulations. . . I'm sorry.

I wonder how it is that the word "congratulations" has become the go to sentiment for a person who has just given birth. In many circumstances it makes sense. When speaking to a member of a first family it is among the most painful and infuriating words in the English language. For more thoughts related to this word and the subtext it can carry, see my ramblings here.

I remember being congratulated by a few people when sharing the news that Athena was pregnant. Apparently those people didn't bother to read my body language or look at my face when sharing the news. Everything about me said "despair". Yet the congratulations continued. Each time it was like a stab in the gut. Every iteration like another blow to a nail pinning me to a board. "Congratulations" meant "you should be grateful". Saying congratulations meant this should be good news and I don't have the right to have mixed feelings.

The next time a person you know gives birth think a little about what you really want to say to that person before speaking up. If that person is in a difficult situation "good luck" may be the better choice. "I'm sorry" can even be appropriate. "Congratulations" doesn't fit every situation. Think a little longer before speaking. Or speak a little less frequently. It will give you a chance to listen more carefully to what others sound like when saying such things. "Congratulations" can be the salt in a wound.

"Congratulations" could mean "fuck you".


  1. I got the "congratulations" a lot, and then when I was thinking about adoption, some friends spread the word so mutual friends started (if they mentioned anything about the pregnancy at all) saying things like "we are thinking of you", "I know you will make the best decision for you and your baby", etc. That helped a lot. The whole "congratulations" thing is icky...hard to explain to people who are not birthparents...

  2. You know, I get what you're saying here. I may even know what provoked this post, maybe not.

    I've always instinctively known to be sure if congrats was even in order when hearing of a pregnancy.

  3. Lol, I remember being flummoxed with the whole "congratulations" thing. I was 17! Now I get it though. Being blessed with a baby is a blessing.

    One old friend ran into me at 7 months and said, "well, it looks like someone was having too much fun 7 months ago" and that surprised me, because everyone else guessed 4 months, and that was more accurate.

  4. "Being blessed with a baby is a blessing. "

    I'd like to share a story that calls this statement into question. It is true that babies are, very often, blessings to their parents and those around them. This is not always the case.

    "Twiggy", as I'll refer to my former co-worker, was 19 when she had an abortion. She had been in a sexually active relationship with her boyfriend for a couple years. The boyfriend was the only person in his nuclear family that didn't have Down's Syndrome. Twiggy loved him even though he was a little slow and a bit cruel. After a while his cruelty became emotional abuse. When he forced himself on her sexually she called it quits. She left the relationship successfully, but discovered two months later that she was pregnant. Standing at 5'7" tall and weighing 87 pounds it it was hard to tell. Twiggy intended to keep the baby and raise him/her with help from her parents. Then the complications began. The doctors gave a grim prognosis. 10% chance Twiggy would survive the pregnancy. 2% chance her baby would survive the delivery. 80% chance the baby would have Down's Syndrome. Twiggy made the choice to have an abortion. She grieved her child for quite a while. Five years later she married a great guy. Two years later they had their first child. They now parent happily.

    Frequently babies are blessings. The key word here is "frequently".

    I've no intention of censoring comments here. I do, however, request that everyone who posts a comment express respect for the individual experiences of others. Everyone in an adoption has cause to grieve.

    Joy, I want to thank you specifically for expressing yourself with respect. Your perspective is consistently challenging and appreciated.

  5. I used to tell people "Congratulations!" when I learned they were either expecting or had just had a baby. Now I don't say much at all, because like you said, it isn't always something someone wants to be congratulated on. However, if I know for certain they are happy with it, this is what they want, and they are proud of their pregnancy/baby, then I will congratulate them or wish them well in some way.
    I like your thoughts on this

  6. so glad i read this- I'm meeting with 2 unplanned expectant women this week. I will avoid congratulations and rather LISTEN to how they feel about their pregnancies!


What do you think? I'm curious.