Last week I wrote about riding Metro while pregnant and how few able-bodied people would give up their seats to those who need to take a load off.
It generated a lot of comments on a lot of topics, ranging from Medicare, birth control and Social Security. (I’m not going to address all those, but thanks for reading and for writing.)
Some readers commented that it is not all bad – some people do kindly give up their seats with no eye-rolling to those who need them. One reader, brak1, posted:
Perhaps we are collectively only remembering the bad? I have seen many, many people offer their seats to others who needed them: elderly, pregnant, riders with small children, and — just today — a lady carrying two shoe boxes.
Other riders had plenty of stories to share. One woman e-mailed me to tell of how when she was pregnant and aboard a crowded train, she sometimes sat on the carpeted floor of Metro trains. (Yuck!)
Some readers raised the question of when is it okay for a pregnant woman, disabled rider or elderly person who needs the seat to simply – and politely – ask for someone’s seat. To me, it is always okay to ask. The worst they can say is no.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I approached a seemingly healthy looking young man who was sitting in a seat on a Metro car. Headphones on and looking at his electronic device, he was in his own world. I tapped him on the shoulder and smiled. Politely, I asked him if he was healthy. Yes, he said.
“Well, would you mind standing and letting me have that seat?” as I pointed to my bulging belly and told him I wasn’t feeling the best that day. He quickly jumped up. And I happily took his seat.
Now granted, I made a huge assumption that this 20-something-looking young man had no external – or internal – health problems that required him to sit. That isn’t always a safe judgment to make. But if you are wrong, but are polite about it – most people are happy to give their fellow man — or a very pregnant woman — a seat. (And yes, I would ask a young woman the same thing. When your feet and back are aching and you’re carrying a laptop and an extra 20 or so plus pounds – you’d ask a healthy looking 90-year-old to stand.)
Let me caution, as one of our readers pointed out – you might want to be careful in how you offer a seat. Don’t assume someone is pregnant. As one rider, nunyo555, shared:
Overheard a man standing demanding that a seated woman give up her seat to a pregnant woman. The seated woman refused. The man got loud and insistent. Finally the “pregnant” woman announced in a flat tone, “I’m not pregnant.” Dead silence. Seems like guessing who is pregnant can prove problematic.
One reader suggested wearing a pin as pregnant subway riders in London do that says, “Baby on Board.”
We took the question of how to politely offer your Metro seat to someone who appears to be pregnant, disabled or elderly to the expert – Dear Prudence, a.k.a. Emily Yoffe.
Her advice – paraphrasing Dave Barry, is to avoid remarking that a woman is pregnant “even if she has the head of her offspring coming out from between her legs,” she said.
“It is better to err on the side of being generous,” she said. “If you offer your seat – politely – to a pregnant woman, elderly person or someone using a cane that person could abruptly say, ‘No, I don’t need it.’”
They could be rude in their response but you still did the right thing, she said. Offering your seat to someone who may need it, she said, is about “just being a decent person.”
And, “when that person smiles at you and says, ‘Oh, thank you,’ then you get that rush of endorphins from feeling I did something nice,” she said.
When offering a seat, she said, keep it simple. Just say – would you like a seat? Don’t comment on the reason someone may need your seat. Don’t say, wow you’re about to give birth would you like my seat. Then the person can say yes or no.
Also, there’s this common bond for all Metro riders – we’re all dealing with the same inconsistencies of Metro trains, sometimes crowded platforms, delays, smelly stations and hot trains. No one expects or is saying you have to be courteous.
As this reader, anonymousinVA36, nicely put it – just look up from your newspaper, device or get out of your own thoughts occasionally:
Whenever I see an obviously pregnant woman on metro (it is not obvious in the early stages), I always offer my seat, or if standing, try to find someone seated to do so. Ditto for someone who appears to need it – an elderly person, someone on crutches, etc. Many people are so absorbed in their e-devices that they are oblivious to everything and everyone around them. (Just hop on Metro and look around.) We all should look up now and then to see who amongst us could use an act of kindness.