Q. When I was growing up, I was taught "Congratulations" was the proper response upon learning that a woman was pregnant. Even if the mother-to-be was being forced by her family to marry the 17-year-old father, one was supposed to rejoice with her in the creation of a new life, and utter disapproving remarks about modern morality well out of her hearing.
What I need to know, Miss Manners: Has this rule of polite behavior changed? If so, to what?
I am 29, have established a professional career, and am more than 5 months' pregnant. I also have been married for three or five years, depending on your personal opinion as to the necessity of a license. In short, I am looking forward with joy and excitement to the birth of my first child as another in a series of life's traditional milestones.
When casual acquaintances and colleagues at work, however, learn of my condition, their typical response is to open their eyes very wide and blink at me, saying "Oh!" or "Well!" After a few moments of awkward silence, I feel compelled to assure them that, yes, it was wanted, and, of course, planned. At this point, the startled listener has recovered enough to mumble, "Well, good!" still staring in confusion and embarrassment.
My theory, Miss Manners, is that most people are more obsessed with preventing pregnancies than trying to create a child and cannot quickly grasp the idea that someone else would actually set out to do so. Few of them wish me congratulations or express any delight, which has the effect of dampening my happiness and making me feel apologetic for a normal event.
As one who has a vast knowledge and intuitive understanding of etiquette, what is the correct response upon learning that a woman is expecing a child?
Have you any snappy comebacks which would serve to alert the other person(s) that the situation suits me fine and I don't wish to casually pursue its more personal aspects? I tried telling one woman that my husband and I were appalled by the high cost of meat and were growing our own, and saying to another man that Dr. So-and-So considered me one of his most promising experimental subjects, but in both cases this just prolonged the blinking stage.
Any suggestions between now and the little nipper's arrival would be very welcome.
A. First, congratulations. Miss Manners is very happy for you. She also is puzzled to find that it is usually the same people who claim to have a special interest in sex (a position whose naivete is forgiveable only in the very young, who all believe that sex was invented just after their parents' wedding, but that its potential was not realized until their own coming-of-age) who are most horrified by its natural consequence.
You seem to know a great many do-gooders and traditionally, nobody enjoys dampening the pleasures of others more than those confident in the superiority of their moral stance. The anti-smokers of today of shoulder-shrugging tolerance. Your friends are, no doubt, worried about the population increase and are unable to perceive that by having a first child at the age of 29, you have hardly littered the landscape.
Too bad for them. Miss Manners happens to believe that children are a joy (if you have no descendents, how do you expect to have the pleasure of being an ancestor?), but has no wish to force her views on others and is, in fact, reassured by the idea that people who don't want children don't have them.
The best you can do at the moment is to alert people to the fact that you consider it a matter for congratulation by saying, "I'm so thrilled," when you speak of your pregnancy. Soon you will be too busy to care.