Spring is here. Newborn lambs are licked clean by their mothers, daffodils line grass verges and sticky dazed chicks hatch from fragile eggs...
I'm going to be popping out my third baby, any day! It's a joyful time. But something's blighted my pregnancies. Strangers and folk I barely know felt entitled to weirdly comment on personal things.
I've noticed an increase in women judging women for parenting choices, appearances and career moves.
As we get nearer equality, with men having slightly less focus in the boardroom than they did, mothers have started offering controlling undermining 'advice' in the baby changing room!
If it's a patriarchal government, NHS and work culture we had/have, then matriarchs now fight harder than ever - between themselves. Breastfeeding versus formula, 'babywearing' over buggies, working or 'staying at home'...
Whenever we grow too exhausted to beat ourselves up with obligatory innate society-taught mummy guilt, we can be certain Another Mother will do it for us. My childless non-pregnant peers don't, nor do men. It's women with at least one kid.
So. Here's a list of stuff you can say to disarm a pregnant person. It works best if you hardly know her, haven't met for years or pass momentarily on the school run. Treat yourself!
1) Call her 'small'.
Almost daily, I get this despite measuring perfect. Hannah, 32, London, said: "My biggest frustration was people saying 'ooh you don't look big enough for x months'. Either the baby was fine or she wasn't and that could be a huge problem. At the beginning, it got me scared and I couldn't wait for the next appointment, to be told everything was okay. She always was! People quickly forget how much fear women can have and their comments are so unhelpful."
2) Quiz her about names then mumble something tactless/pull a face.
These are names lovingly selected for the most precious little person in the world. Do not cringe.
3) Place your hand/s on her tummy.
"You don't mind me gently touching your bump, do you?" strangers probe in the street.
"As long as you don't mind me gently pushing my fist into your face!" sends them away.
4) Ask if the baby was planned.
After all, you already have a boy and girl - why on earth would you 'need' another?
5) Discuss age gaps being 'too close/far apart'.
According to who and what exactly? My fertility chart or my miscarriage? Oh, according to your experience because there are exactly two years between your children! I seeee!
6) Describe her as 'massive'.
Caroline, 28, Lincolnshire, said: "People think you're fair game, like you're public property. You would never walk up to a stranger and talk about their weight or how they look, but when you're pregnant...!" Claire, 35, Hertfordshire, was recently asked: "Wow, you're big! Are you sure there's only one?" But her favourite was a workmate telling her she was "getting very fat".
7) Pressure her to deliver during non-working hours.
Like she can't control if Baby comes early, she cannot decide if s/he is late. Surprisingly enough, as she has no control over this, you don't either. Stop trying. It just irritates.
8) Tell her "sleep while you can now because you'll never sleep again!"
There's possibly not a woman alive who hasn't heard this diatribe. When did sleep become a storable commodity? Yet I spend any evenings where I'm awake after half eight, feeling like I'm wasting my mythical opportunity to stock up. This mysterious kip I can recall and rely on to see me through 18 years of alleged perpetual waking! Blimey, by the seventeenth year, I'll wish I'd taken heed when Nobody Supermarket Lady warned me how invaluable any deposits in my virtual pregnancy slumber-bank would come to be!
9) Keep demanding, "hurry up and have that baby".
Make sure you do this a lot on Facebook, to people whose existence only touches yours virtually - through photos at times of marriage, holidays and new offspring!
10) Advise her, using your 'medical expertise' (nil).
Old wives' tales, crap nonsense and petrifying lies are unwanted. Joanna, 30, an ex-pat, living in France, said: "I was told by a colleague, who has two older children, if I crossed my legs, I would wrap the cord around my baby's neck. Of course, it was rubbish."
11) "Not long to go!"
It can help. It doesn't usually. Along with "try to enjoy this last bit", she's bored of hearing it, preoccupied with trying not to wee when she coughs and spending at least half an hour daily, action-planning how best to avoid going into labour in public. She's humouring you if she smiles at any of this meaningless banal hogwash. She's spent nine months nauseous, creaky and overemotional. Every day feels like a week.
12) Say, "ooh, you look tired".
Unless you're offering practical aid like cleaning, shopping or buying her a coffee machine, please bugger off. It's never useful.
13) Inform her it really hurts!
I was told lately by a mum-of-five, the third labour is 'the worst'. Why did she feel the need? And it's codswallop.
14) Remark that she "seems too young/old".
What, she's pregnant between the ages of about 13 and 60? Anything between, and sometimes beyond, this bracket is entirely biologically possible. Though the former is occasionally disguised as a compliment, it serves no purpose but to obtain intimate information. If it's 'too young', what you mean is she hasn't had a termination and if it's 'too old', you are enquiring if she's a divorcee/newly-married former spinster/had fertility treatment. Frankly, it's none of your business.
15) Ask, "are you eating for two?"
Nope, just eating!
16) Utter unfounded statements designed to terrorise.
Sharon, 36, Hertfordshire, said: "I wished people would stop telling me what the birth would be like." A pregnant friend with a young boy hears "how old is your son? You're going to have your work cut out!" And I get regularly, "it's much harder with three".
Two words. The second is off.