A post in the Facebook site Love What Matters last week was both heartwarming and heartbreaking: A man walked into a Denny’s restaurant and asked to be seated at a table that was served by a single mother. For the next two hours, the man sat at his booth, not ordering anything but watching families that came in. The caption of the photo (written by the Denny’s staff member that seated him) read “seven families came in and ate while you were there, and you paid every one of their bills, over $1,000 you paid for people you didn’t even know. I asked, ‘Why did you do that?’” The man told her “Family is everything. I’ve lost all mine.” The caption continued: “Looking into your eyes while you said that made me tear up. It’s why I walked away so quickly. As soon as I got in the back, I broke down in tears, because your eyes had so much pain in them. I just wanted to let you know the waitress Crystal that you requested was living in a shelter with her son until she was able to save up enough to get a place. Your bill was $21.34, and you left her a $1,500 tip. Because of you, she gets her new place next week. Because of you, seven families ate for free. Crystal told me she prayed the night before for a miracle, and God sent you. You left before any of us could say thank you. I hope you read this, because you’re truly an amazing person, and you stole the hearts of every one of us here. Thank you.”
Acts like this happen everywhere and all the time. But they do not get noticed. They do not get published. They do not get thousands of likes and shares. And they don’t require thousands of dollars. As a responder to the story above commented “Perhaps, you can help pay for a meal for an elderly couple at a restaurant. Buy a $50.00 gift card from your grocery store, and give it to a mom counting her change as they ring up her baby food order… hand a $20.00 bill to a stranger and tell them ‘God loves you’. Smile at someone and say ‘hello’. Even just be kind to the customer service person that you sat on-hold for 30 minutes before they picked up the phone… It is so easy to just be kind.“
In 2010, the community Los Angeles-based program Healthy African American Families (HAAF) conducted focus groups with fifty-five pregnant or postpartum African American women who were recruited from local clinics, community-based organizations, and faith-based organizations. In the initial six groups, participants were asked to name five things you wish someone close to you would do (would have done) to make your pregnancy better and five things a stranger could do (could have done) to make your pregnancy better.
The most common request among group participants was for emotional support. About half of the participants wished that someone close, particularly their husband or partner, could be more supportive (eg, “I wish my baby’s father would have been more involved,” “be there for my pregnancy,” “give more encouragement,” “be more understanding to my emotional swings,” “be more interested in [my] pregnancy,” and “don’t argue with me”). Participants asked for physical expressions of emotional support, such as walking (16%), talking (15%), or massages (9%). Participants wanted instrumental support fro m someone close, such as help with preparing meals (26%), housecleaning (22%), transportation (22%), and childcare (11%). Twenty-two percent of women wanted their partners, families, or friends to attend prenatal care appointments with them.
From strangers, participants had more don’t’s than do’s on their list. The most common request was “don’t talk to me/leave me alone” (26%), followed by “don’t touch my belly/stomach” (16%). Other “don’t’s” included “don’t smoke/use drugs around me” (13%), “don’t stare at me/talk about my weight” (11%), and don’t say negative things about the pregnancy, labor and delivery, or life (eg, “don’t say … how bad it is to be pregnant,” “don’t talk about the pain of having a c-section or … labor and delivery experiences,” “don’t say my life is over”) (9%). On the do list, the most common request was to “give up their seat for me” (24%), followed by asking if you need any help (11%). Eleven percent of participants asked that strangers be respectful, polite, and encouraging while 7% asked for a simple smile. Several participants asked for other forms of support, such as “carry my bags,” “open doors,” and “bring me some water.” One participant asked for help to “give me my job back,” while another wished strangers would “pray for me and [my] unborn baby.”
Based on the responses, HAAF compiled One Hundred Intentional Acts of Kindness toward a Pregnant Woman. This document was originally intended to increase social support and decrease psychosocial stress for pregnant African American women in the south and central Los Angeles communities. However, it is relevant to pregnant women of all races, ethnicities, and nationalities.
Acts of kindness (from families, friends, and even strangers) encourage healthy interactions for pregnant women in their communities and value their strengths and weaknesses with respect. While acts of kindness alone do not address fundamental issues such as housing, employment, and discrimination, which are the source of chronic stressors for many pregnant women, they create a sense of solidarity that can positively impact someone’s day… or even life.