“Yes, yes, I’m sure there’s just one baby in there!” I say with a polite, intentionally dismissive laugh. “Wow,” she exclaims, “are you sure? My cousin’s neighbour’s sister’s best friend had twins, one was hiding behind the other the whole time.” She says it so matter-of-factly and it’s clear she’s in complete belief of such a bogus theory. “Ha ha, well, there’s only one in here.” I’m impressed with the level of courtesy I’m maintaining here, but silently willing her to bugger off. “How long do you have to go then? A week?”
“Um, no… [awkward pause] Six weeks actually.” Ooh, the iciness in that response completely demolishes any pride I had in my previously steady demeanour.
“Goodness me! Still six weeks of growing… You’re quite big, aren’t you?!”
What does she expect me to say to that? The vengeful pregnancy hormones are screaming; “Yes, actually you’re right, I’m huge. I’m an enormous cow, I’m a massive, overgrown elephant. In fact, I’m so gigantic that my poor, tiny little husband has had to retreat to the spare bed. But it’s ok, I’m aware of my size and I’ll try really hard not to bowl you over!” My dramatic side wants to feign horror and nervously whisper, “Am I? Am I really? I had no idea. Oh my God, what do you think I should do about it? Do you think I could die? Do think the baby will be able to come out? Am I going to need a ceasar? Do think I’ll be ok?” The remnants of my insecure, defensive sixteen year old self wants to blurt “Um, well I am growing a baby. I should look pregnant, shouldn’t I? How did you look when you were pregnant? Were you smaller than me?” My nasty side is hurling insults back; “well, I’m pregnant, what’s your excuse?!” But, the normal, strong, capable, intelligent woman in me wants to explain “what you just said sort of hurts my feelings. You might not be aware of how what you say could affect a pregnant woman whose hormone charged mind is already starved of rational thinking. It’s lovely that you’re showing an interest in my pregnancy, but it’s not nice to hear that you think I’m big. Maybe use this rule of thumb; if it’s not ok to say when she’s not pregnant, it’s not ok to say when she is.”
In all fairness to ‘her’, I do need to acknowledge that I did have my own tummy before the baby took up space, and I’m certainly not sporting a gorgeous basketball from my front. Mine’s more generously spread like a luxuriously delicious marshmallow, soft and cuddly, and somewhere I'd want to sleep if I was a baby (yep, just keep telling yourself that!).
Worst thing is, I know I’m not alone here, and the ‘she’ I refer to is any number of probing strangers who have commented on a woman’s size during her pregnancy (it might even be our own wonderful mother’s in law!) It shocked me to realise, when I first fell pregnant that I’m now public property. People think it’s ok to rub my stomach (I’m not a bloody Buddha for pete’s sake!), talk about me like I’m not there (“she’s dropped, hasn’t she!”), make assumptions about me (“she’s all out front, that’s a girl…”) and, comment on my size/weight/physicality (“geez, you’re big!”). Boundaries ‘they’ would never have crossed if I wasn’t obviously pregnant.
So, what is it about being pregnant that blurs those otherwise transparent social margins? And what happened to the old rule; ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all’? Perhaps, all this time, I’ve only known the shortened version. Maybe it’s really ‘if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, unless you’re directing your insult at a pregnant woman – they don’t mind!’ We know that most humans have a need to feel connected, part of a community. We also know that the limited skill sets of individuals we meet on the street should be nurtured, not condemned and that their seemingly innocent jabs of opinion are just their way of sharing their excitement, and feeling a part of it. But, in our own minds, there are lines that can be crossed and emotions that can be summoned from the deepest recesses of our psyche, and when we’re already struggling against nature’s gestational cocktail of crazy chemicals, we can burst into tears over the smallest, unassuming things.
Of course I don’t loathe every minute of it, some of the attention is quite well placed and genuine and really makes me realise I’m doing something special. But, then there’s the occasional intrusion that leaves me angry, upset and full of self doubt. Gasp. Sob. I’m not that big, am I?
My lesson for the day, one I’ve learnt and implore you to share with me; next time you cross a pregnant woman on the street, comment on your excitement for her and her journey to motherhood, tell her she’s gorgeous, tell her she’s doing a great job (unless perhaps she’s drunk and smoking a joint), just don’t ask her if she’s having bloody twins!