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My Belly, Myself: How To Silence The Keen Observers Of My Expanding Form?

Why is it okay to comment on -- or reach out and touch -- a pregnant woman's body? (Loving Earth/flickr)
Why is it okay to comment on -- or reach out and touch -- a pregnant woman's body? (Loving Earth/flickr)
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Welcome Meddleheads, to the column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Right now. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,

Steve

Dear Steve,

I am five months pregnant with my second child.

For a variety of reasons – some biological (with subsequent pregnancies, the belly often “pops” sooner), some personal (like my sister and mother before me, I carry a lot of amniotic fluid), and some deeply sensitive (I went into this pregnancy about 25 pounds heavier than my pre-first baby weight) – I am already showing.

During my first pregnancy I grew accustomed to people’s rude comments and intrusive questions. I tried to take them in stride, to consider the good intentions behind the often clumsy deliveries. But this time, for whatever reason, I am really struggling.

I get that people mean well, and that pregnancy is this beautiful miracle that everyone feels somehow a part of, and blah blah blah…

But I also feel like I am the object of constant scrutiny, like people feel somehow justified picking apart my appearance, and commenting on my weight, and even tracking my trips to the bathroom! It’s completely exhausting. And it’s making me want to hide away for the next four months.

I want to tell people to mind their own business, but I don’t want to be a shrew.

I am going to give you a list of actual comments and questions I’ve gotten, and I’d love for you to give me some guidance on what to say — specifically.

“You’re growing by the day! And you’re only five months along?! Jeez, are you sure you’re not having twins?!”
“Are you sure you should be drinking that [coffee/glass of wine]?”
“You ride your bike to work?! You’re taking your baby’s life into your hands, you know!”
Upon learning I had a c-section the first time around, “Are you going to go for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean) this time?”
“Are you sure you want to have your baby at the hospital?”
“Wow, that was fast! You were just pregnant! Was this one planned?” (My daughter is 2.)
“My, you’re blossoming!"

Thanks, Steve.

Desperately Seeking Tact

PHOTO

Dear DST,

I’m very sorry to hear that people are making comments of this nature — and also very unsurprised.

Because I myself have never been pregnant, I took the liberty of reading this letter to my wife, whose second pregnancy experience lines up uncannily with your own. Here’s what she had to say:

“I felt the same exact way! I was 15 to 20 pounds heavier with the second pregnancy, and I showed much earlier and felt incredibly self-conscious. And you’re absolutely right that pregnant women’s bodies seem to become communal property. People feel they have the right to make comments and touch your baby bump. In fact, I heard just about every one of the same comments you did, plus my belly button popped out, so I got a lot of, ‘Looks like your timer’s popped! Baby must be done!’

“Obviously, if you were in a better place with your own body, the comments would be easier to ignore. But they’re hitting you where you’re already sensitive. And practically speaking, in terms of your body, there’s nothing to be done, because you’re only going to get bigger.

“But I do think you need to feel empowered to speak your mind without labeling yourself a shrew, or worrying that people won’t like you. Pregnancy is hard enough without unwanted feedback. There is a polite way to tell people to keep their editorial comments to themselves.”

...you need to feel empowered to speak your mind without labeling yourself a shrew, or worrying that people won’t like you.

That’s what my (wise, patient) wife has to say.

But you’re interested in specific responses to specific comments, so let me take a stab:

Comment: “You’re growing by the day! And you’re only five months along?! Jeez, are you sure you’re not having twins?!”

Suggested response: “Are you calling my unborn child fat?”

Comment: “Are you sure you should be drinking that [coffee/glass of wine]?”

Suggested response: “As a matter of fact, yes. My doctor says it will help me deal with the stress of people offering me unsolicited advice.”

Comment: “You ride your bike to work?! You’re taking your baby’s life into your hands, you know!”

Suggested response: “Should I avoid driving in a car, as well?”

Comment: Upon learning I had a C-section the first time around, “Are you going to go for a VBAC (vaginal birth after Cesarean) this time?”

Suggested response: “I’m not sure what will happen when I go into labor. But I do know it’s a pretty private experience, don’t you agree?”

Comment: “Are you sure want to have your baby at the hospital?”

Suggested response: “No, actually I was thinking the zoo would be a lot more exciting!”

Comment: “Wow, that was fast! You were just pregnant! Was this one planned?”

Suggested response: “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but that’s really and truly none of your business.”

Comment: “My you’re blossoming!”

Suggested response: “Thank you. Being pregnant means putting up with a lot of bull****, so I guess that helps the blossoming process.”

To reiterate, these suggestions come from me, not my wife, who is far more tactful. For now, please focus as much as you can on what truly matters: making sure you’re healthy and happy as you prepare to welcome a new one into the world.

Good luck, and mazel tov!

Steve

So obviously, I came to this question loaded for bear. But I’m curious what readers who have been pregnant have to say about all this. Did I (and Erin) get it right? If not, why not? Please feel free to leave a comment below. And please send your own questions along, the more detailed the better. Even if I don’t have a helpful response, chances are someone in the comments section will. Send your queries via email.

Steve Almond is the author of the book "Against Football." He is the co-host, with Cheryl Strayed, of the WBUR podcast, Dear Sugar.

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