From intrusive belly-touching by strangers to dietary finger wagging, it's open season the moment a woman starts showing. What's an expectant mother to do?
The Duchess of Cambridge—Kate Middleton to the gossip rags—is pregnant again. Even before the Royal Family formally announced that Prince George would be getting a sibling in spring 2015, the tabloids were already going nuts on Royal Bump Watch. Once Buckingham Palace made it official, headlines went into overdrive on the two things pregnant women are quite familiar with: random predictions and unsolicited advice.
People who haven’t been pregnant really have no idea how pervasive the problem is. Yes, there are other issues facing expectant mothers—uninvited belly touches being probably the most universally hated—but verbal intrusions are more or less unavoidable.
Kate took her Royal Bump out to some events over the past weekend and the random predictions are all over the map. (Side note: yes, Royal Bump is its official name. And yes, it is much smaller than many non-pregnant women’s plain old food bellies.)
Apparently her bump is larger than expected (really?!?) so one newspaper is predicting twins. Twin girls, actually (named Elizabeth and Margaret, for the Queen and her late sister), because why not? Another confidently announced that Kate is clearly carrying a boy because she chose to wear blue in her first public appearance since confirming the pregnancy. A third merely noted that she cloaked the bump in black to commemorate Remembrance Day.
While most of us will never face the kind of attention Kate Middleton gets—for which we are ever thankful, I imagine—those of us who’ve been pregnant in public have all experienced a little tiny bit of this intrusion. It’s part of human nature, I guess, that pregnant women are automatically considered fair game for the comments of strangers—whether you consider this a heartwarming example of the idea that “it takes a village” or a terrifically insensitive invasion of your privacy depends on how you feel that day. But it happens to us all.
A lot of us have experienced what Kate Middleton is getting now—random predictions based on folklore, urban legends, vague feelings, etc. Usually these have to do with the gender of the future baby. Older women in the grocery store will tell you you’re having a girl, because you’re carrying low and look tired (gee, thanks?), and then half an hour later the bank teller will pronounce that it’s definitely a boy.
When I was pregnant with my second child, a man working at the local farmers market marveled at my belly while cutting fresh local white peaches for us to sample. “Yep, that’s a ten pound boy you got in there!” he decided, handing me a juicy slice. Weirdly, he was correct (or nearly so: M was “a quarter pounder shy of ten pounds,” as the OB announced when he was born a week later). But that doesn’t make up for the equal number of strangers who predicted a girl, or twins (yes, I was huge).
Far worse than predictions, though, is the onslaught of unsolicited advice pregnant women attract whenever they go out in public. I have to confess, I got less of this than some of my friends have reported (I blame, or in this case credit, bitchy resting face).
Unsolicited pregnant-lady advice tends to fall into categories: what to do before birth, during the birth, and after you have the baby. Before birth, everyone will tell you, you should do all the fun things you won’t be able to do once the baby arrives—sleep! Travel! Go the movies with your spouse! Guess what, unhelpful stranger? Sleep is nearly impossible when you’re hugely pregnant, as is travel, and the movies are only fun until you have to walk back and forth to the multiplex bathroom four times during a 90-minute film.
My friend Rebecca, a Brooklyn mother, resented the advice to take up prenatal yoga: “No. Because you know what I don’t want to do when my belly is the size of a beach ball and the weight of a truck? Stand on one leg for five minutes.”
Another friend, Laurel in Atlanta, found herself facing a modern temperance movement. “I was at a show, eight months pregnant. I was nursing a non-alcoholic beer, but I’d torn the paper off the bottle. Some drunk girl actually had the balls to come up and tell me what alcohol could do to my fetus. I wanted to say, ‘Look, bitch, if a woman is actually drinking a beer alone at a loud rock show when she’s eight months pregnant, she probably needs that beer BADLY.’”
Women get it from every direction—messages that they are eating too much or not enough, that they are exercising to excess or inadequately. I mean, women get these crazy judgments all the time even when we are not with child, but it’s far, far worse when we are pregnant.
Noelle, who is the mother of two and an Episcopal priest, received some very specific religious advice. “When I was about eight or eight-and-a-half months, I was told that I should stop working because I might accidentally have a baby at the altar and people would find that awkward. It was also suggested that my next (?!?) baby should be planned (?!?) for closer to Christmas so I’d look more like Mary. I smiled and nodded and thought angry evil thoughts inside my head.”
Then there’s the battleground of childbirth itself, and the strange realization that many of us come to that random strangers actually feel comfortable sharing their opinions with us about how we do it.
“I was shopping in a corner grocery store in Jerusalem when a random older man stopped me to discuss whether I was planning to have an epidural,” says mom-of-two Hallie. “He was absolutely insistent that I have one. WTF.”
“Mine was always around the issue of natural childbirth,” says my friend Bobbi, who also has two kids. “One friend said, ‘You’re not getting a medal for doing it natural. Take the drugs!’ I was pissed because I had never judged their choice.”
The topic of unsolicited advice after baby is born merits its own column—hell, the topics of breastfeeding, bed-sharing, and whether or not your baby is warm enough without a hat all could fill several columns!
But since my title here includes some version of the word advice I will end with this: If you are confronted by a pregnant woman and you do not know her, you may smile and offer her a seat on the bus or train. If you do know her and you want to say something, say this: “You look great!” If you want to ask her anything, ask this: “How are you feeling?” Beyond that, your job is to follow her lead. She is getting enough advice without your input.
If you’re the pregnant lady in question, strap on your bitchy resting face and walk on by. You’ve got more important things to think about.
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