Three months ago I gave birth to a baby boy, and before that I endured nine months of comments like this:
“My cleaning lady saw a picture from your baby shower and said, ‘Oooooh, she’s big!!’”
This very real sentence, uttered by a well-meaning relative, slapped the happy pregnancy glow right off my face. Yes, I was bigger than normal at my shower given the sizable fetus living beneath my clothes, but I already knew that. Hence the baby shower. Still, I felt pretty that day in a loose-fitting white dress, until—just like that—I felt like a fool. One minute I was an upbeat, properly-proportioned pregnant lady licking sprinkles off a Mister Softee ice cream cone; the next I felt like the human embodiment of soft serve that sat too long in the sun. A fat woman in an unflattering outfit. A flaccid blob of vanilla ice cream.
There’s nothing I can say about the treatment of pregnant women that hasn’t been said before, but I will say it all again while women have the stage. The way people violate social norms when within earshot or groping distance of a pregnant woman is inexcusable. Also wrong is the fact that we are programmed to let them get away with it. To be sure, “Grab ’em by the belly” doesn’t incite rage like “Grab ’em by the pussy”—nor should it—and my litany of complaints is far from a #MeToo. But while this issue might not inspire the masses, it rightly evokes anger in many vulnerable pregnant women silently cowering behind their own bellies.
Throughout my pregnancy, I received countless iterations of the “she’s big!” comment. The list of responsible parties included friends, relatives, in-laws, colleagues, neighbors, manicurists, even checkout clerks. Some were men, some were women. Some were formerly pregnant women. All had opinions, and all should have known better. Time and again I found myself in an uncomfortable position, and not just because I was nine months pregnant in four inch heels. I was expected to remain calm, stoic, a proper Upper East Sider. But all I could think was, What the actual fuck? And that’s not all I wanted to say.
Like when a male attorney called me at work and asked, “How’s your weight gain?” Could I have said, “Plus nine pounds! How’s your weight gain?” When an elderly woman who doesn’t speak English said, “Big!” each time she saw me, could I have practiced my Spanish by saying “Veijo!”—or “Old!”—in response? And then there was the woman who observed, “Some people only get big in their belly, but not you! You got big all the way around!” And repeated it two more times. And used hand gestures to make circles from her belly to her ass. Could I have pointed at the flaws on her body, too?
When people parked their unsanitized hands on my belly, could I have outstretched my arms and grabbed their stomachs back?
Of course not. I couldn’t ask about his weight gain, I couldn’t call her old, I couldn’t point to her fat—or use any other hand gesture that felt right in the moment. I certainly couldn’t grab them back. Never mind what they said and did to me. Never mind that my weight gain capped out at +18 pounds. Never mind that I once cried so hard I almost couldn’t breathe. Any such response on my part would have made me look inappropriate, and earned me the label “emotional,” or “hormonal,” or “hysterical.” So I stood there and smiled. I stood there and took it. Because that’s what a pregnant woman’s expected to do.
Of course, it was open season on more than just my weight. A younger woman asked me at a dinner, apropos of nothing, “How old are you?” Hasn’t that question been off the menu for years? And isn’t it practically a war crime when the target is eight months pregnant and 39 years old?
A friend who knew I gave up hair dye and nail polish until the third trimester looked me up and down—every time she saw me—and said, “I can’t believe you’re not doing your hair and nails!” Fat shaming was hard enough. Did I also need to be told I looked like obvious shit from my head to my feet?
Near the end of my pregnancy, when I mentioned that my colleague and I could grab a drink soon, did she think I needed a stern “Aren’t you breastfeeding?!” to prevent me from feeding my baby while guzzling a brown-bagged bottle of bourbon?
Never mind my 27 hours of labor. This is the pain I will remember.
To be clear, I don’t dispute that I was a touch sensitive. Under different circumstances, I might have been able to shake some of it off. But plenty I endured would have bothered me on a non-pregnant, good day. To have it piled on when I was starving yet nauseous, exhausted yet sleep deprived, suffering from back pain, leg cramps, heartburn, a dysfunctioning pelvic bone, a constant need to pee, and an addiction to my local ice cream truck, when I was dressed head-to-toe in overpriced elastic, when my coffee and booze were replaced with prenatal vitamins and Tums—the combination warranted tears made entirely of pregnancy hormones. I make no apologies for that.
So while this issue isn’t worthy of a #TimesUp or a #MeToo, how about a #MeTwo? Because women have a hard enough time commanding respect as it is. Women walking around with a second person growing inside them don’t stand a chance—but they should. A chance to buy a refreshing Fanta Orange soda without getting sugar-shamed by the cashier. A chance to recline in their pedicure chair without hearing they look like they’re having twins. A chance to get through an uncomfortable, difficult 15-hour work day without having to hear what your cleaning lady thinks of them.
Or better yet, instead of a hashtag, maybe just give us the luxury of waddling through the day with our last shred of dignity intact.
Alas, my indignities didn’t end when my pregnancy ended. Nine days after my son was born, I took out my dog while wearing a loose-fitting dress and a touch of mascara. I felt good that day, having learned, in a stroke of good karma, that I weighed 10 pounds less than the day I got pregnant. That’s when I saw my friendly neighbor walking toward me with his bouncy little dog. And that’s when he said the very worst thing yet.
“I thought the baby would be here by now!” he said, as my baby slept upstairs and my self-esteem melted into the puddle by his Bichon Frisé. It took all the willpower I had not to look down and examine my slightly misshapen belly, not to let the tears spill over in front of him. I wanted to scream, to ask if I looked nine months pregnant, to tell him to think before he opened his damn mouth.
Instead I smiled and said, “The baby’s here! He came last week!” I did my best to make sure that he—my thoughtless neighbor—didn’t feel awkward or embarrassed. I hoarded all the shame for myself. One last time, I did what women are trained to do when men say inappropriate things.
And so, as women speak up and educate the country on how not to treat them, I’ll add a few lessons on behalf of those harboring humans inside their bodies. If you feel compelled to give an unsolicited opinion, say, “You’ll be a great mom!” If you can’t fight the urge to comment on her appearance, try, “I love your lipstick!” And if you absolutely can’t stop yourself from reaching your uninvited hands toward her aching, expanding body, you better be handing her a Mister Softee.