I had a midwife appointment last Thursday, and afterwards had a few extra minutes before I needed to be at work. So I stopped at a fast food restaurant along the way to treat myself to a fruit smoothie. Below is the ensuing scene:
Woman behind the counter: Are you having a boy or a girl?
Me (consider saying “right now I’d like to be having a fruit smoothie” but bite my tongue): A girl.
WBTC (turns to her co-worker): That doesn’t look like a girl belly, does it? I heard it’s boy bellies that are usually right in front like that.
Co-worker: Yeah, that’s what I heard too. I don’t think that looks like a girl belly.
WBTC: Are you sure you’re having a girl?
Me (really hoping my smoothie shows up soon): That’s what they said.
Random other customer: I think boys are usually carried low, so that could be a girl.
Third woman behind the counter: Yeah, it’s boys that are carried all the way around, and girls that are just in front.
Yet another random customer: Yeah, I think that looks like a girl belly.
(I turn away from what’s starting to feel like a mob of people wanting to share their opinions about the size and shape of my body and head for the door. But make the mistake of stopping to get a straw, where I am interrupted by an employee who had been sweeping the floor.)
Floor-sweeping employee: So did you want to have a girl?
Me: We would’ve been happy either way.
FSE: (seeming disappointed that I’m not going to share my innermost thoughts on gender with her): Oh. When are you due?
Me (over my shoulder as I escape out the door): December.
It’s fascinating to me that so many people think it’s totally fine to comment on the shape and size of a pregnant person. There’s not really any other circumstances in which that is socially acceptable. We don’t walk up to strangers and say, “wow, you sure do have big feet!” or “wow, what a tiny belly you have” or “your head is way out of proportion with the rest of you.” But somehow, a pregnant person’s body is public property and lots of people think it’s acceptable to examine and comment on it.
Last Thursday was certainly not the first time I’ve had conversations like this. And this one was actually fairly benign in that they were debating the sex of my baby (which I don’t have much doubt about after the ultrasounds we’ve seen) rather than the size of my belly (which tends to come with all sorts of emotional baggage attached).
Over the summer a man in line in front of me at a rest stop in Delaware wanted to know when I was due, and promptly expressed his disbelief that I could have so many months left to go. I considered going into detail about IUIs and vaginal ultrasounds and the other reasons that I am definitely sure of my due date, but decided that I’d rather just get my pizza. I’ve had many people tell me that my bump is “so cute” and “so little” and many others tell me it’s huge and they doubt I’ll make it until December. One of the joys of being pregnant is that, in addition to the societal pressure that women face all of the time about not being too big, there’s also negative feedback if you’re too small. I feel fortunate to be relatively comfortable in my body, because all of these comments could make me very self-conscious. Belly’s too small–am I giving the baby what she needs? Is the baby okay? Belly’s too big–am I eating too much? Is the baby going to be obese? Is it going to take forever for me to loose all of the baby weight?
Many women have jealously compared the shape and size of my belly to the way they remember carrying their baby/ies. All of this examination (and especially the jealousy) tends to feel uncomfortable because I don’t have a lot of control over how my body carries pregnancies. It’s not like I’m doing anything particularly virtuous that is giving my body this shape that they think is ideal. I usually mumble something like, “isn’t it interesting how different people’s bodies are and how little control we have over how it happens.” I certainly understand how much pressure there is to look a certain way when pregnant, but it’s not so fun to have other people’s insecurities projected onto me.
I will admit that there are occasional moments when I like feeling special and like the center of attention. But in moments like the scene above, I just want to get my smoothie and go to work in peace without having the shape and size of my body closely examined and commented on by every employee and customer in the McDonalds.