Public Property

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.




Filed under Gender, Pregnancy, Uncategorized

8 responses to “Public Property

  1. this experience at McDonalds sounds so similar to some I’ve had. People just can’t help it and it astounds me.

  2. Wow, that’s quite the scene!

    My mother-in-law made me turn around so that she could assess whether we were having a boy or a girl by how my butt looked. It was kind of horrifying.

  3. The first half of this post makes me glad I have so far resisted temptation to find out the sex of this baby. (Not, I hasten to say, because that nonsense is your fault in any way, but because I don’t think I would take it so calmly.)

    As for the second, I guess it is just one more way women can’t win.

  4. I especially love it when people ask a question, hear your answer, and then feel the need to contradict it. Like, say, when people ask me and my wife if we’re sisters and we say no and they say “are you sure?” or protest with an argument along the lines of “but you have the same color hair.”

    They do comment on height, I have to say. “Wow you’re really short!” “Oh, you’re tall…do you play basketball?” Thanks, stranger!

    In any case, I do wish you had made the comment about the smoothie.

  5. tbean

    I always read stories like this and wonder how people can be so rude and inappropriate to strange women just because their sporting a visible baby belly. I didn’t have any of these experiences during my pregnancy, but considering I was on bedrest from week 25 on, I didn’t have many opportunities in public. Plus, I think I generate a New Yorker type vibe of “Don’t talk to me” that is slightly aggressive/hostile. (Note: I am not a New Yorker, nor an aggressive or hostile person….I just find stranger rarely approach me so it must be something about the vibe I give off. My wife gets her ear talked off by all manner of strangers. I chalk this up to her being a much nicer person than me. 🙂

    Anyways, I’m excited for you that it is getting close now!

  6. Esperanza

    It IS so strange that people think they can say whatever they want to you when you’re pregnant, like you don’t really exist as an individual anymore and have become part of the public domain in some way. I also feel like pregnancy gives people reason to talk to you and they talk to you more, not just random people on the street but acquaintances and colleagues and such. SO MANY colleagues come up to me to talk every day but it’s only about pregnancy and frankly, at this point, I’m sick of talking about how yes, he may come any day but probably it won’t be for a few weeks and either way, I have no freaking idea how it will actually play out and I don’t really want to talk about it for the upteenth time. Blerg. I’m in a bitchy mood right now and I’m kind of sick of being part of the public domain, I want to be a private entity again. Soon I hope.

  7. Feeling lucky I showed late with both my pregnancies, cuts down on the public comment period…

    And congrats on your little girl

  8. K

    The last public outing I went on (dinner out with friends) when I was pregnant with my twins I got up to walk to the bathroom and the looks I garnered from the neighboring tables were hysterical. I think they thought I was going to birth a child right there in the restaurant. For shits and giggles tell them you aren’t pregnant. 😉

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