When you are pregnant, you are the target of advice, commentary, stares and occasionally unwanted physical contact from almost every person in the general populace. This has often been a source of annoyance for me. I don't know if I am just particularly more sensitive when I am pregnant, or whether the overload of extra attention sends me over the edge of the precipice I am already on: lack of patience for the less educated and socially uncouth of my fellowmen.
I'm sure my husband would say that I am just too sensitive, and that I just need to give people the benefit of the doubt and concede that they are well-meaning and just trying to be friendly. I, however, continue to simmer when people try my patience with their prying and inappropriately familiar questions.
I'm not talking about harmless, polite inquiries like asking when I'm due or if it's my first baby (yes, I still get this question even though I'm almost 35 and I have 5 children, but how are they to know that after all?), or even asking the sex of the baby. There are, however, some questions that should just not be asked from one stranger to another. I really don't care if they're well meaning or just trying to be nice. Some questions and comments are just plain rude and intrusive. I will give you my favorite examples. If you see a pregnant woman on the street and simply can't stop yourself from commenting or asking a question, please refrain from anything resembling the following:
Are you going to have any more?
Now, this question is pretty harmless on the surface; and it's one of those that my husband would probably say I am being too sensitive about answering. But frankly, if you are not a friend of mine and we have not discussed family sizes or anything related to it in the past, it's probably none of your business and your mother should have taught you not to ask rude questions. I just get the feeling that people ask this question to make themselves feel better about whatever their family size choices are. If they have fewer children than you, they want to be shocked and aghast that anyone could consider having that many children. If they have more children than you they want to console themselves that some people just cant handle a large family. Besides, no one should ever ask a pregnant person, or a person who has just given birth, if they are planning to repeat this ordeal any time soon. Except maybe her doctor.
Have you had a lot of morning sickness?
Again, here, the argument could be made that people are just trying to be polite and ask about your health. Which, if history has taught us anything, it's that people's health is a safe and polite topic of conversation. However, it is my firm belief that when Mrs. Higgins advised her son Henry to "Stick to two topics: the weather, and every body's health," she did not mean for him to ask specific medical questions, but general inquiries. Why? Because nobody wants the real answer to that question! Does anyone really want to know about the size, color, and frequency of my bouts with nausea? That's a question I don't even want the answer to! If I answered that question honestly I would probably give myself and the person asking a stomachache. "Yes, in fact I couldn't keep my breakfast down for weeks! Didn't matter what I ate; eggs, cereal, toast, it would all just come right back up again!"
Was this pregnancy planned?
Now come on. Really? Do you really want to know the answer to that question or can you just not think of anything else to say? I can understand people being curious about this particular topic, but there are some things about which we are curious, and about which we should keep our curiosity to ourselves! Examples: How did you lose your hand? Why do you wear a helmet? What is that rash, where did it come from, and is it contagious?
When people ask me if my pregnancy was planned, I am tempted to answer thus: "Well, I knew that sex caused pregnancy, and I thought I was using adequate protection. But I've never wanted children AT ALL. So you can imagine how horrified I was when I started puking every morning, gaining weight and missing my period. By now I guess there's not much I can do about it. Maybe I'll put an ad in the paper and see if anyone wants a baby. Or Ebay..."
At least if I answered that way the person asking would think very seriously about ever asking that question again.
This is just a small sampling of the ridiculous things I have been asked in my 51 months of pregnancy. Following are some of my favorites of the comments people have made.
"Wow, you sure are going to have your hands full." (my sister and I often lament that this is the most creative thing people can think to say when confronted with the sight of a mother of 3 or more young children who is also pregnant. We could write a whole book about it. Maybe we will.)
"This is your 5th!? Haven't you ever heard of birth control?" (At which point I turned to the man with a confused look and asked: "What's that?")
"WOW!" (looking at my 7-months-pregnant belly) "I just talked to my sister who's pregnant and she's only a couple of months along and then I look at you and... talk about PREGNANT!"
"Oh my goodness, are you having TWINS!?"
"Gee, you sure are getting big!"
"So, when does this one hatch?" (trying to be clever, but really just coming off obnoxious)
And my hands-down, all-time favorite:
Walking into a restaurant, the 20-something host takes one look at my belly and asks: "Would you like a table, or can you fit in to a booth?"
I also need to add the following anecdote, provided by a dear friend. I will paraphrase.
This friend of mine had trouble conceiving and had adopted a baby boy. Shortly after, she had the opportunity to adopt a set of twins who were in a bad situation and needed a home immediately. As sometimes happens after an adoption, soon after she adopted the twins, she became pregnant on her own. Near the end of the pregnancy, she was walking through the park, her very young toddler son holding on to the double stroller which held the infant twins and very near delivery; and she passed a man sitting on a bench. This man was either homeless, or had decided of his own free will never to use the shower in his house. He was very overweight, probably around 300 pounds, and the shirt and shorts he was wearing were meant for a much smaller person; so his dirty, hairy belly was exposed. His hair was dirty and unkempt and his mouth was hanging open. As my friend walked past with her small children the man exclaimed, "That is the most disgusting thing I have EVER seen!" Likewise.
My sister, who had twins last year contributed these favorites:
"Wow, you're actually waddling now."
"My sister had twins, and she got really huge. It was even kind of un-natural looking. You're going to be soooo biiiiig."
I would like to take this opportunity to counsel that no one, under any circumstances, should ever comment on a woman's size. Even if you think she looks smaller than usual, and you tell her that, she will just think you thought she was big before. It can't possibly be taken as a compliment. Pregnant women are painfully aware that they are big. Even the ones who claim that they love their pregnant body and enjoy being pregnant, have, at some point, gone into their closet to find clothes and ended up crying. Pregnant women are also prone to emotional highs and lows, which are unpredictable, meaning that, YES, pregnant women are emotionally unstable. There I said it. So why, in the name of all that is holy, would you EVER consider commenting on the size of an emotionally unstable person?!!?
Now, having ranted endlessly for several paragraphs, I must offer some qualification. If you are immediately related to someone who is pregnant, or if you are CLOSE friends with someone who is pregnant, or if you have previously had detailed and personal conversations with someone who is pregnant, it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask questions about health, well being, family planning, etc... but ONLY if your previous relationship would indicate such familiarity. Just because someone is pregnant does not mean that she is an open book and that anyone anywhere is entitled to ask her any question or make any comment that pops into their pea-sized head!
AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WHATSOEVER SHOULD ANY PERSON ON THE PLANET TOUCH ANOTHER PERSON'S STOMACH, or any other part of their body for that matter, UNINVITED! If you are prone to impulses of touching a pregnant belly, please STOP, consider what you are doing, and ask permission! IF you are too embarrassed to ask, THAT SHOULD BE A CLUE THAT IT'S NOT OK!!!
See, I told you pregnant women were unstable. When they get passionate about a cause they tend to get a little rowdy.
If you happen to be a friend of mine, and you are reading this, please don't worry that you have asked me a rude question and that I have been offended by it. People at church, friends on Facebook, and people with whom I regularly communicate do not fall into the category of the general public. I am not as easily offended as my husband seems to think, and I very rarely over-react. But let this be a lesson to you, a guide if you will. And "If you have been warned, warn your neighbor" that when you see a pregnant woman on the street who you don't know... act appropriately. If you are one of those people who can't stop themselves from saying something, let it be congratulations of some kind; or encouragement. If you see a pregnant woman who is also struggling with small children, say: "What a beautiful family," instead of commenting on how tired and frustrated she may be by saying that her hands are full. And above all, keep your hands and your opinions to yourself.
Opinions on child rearing... now that's another blog entirely.