Last week I was making dinner when a neighbor knocked on the door to drop off a package. He and I have exchanged maybe 50 words over the course of two years, but when I opened the door and he spotted my bump he immediately said,
“Ah, you’re pregnant! How far along?”
“Six and a half months,” I answered, smiling.
“Is that all?”
“Well, shit, you’re not exactly small, are you?”
I took the package, wished him a good night, closed the door, and burst into tears.
It’s a bizarre phenomenon of pregnancy that the minute you announce your news, everyone in the world suddenly has an opinion on your body, and an inexplicable sense of entitlement to express that opinion to your face. You, meanwhile, are expected to accept their remarks with a smile, no matter how insulting or insensitive they are. And this at a time when you are at your most emotionally vulnerable, and your relationship with your body is at its most delicate. So, I feel it’s high time to remind those people that not only is it cruel and indiscreet to comment on a pregnant woman’s body, it’s also potentially dangerous. So cut it out.
This Shit is Hard Enough
Pregnancy is incredible. But it’s also terrifying. You are MAKING A HUMAN. Your mental health can be just as precarious as your bladder control, and what you need more than anything from the people around you is empathy, reassurance and understanding. And yet it’s easy to feel more like an exhibit in a museum than an actual person – with every aspect of your body up for scrutiny and criticism from doctors, midwives, coworkers, relatives, people in the street, that guy you went to high school with, your creepy uncle, and the old man on the bus who told you that perineal massage really helped his wife in her third trimester.
And you’re expected to be grateful for their interest. Happy to share intimate details of your last gynecological exam and thrilled by their wry observations on your ‘waddle.’ Being pregnant is like being thrown into a pit of snakes, then berated for not smiling while they bite you. It’s not okay, and could do serious damage. A throwaway comment from a stranger about a pregnant woman’s size could lead her to fall into depression, or to adopt dangerous eating habits in an attempt to make her body more “acceptable.” Is it really worth the risk just to get in your two cents?
Why do people think this is okay?
The thing I find most baffling is that these comments aren’t made exclusively by grandmothers and eight-year-olds. I’ve heard them coming from otherwise discreet, sensitive people who would never dream of calling a woman “massive” at any other time of her life. So why now? Why does society have a collective blind spot for the feelings of pregnant women?
I think a good rule of thumb is this: if you wouldn’t say it to her when she’s not pregnant, don’t say it to her when she is. Or – “if in doubt, shut your mouth.”
Intention is Irrelevant
When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I looked like a stick insect who’d swallowed a pebble. This time I look like I’ve swallowed a beach ball. So, I’ve had comments from both ends of the spectrum. And here’s the thing: they’re equally insulting.
When I was pregnant the first time and people would tell me I was “tiny,” I would instantly start to panic that there was something wrong with my baby, that I wasn’t doing enough to nourish her, that I was failing her before she was even here. I grew ashamed of my body, and started to dread telling people how far along I was, and making excuses for my size.
FYI: my baby was fine – but that’s not the point. For all those people knew, there could have been issues in my pregnancy that I was choosing not to share – and yet they felt it was their right to tell me that my body was wrong.
Worse still were the ones who would tell me they “meant it as a compliment,” because all I took from that was a reminder that there was a “right” way and a “wrong” way to look when pregnant, and the whole world was judging my body according to those standards.
I thought that the second time around I would be too battleworn to give a shit what anybody said, but the truth is, the comments about my pregnant body still hurt. They really hurt. I’m still a person with feelings, insecurities and fears. I’m also running around after a toddler on four hours’ sleep while in my third trimester, meaning my emotional stability is on a par with Kathy Bates in Misery. So, please, be kind. And get me some chocolate.
A Final Thought
I suppose that’s what it comes down to in the end: kindness. Right now I might look like I’ve ingested the Death Star, but I don’t need to be reminded of it. My skin might be oily and my leg hair overgrown, but I’m dealing with a lot of other shit, so please, unless you intend to tell me that I look like a radiant goddess, I don’t want to hear it. Just be kind. And I wasn’t joking about that chocolate.
Have you had to deal with hurtful comments about your pregnant body?
If so, and you want to arm yourself with a clever comeback for the next time, we’ve got a few for you covered.