Is Pregnancy Public Domain?

Is Pregnancy Public Domain?

Over the past few weeks, it seems that my pregnancy has become public domain for all to comment on, and even reach out and touch! It is probably a combination of hitting the 3rd trimester growth spurt and no longer donning a heavier jacket, revealing my blossoming belly. I have heard students complaining of this issue for years, but now I am a victim myself.

Here are my three favorite examples of inappropriate comments:

Place: Reebok Sports Club.
Scenario: I was walking around the gym when a man stopped me and said,“You look fabulous! May I touch your belly? I just love life!” I responded by telling him I would prefer that he not touch me. But, I thanked him for the compliment. If the tables were turned, would it have been appropriate for me to say to him, “You have a great butt! May I touch it? I just love a firm ass!”???

Place: The women’s changing room at the Iyengar Institute
Scenario: I was changing into my yoga clothes and a fellow practitioner asked when I was due. I told her, two months from today! (Putting me at 32 weeks along). She then asked, “Is your partner a large person.” “No”, I replied. “He is tall but rather thin. Why?” She then answered, “Well, aren’t you really big for still having two months to go?” I said, “No. Actually, I am measuring right on target and have not gained an excessive amount of weight.” After that, I left the room.

Place: The practice room at the Iyengar Institute
Scenario: “Hey, Deb, are we going to have a baby today in class?” My response, “Not unless it is pretty premature. I still have about 8 weeks to go.” The other student’s response, “Oh really?! I haven’t seen you in a coupe of weeks. You have gotten so much bigger since then.”

These are just a few examples of what I have encountered. I know I am not alone in receiving such comments. When I talk to other pregnant women, we all have similar responses to such up-front, personal comments. We are shocked and possibly offended about what has been said, and often too caught off guard to respond.

It seems that when a woman is pregnant, the public feels it is an open invitation to comment on her physical appearance or to share unsolicited advice. Why is this the case? Pregnancy seems to be one of the only times when a friend, an acquaintance or even a complete stranger feels that it is appropriate to comment on someone else’s physique without taking into account that such comments can be hurtful, or even harmful. From my own personal experience, it has been challenging to watch my former figure slowly disappear. Body image issues and eating disorders are unfortunately affecting approximately seven million American women each year . There has even been a new disorder recognized called “Pregorexia”- anorexia in pregnant women and women in early motherhood. Such negative comments about one’s weight and appearance can just add fuel to the fire for those already suffering from these issues.

My theory is that social media is to blame for why most people are surprised by the actual size of a full term or near term belly. Pregnant characters in movies and TV shows are rarely portrayed with bellies accurate to size. A 40 week belly should measure 40 cm from pubis to the fundus (top of uterus). Take a tape measure out and see how big that really is. There is also the celebrity influence of what it is believed one should look like during and after pregnancy. It’s rumored that some celebrity moms have asked to deliver their babies via C-section a month before their due dates to get a head-start on slimming down, says Wang, co-director of the newborn nursery at Massachusetts General Hospital.

I was talking to a fellow prenatal yoga teacher and LSW, Anna Hindell, who was witness to one of the scenarios listed above. Her take on why people feel it is acceptable to make such outright comments is that there is a disconnection in realizing that when someone is talking about “the belly,” they are still talking about the person carrying the belly. It’s as though “the belly” and the woman are two different identities. So, the person commenting on the size of my baby bump may not see how I would take that comment personally. I get what Anna is saying here. It is possible that people see the pregnant belly as a separate entity from the mother-to-be. In a society that compartmentalizes so much, this theory could be true.

Another reason why I think people share unwanted stories and comments may be that they are just processing their own experience. The comments being said likely have little to do with the pregnant women, and more to do with the person saying them. Perhaps the woman that said my belly looked really big had a tough pregnancy, and either gained a lot of weight (or too little), and was self conscious about how she looked while pregnant. Regardless, such feedback can be hurtful and mean. My husband believes I should be armed with some witty comebacks for these loose lipped people. But, I know I would be too dumbfounded by what I just heard to get the words out. So for the time being, I will just smile and move on.

If anyone has encountered such experiences, I would love to hear about them and how you responded. Maybe this will give the rest of us some ideas of how to stop this unnecessary harassment. Pregnant women unite!!

  • Lara
    Posted at 21:35h, 19 May

    I was told both that my pregnant belly was tiny and that it was huge- once on the very same day. And even when people meant things as compliments: “you’re all belly” I still felt like it was some kind of score-keeping on their part. The only comments that really got to me though were from women in my family who kept sizing me up. In the end i realized that, as you said, people have no idea what a pregnant belly looks like in the last few months. Conversely, every midwife i saw guessed within 10 days of accuracy just by looking. I love midwives!! And I learned an important lesson- pregnant women don’t look huge or small, they look “beautiful.” encouragement counts double when you’re pregnant.

  • Lilah
    Posted at 06:16h, 20 May

    I love your post Deb. When I was about 7 months along I was standing in Union Sq on the street. A man walked by and proceeded to make the LOUDEST and HUGEST scene- “YOU HAVING TWINS?! DAMN!!!! WOW! CONGRATULATIONS!”
    thank god a friend was with me to laugh it off but of course I was embarrassed! People have no tact. Especially in NYC!

  • liz
    Posted at 09:48h, 26 May

    i always wanted to say, but never did, “yes, my belly is big; i’m growing a human. what’s your excuse?”

  • Crystal
    Posted at 08:00h, 01 July

    I had a co-worker insist that I COULD be having twins and that sometimes the doctor misses this. People are bizarre. Good luck with everything, Liz. And brace yourself, the personal comments continue once you have the baby. Apparently motherhood is public domain too.

  • Susan
    Posted at 12:45h, 20 November

    I’m surprised I haven’t encountered this kind of thing. And I don’t mind if people I know touch my belly, and have told them in advance, so that’s fine.

    BUT I have everyone and their mothers telling me how I feel, what I’ll feel like by the time the baby comes, how I’ll want to do A, B, and C, how kids will change my life and I’ll never be the same, how I’ll never sleep again, and then ask personal questions about my body. I find that just as offense if not more so. It’s not that I think they’re -wrong- but it really rubs me the wrong way to be told how my life is playing out.

    I’ve also had people refuse to get me a girl baby gift, and go gender neutral “just in case” even though I’ve had 3 ultrasounds for various potential issues (I’m totally fine, they were just checks) and they’ve always said it was a girl.

  • Fabiola
    Posted at 18:14h, 06 April

    A (male) cousin commented on a picture I had posted – I was about 36 weeks at the time-: “wow you look HUGE, are you having triplets?” when I pointed out that it was just plain rude to have said that, HE got offended. Never got that. My other favorite one was my own grandmother: “you know who gained a lot of weight while pregnant?” she asked another family member, she piointed at me. I was actually part of that conversation. I will attribute that to her age, and never again post pregnant pictures.

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