The Pregnant Body

As a pro-choice activist (and person who reads the news), the fact that women’s bodies are objects of public discourse is no surprise to me. From birth control to abortion, our reproductive systems take the stage, front and center. We are put under the proverbial microscope, scrutinized and criticized on a regular basis for taking control of our bodily integrity and fertility. Continuing a decades-long trend (or centuries-long, even), this public inspection is at an all-time high, completely fixated on when we – gasp! – choose not to conform to gendered expectations and bear children when we “ought” to.

But what about when we do decide to become mothers?

Throughout the seven months I’ve been patiently baking my baby “bean,” it’s been rather shocking how much my pregnant body has opened the door for strangers and non-strangers alike to openly comment on – or touch — my stomach and otherwise infringe upon my personal space. I’ve always been hyper-aware of my non-pregnant body as a topic of interest, but I (naively) never expected this corporeal fascination to spill over to my rounded belly. After all, I’m fulfilling my “womanly duty” (*rolling eyes*), so that should translate to being left alone, right?

Wrong! Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Case in point: At grocery store check-out counter.

Cashier: Oh wow, are you pregnant?

Me: Yep.

Cashier: How far along?

Me: Five months.

Cashier: WOW! You’re BIG!

Well, fuck you very much! Good for you for exercising your First Amendment rights to say what’s on your mind. But seriously, shut up. My gestational status and size are not your business.

Or today, for example: At nail salon.

Manicurist: Is this your first baby?

Me: Yep.

Manicurist: How many months are you?

Me: Seven.

Manicurist: Wow, you are SMALL! Are you eating enough?

OK, so admittedly, this lady is my new friend. But, the point remains the same: why is it ok to comment on my shape/size, even if it is well-meaning?

And then there are the people who don’t just comment, but touch you too. A waitress at one of my favorite joints in the city felt it perfectly acceptable to reach out and place her hand on my stomach and leave it there for what felt like an eternity. Yes, I realize I’m a frequent customer, but you don’t even know my name. And even if you did, touching me without my permission is still not ok.

Nor is making assumptions about my pregnant lifestyle – or should I say, imposing your beliefs of what you think my pregnant lifestyle ought to be. Note to wait staff: Just because I waddle into your restaurant and take a seat at a table does not mean you should immediately clear away my wine glass. I might have wanted that ½ glass of red wine, thank you. Sheesh.

These examples may not seem like big indiscretions or invasions of privacy, but I assure you they feel that way. And they – like the many others I didn’t mention – beg the larger question of why women’s bodies, pregnant or not, are considered public domain. At least, much more public than men’s bodies. While I don’t pretend to have the answer, I’d venture to say that it is wrapped up in the age-old tradition of women’s subjugation and our cultural history of being viewed as property. It’s incredibly frustrating, irritating, and makes me want to scream.

I know I can’t be the only preggo going through this, so let’s hear it. Have you had similar experiences?

Comments

  1. This piece was in the (usually pretty misogynist) UK paper the Daily Mail the other day: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2139955/You-selfish-cow–One-insults-hurled-I-jogged-Im-pregnant.html

    It’s about the grief one woman got for exercising while visibly pregnant.

    Seems that once you’re expecting, your body is public property.

    Good post.

  2. Servalbear says:

    The only thing I really complained about throughout my pregnancy was the sense that I was public property. Everyone-strangers, friends, family-would comment on my size, ask me how much weight I gained, advise me on food, touch me without permission, etc. You aren’t the only one that has gone through this. I would venture to guess all pregnant women have these experiences to a degree. You might be on to one of the reasons with “cultural history of being viewed as property.”

  3. Great post, Maureen! I remember having to tell a guy friend of mine soon after college that no, it was NOT cool to touch the pregnant belly of the WOMAN WHO WAS INTERVIEWING HIM FOR A JOB!!! (Sorry for shouting, but seriously!? Did he have to ask?) Unbelievable, frankly!

    I’ve never been pregnant myself, but I’ve been with friends who were–and laughed (and groaned) as they made sure the label of their non-alcoholic beer was prominently displayed at mealtime. Ugh.

    I’m sure part of the fascination is fascination–but since when does that trump plain old common decency? I hope the mommy blogosphere picks up on this and gets people to start thinking before they speak or touch. Seems like most folks have figured out how to do that in the rest of their lives. (Mostly.) Time to remember that moms-to-be are people too!

  4. My fav was being 8 months pregnant at the sushi bar, I had my list of fish I could and couldn’t eat, the waitresses didn’t bat at eye at my partaking but the entire time I was there a women with 3 children stared angrily at me.
    It was as if ever piece of sushi I ate was an affront to her, she whispered furiously at her husband and I seemed to be the topic of conversation for her entire meal. While she never spoke to me and her husband gave me these I’m sorry glances, I can only think that she herself had refrained from her beloved sushi ever time she was pregnant and couldn’t believe that I dared enjoy sushi when I was pregnant, The looks she kept giving me suggested that every bite I ate was poisoning my child and was an affront to her.
    As we left her husband stopped her from speaking to me, I could tell she wanted to say something but by then her face was literally red from anger and her husband just shook his head.
    I just kept thinking women in Japan eat fish and sushi everyday and I they are not told they will harm their babies when they do it.

  5. I’m not preggars, so I can’t comment on people touching my belly. But I will still share your disgruntlement.

  6. it takes a village. while i don’t think people should invade your physical space, to shut out the commentary and possible avenues to things you didn’t know about or resources which you might not have access to is pretty irresponsible not only for yourself but for your child. the human instinct of a passerby wanting to verbally check up on the progress/health/future of a baby isn’t just one of those polite mores (have you never done this?) but it’s also there to let the mother know that there are people available to her. i feel that the children of individuals who embark on this journey in isolation (i was raised by a single mother), or moms with little social contact, have a greater chance of missing out on the best parenting, and that’s what the commentary reflects. it’s easy to twist people’s benevolence into “what business is it of yours? i’m a strong woman, and you need to just back off cause i can do it alone,” and so on, but it demonstrates a lack of strength in addressing the situation. is it right to have to respond to these potential power relationships? life is gonna come at you hard sometimes and on top of saying how unfair it all is you also need to adapt and do what’s best for the baby. being confrontational or resentful is a good way to lose support. the strongest mothers i’ve met face problems head on instead of whining. if i saw a baby in danger i would do my best to fix the situation. i’ve also seen lazy, mean, and irresponsible parents, and i’ll say something to them. if you think, “well, it’s not your place.” you’re almost right, except that before pride, comes the safety and future of the innocent. asking “what’s up with the baby” can be many things, but it can also be an effort to make sure you’re keeping on top of things. this instinct in us is partly to ensure human genetic make-up carries on as best it can. i worked with a pregnant woman who smoked. by the time we finally got her to quit smoking and drinking it was too late. it’s right to push people to do the right thing. especially if they don’t agree because maybe your way isn’t even the best way, but at least then they can make their choices with even more attention and conviction, and that’s all we want, to give that baby the best attention! incubate that bean!
    - E. Beaux – Norman, Ok

  7. The violations of pregnant women in China and occupied Tibet are sooooo diabolical, please do sign and share the following petition. And help us campaign for an end to these abuses, and a future where women are free from these violations
    http://www.thepetitionsite.com/778/116/052/stop-forced-sterilization-and-abortion-of-tibetan-women/

  8. OMG, how this post sung to me! I wanted to smack the woman at Starbucks who had the NERVE to tell me that drinking friggin coffee (which just happened to be decaf but did she bother to ask? NO!) was going to hurt my unborn child. EFF you lady! And yes, it’s like because I’m pregnant everyone has decided that I need advice. Even my therapist who specializes in post-pardom depression said that I shouldn’t breast feed or pump and go straight to formula because it’s going to send me straight to post-pardom depression and I’ll feel like a cow! Who says that? Grrr. People (mostly women sadly) have their friggin nerve. This is what you say to a pregnant woman, if anything: “your belly is beautiful.” Not what my sister-in-law said at 6 months: “your belly is so big! how will it grow any bigger when you are 8 months?!?!” Hmm, should I have mentioned that she was a house at my wedding? Um, no. No because she was beautiful. Enough said.

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