Thursday 19 April 2018

Hands off my bump

Catherine Twomey

I t's my bump and I'll feel hot, fat, ill-tempered and wine-deprived if I want to. And no, you do not have the right to point at it, comment on it or -- worst of all -- stroke it.

But try telling that to the colleagues and do-gooders who feel they have the right to touch a woman's pregnant belly.

All pregnant women complain about the same things -- discomfort, lack of sleep, overheating -- but it's the insensitivity of others that really gets me going.

Imagine what would happen if you stroked a colleague's body part or commented on their post-holiday weight gain? You'd be hauled in front of a human resources bullying and harassment tribunal fairly lively!

When I was pregnant, I had to park my bike away from the entrance at work because one woman approached me every morning and asked, "Are you still cycling? Did the doctor say that was okay?"

When another found out I was expecting, she jumped in with her size 10s, saying, "I thought you had put on weight all right", before coming out with the nuanced follow-up: "That would have happened when you went on holidays three months ago, right?"

Inappropriate, surely?

But it's not just the people you know. On another occasion, a random van driver stuck his head out the window and shouted, "Are you about to have that baby now?"

As well as all the comments about your physical appearance, you have to listen to the horror stories -- you hear about the 'friend of a friend' who broke her pelvis during labour; the labours that went on for four-and-a-half weeks, and the cousin who threw up so much it was like a scene from The Exorcist.

Even if any of these tales were true, why take such relish in amplifying the fears of someone who is probably already pretty nervous?

I was, it has to be said, pretty large during my two pregnancies (or maybe, as a friend kindly suggested, I just looked bigger than everyone else because I was so flat-chested. Thanks for that insight, pal).

Whatever the reason, I had to endure lots of remarks, from the daily "How many are in there?" to the "Are you sure you have your dates right?" from the amateur gynaecologist.

Towards the end of my second pregnancy, I became absurdly embarrassed about my size. So much so that I knocked six weeks off my due date in response to a neighbour's enquiry.

When I was still trundling past during my last month, he must have been wondering what kind of elephantine pregnancy I was experiencing.

In fact, there are two things you can do as a woman to attract comments from strangers in the street: either carry a bunch of flowers ("Are they for me?" from every berk you encounter) or be heavily pregnant.

So what is it about a heavily pregnant woman that prompts so many people to act inappropriately? Or maybe that's a bit extreme and reflects my own sensitivities, but why do people feel compelled to comment or talk to you if you are pregnant?

Pregnancy seems to generate a sort of faux intimacy that prompts complete strangers to come up and tell you about their sister who's "having the UVF" [sic] or advising you that you should be "lashing on the cocoa butter".

It seems that when you are pregnant, you somehow become an embodiment of the ideas and fears people have about pregnancy, rather than an actual person. Everyone is free to comment on everything you do. If, in the final trimester, you take an apple out of your bag, before you have raised it to your lips someone will have screamed at you, "You're eating for two now" from across the street.

I think it's partly because people assume you can't think of anything else, given the fact that you have this very visible mass in front of you. While we tend to be a bit self-absorbed during pregnancy, there are times when we expectant mums are not thinking about the baby but considering other vitally important matters, such as why Masterchef judges Gregg and John so rarely appear in the same screenshot.

Most days during my pregnancy, I lumbered around the changing rooms of the Markiewicz centre post-swim.

When I complained to my sister that everyone seemed to be staring at me with a mixture of horror and fascination, she suggested that a) I was imagining it (and she was probably right) and b) many people had just never seen a large, pregnant belly up close before and were simply curious.

Pregnancy seems very alien until you are actually in it, and even then it can be very strange. In fact, during my first pregnancy I don't think it ever really hit me that there was a baby coming at the end of it all. I didn't even put nappies in the bag I packed for the hospital! Part of the reason for this is that childbirth is not something most of us have any experience of until we go through it ourselves.

However, pregnant women have become more visible as more women of child-bearing age enter the workplace. Up until 1972 women had to resign when they married. In 1971, 62pc of women worked in the home, but by 2008 that figure had dropped to 30pc.The majority of pregnant women work now and many choose to do so up until late in pregnancy.

Maternity fashions have changed to reflect these changes in attitudes, and that is why pregnancy seems so much more physically obvious now.

Gone is the Sloaney Princess Di horror of the loose sack with pie-crust collar and bow. It's been replaced by a more streamlined look of T-shirts and jeans. The goal of pregnancy dressing is no longer to conceal your state, and most people are comfortable wearing fitted tops. Take it from a mother of two -- it's probably the last time in your life you will be comfortable wearing fitted clothes around your midriff.

Previous generations were not encouraged to be out and about while pregnant or to continue with their regular routines. Those who didn't have to work stayed at home with a packet of Silk Cut.

To be fair, most pregnant women will acknowledge that they can be over-sensitive. And pregnant women are kind of an odd shape. My sister thought I should put my vital stats on a dating website to see if there would be any takers for a 34-42-35 woman.

Everyone knows not to crack a joke about someone's disability, but because pregnancy is, for the most part, a happy state people are comfortable making remarks they would be very wary about in other circumstances.

The unpredictability of pregnancy makes it seem strange as well. A certain degree of luck and chance determines who gets pregnant. And we can't accurately predict when women will give birth -- predictions can be out by anything up to four weeks.

The comments and the joking may in reality demonstrate more unease than distaste as there is still a lot of squeamishness and uncertainty about pregnancy and birth.

People for the most part wish you well and are not in any way trying to offend, so, pregnant ladies, try to grow a hide as thick as your belly and ankles and remember: the end really is in sight.

Irish Independent

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