Monday 18 November 2019

Yvonne Hogan: From Fear to maternity

Yvonne Hogan Photo: Marc O'Sullivan
Yvonne Hogan Photo: Marc O'Sullivan

Yvonne Hogan

There is something about growing another human being in your belly that signals open season to all the nosy parkers, over-sharers and interfering old biddies among us.

The very act of breeding makes you public property, everybody's business. People, and it's not just women – some of the goriest and scariest stories of childbirth gone wrong have been regaled to me by men – feel the need to tell you the most personal and often boring stories about their own children and/or childbirth experiences.

And the questions!

Were you trying long? How did it happen? How come you waited until you were 37? Did you have fertility treatment? Are you happy? Was it planned? Are you going to have any more?

It is also a great time to settle old scores, allowing the meaner-spirited among us to slip in insults veiled as compliments. Petty jealousies can be aired with impunity.

"Doesn't the weight really suit you?" a certain type of woman likes to say. "You look much better with a bit of weight on you. Lovely and chubby – healthy looking, younger."

A particularly stunning friend of mine is about five months' pregnant and is complimented daily and effusively by a colleague on how her "jawline has filled out", and how a "fuller face really suits" her.

"Doesn't she look much better with a bit of weight around her face?" the woman will ask anyone who happens to walk past, gesticulating around her own sagging jowls for emphasis.

"Much fuller around here. Really suits her, doesn't it? Doesn't she look great?"

But the inappropriate questions and comments are nothing compared with the volume of unwanted advice that is heaped upon us breeders.

Oh, if there is one thing we humans love to do, it is to give each other advice. Most of the time we curb our enthusiasm, but when there is a visible bump, it is open season.

"You shouldn't be drinking coffee; you should give the gym a miss until after the baby; are you still wearing underwire bras? I know a girl who got terrible mastitis from wearing an underwire bra when she was pregnant. She couldn't breastfeed."

But apparently, the unsolicited advice to pregnant women is nothing compared with what is to come – that which is given to vulnerable new mothers.

Now, let's be clear. I am not talking about the well-meaning, generous advice that you seek from friends and family. We all want and need that. We'd be lost without it.

I am talking about the near-strangers and acquaintances who seek you out for the sole purpose of imparting counsel.

Their advice is toxic – loaded with expectation and given with a rather confrontational, almost militant, vicious edge. I am already getting a taste of it.

"You need to buy a baby bath – it is essential," one woman told me recently when I remarked that I had heard that they were unnecessary, in response to her question about what type of one I had opted for.

(For the record, I have borrowed one from my lovely sister-in-law, but I wasn't telling this walloper my business.)

"Who told you that?" she spat vehemently. "If you buy one thing, it should be a baby bath. We would never have managed without one. You need a baby bath."

I had to promise to buy a particular brand of baby bath for her to go away. I had to put the name of it into my phone in front of her. I barely know this woman! And she is not unique.

There are loads of parenting fascists out there (yes, men do it too) who have a physical reaction to the idea that you might not agree with them. Their pupils narrow, the nostrils flare and they focus all their will on you as they try to imprint their views into your brain. It's mad.

This kind of zeal can only be borne out of insecurity. It certainly isn't from genuine concern – if that were the case, woman x would have given me her number and told me to call her any time that I needed help or advice.

No. People like her just want to make sure that you do what they do so that they can feel better about their own choices:

"You need to take my advice," they scream. "I need you to take my advice. If you don't take my advice, it means you think I am wrong. Oh Jesus, what if I am wrong? I can't be wrong. This is all I have!"

Oh baby, what fun we are going to have getting a rise out of the likes of them.

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