I was in my office bathroom, a shared space where I probably spend a little too much time these days emptying a bladder that is doubling as a soccer ball. The bathroom has three stalls, two sinks, and one hand towel dispenser, so there are times when I can get pretty close to coworkers and other women who work on my floor.
A lady who works in a different office was drying her hands while I was reaching over for some paper towel. She glanced at my pregnant belly. “When are you due?” she asked me.
I have come to learn that this is a reasonable, but dangerous question. It is one of the questions I like to ask. It helps me understand a pregnant woman a little better – how she might be feeling, how much time she might have left to work, when I might be expecting to hear news of a baby. But from the point of view of the pregnant woman, I hate that question. I hate that question a little bit because I hate the idea of a due date in itself. I feel like in our society we equate “due date” with “best before date”, and knowing me, I’m going to go late. I’d rather not focus on the arbitrary date of January 12th, when I know that my baby is likely still going to be snug as a bug inside of me on that date. And honestly, I’m okay with that. But this frustration is secondary to the fear that grips me when someone asks me when I am due.
When someone asks me when I am due, I brace myself for the looks, and maybe even the words that will follow. I’m due in two months. And that shocks some people.
This is my third pregnancy to go beyond the first trimester. There are some things I have learned to expect from my body as it grows a baby. I knew to expect that I’d get large. My belly gets big during pregnancy. I was told that I was “big” when I birthed a 7 pound baby and when I birthed a 10 pound baby. I know that my body goes into overdrive as it prepares to give birth. My hips widen. My bum balloons. My boobs inflate. My womb pushes everything straight out (with maybe a little to the side too). My face and my ankles both begin to change shape. This is my pregnant reality. It doesn’t shock me.
“Oh!” Bathroom Lady exclaimed after I told her my due date. “That’s still a long way off! You’re so big! You’re going to have a big baby! Are you sure there aren’t two in there?”
Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bathroom Lady just nailed almost every insensitive thing you can say to a pregnant woman and she did it without hardly taking a breath.
“Yes. I know.” I answered. Because really, what am I supposed to say? This woman certainly wasn’t trying to be malicious. Society just likes to share in the joy of pregnancy. I get that. But the words she chose sure had a way of sucking the joy right out of this experience.
You see, I really do love my pregnant body. Sure, I feel cumbersome and huge and I wish my face wouldn’t look as pregnant as it does. But really, pregnancy is one of the few times when I am able to fully embrace this body of mine as being strong and beautiful. My body is growing and sustaining a life. My pregnant belly moves and bounces and shifts with the child inside of it. My hips widen to make room to push this baby out with more power than I could ever imagine that I hold inside of me. My breasts grow to nourish the life of my previous little baby. The whole experience of pregnancy and childbirth is so amazing and wonderful and powerful, it radiates with beauty.
But we live in a world that distorts this perception of beauty. It glorifies a very specific type of body type – a body the that is very beautiful, yes, but not one that is very inclusive. We elevate smallness, perhaps to the detriment of the health of women and babies.
I know women – otherwise healthy women – who unilaterally decide to diet through pregnancy, without the direction of a doctor. I know women who fear large babies, enough that they schedule c-sections or inductions before they naturally go into labour, making the entire process perhaps more dangerous for themselves and their babies. I know women who are embarrassed by the weight of their incredibly healthy, and beautifully chubby babies; Babies who are perfect except for the fact that society has somehow deemed them “big”, and in every other instance, big means bad.
When we question someone’s due date and comment on their size relating to that date, we are working under some arbitrary image of what the ideal pregnant body image is. That is unfair to the woman who is pregnant and it is unfair to pregnant women everywhere. We are perpetuating an ideal that isn’t based on health. We fail to grasp that the changes a body goes through during pregnancy are necessary to support the extra effort that the body exerts through pregnancy and childbirth. We maintain a myth of beauty that doesn’t actually support many of the realities in pregnancy itself.
Our desire to share in the joy of this new life should not give anyone the right to comment on a woman’s body. If a woman is walking down the street and someone comments on the state of her body, that’s called street harassment. Being pregnant shouldn’t automatically make my body open to discussion by the general public.
Bathroom Lady had no idea the kind of day that I was having. She didn’t know that I had woken up early that day and that I was feeling incredibly exhausted. She could not have known about the headache that was pounding behind my eyes. Her words struck me at a weak point and I had a hard time holding back my tears afterwards. But what woman wouldn’t feel hurt if a stranger came up to her and commented on how “large” she was? My body isn’t open to discussion just like I am sure you do not want yours to be.
I want to talk about my pregnancy. I want to share this joyful experience with the world around me. But maybe instead of making judgement comments based on little more than some image of a perfect pregnancy we hold in our heads, let’s try to extend a little compassion. Bathroom Lady could have easily asked me how I was feeling. She could have congratulated me. She could have even told me how beautiful I am.
I don’t need to be lied to about my body. But maybe we can all start looking at pregnancy – all the realities of it – the big parts and the little parts and the extra parts – as beautiful. Because that body is doing amazing things and soon, there will be a new life to prove it.
If you’re pregnant, I want you to know that you’re beautiful. That body of yours, regardless of how much weight you’ve gained or how you’re carrying it or where it is showing, is a beautiful testament of love and life and strength.
I want to reach out and thank all the people who do go out of their way to make pregnant women feel beautiful. Since this incident happened, I’ve heard and noticed the kind words people have directed my way, both by those who knew about the incident and those who didn’t. There are lots of people in this world who know how to help a pregnant woman love her body, and I want to make sure I mention that I notice you too. You make it easier to embrace this body.