Last night I was visiting a good friend whose daughter was born days after my Sam. She was telling me that on more than one occasion, while shopping, she was approached by various slack-jawed shoppers and asked when her baby was due. She was unfortunately put in the position I’m sure many of us Moms dread and had to explain that her baby was born…months ago. I can’t imagine it takes a genius to understand that achieving ones pre-pregnancy shape does not happen overnight. First of all, it takes time for a uterus to shrink back to size. Women look about five months pregnant for some time after giving birth. Another friend of mine was understandably annoyed at having to explain to the grandfather of her baby that yes, it’s normal to still look pregnant after giving birth. This conversation occurred in the hospital just hours after delivering her daughter. Really? Do you actually think that that enormous belly was literally ALL baby? Really? Open your minds, people! These things take time. Furthermore, Mothers (especially those who have more than one child) typically have to decide between eating, showering, cleaning the horrifying disaster that once passed for a living space, and sleeping. Not only can you not have it all, you usually can’t have more than one of those things per day. I can only speak for myself but if given the choice, sleep will always win. Since that’s not entirely realistic given my current situation, second place goes to eating. This usually means 3-4 bites of greek yogurt while breastfeeding which, incidentally, is one of the only times I have a chance to sit down. Now don’t get me wrong, in no way am I complaining because, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, maternity leave is pretty fantastic. So going back to the issue of baby weight, vigorous workouts simply just have to get in line with everything else. They say it takes nine months to grow and another 9 months to shrink. I tend to disagree, but at least it buys us more time than how ever long it takes us to push the baby out.
Now, with all of that said, I have to take this opportunity to grant those with an apparent lack of self awareness, some invaluable insight. Here goes: Unless a woman is literally giving birth before your eyes and you see a baby emerging from her body, do not assume she is pregnant. Even then, ridiculous as it may seem, I would probably just wait until she brings it up. This advice will save you, not to mention countless women, the embarrassing, awkward and (in her case) crushing moments which would most definitely follow your dim-witted and inappropriate observation. All of that aside, on a more serious note, consider the possibility that perhaps this person has always wanted children but was unable to conceive and/or carry a child. It’s like asking someone “when are YOU going to have children”. I’m guilty of this one myself. It’s a seemingly innocent question that every couple in a serious relationship is faced with at one time or another. However, having known a few couples who have gone through the devastating loss of a pregnancy, asking them what you perceive to be a harmless question could be exposing a flurry of emotions that they can’t, and shouldn’t have to, share.
So, while we’re on the topic of pregnancy, I feel inclined to enlighten you with appropriate things to say to someone you know who is expecting a baby:
- You look beautiful!
- You don’t look pregnant from the back whatsoever! (I was actually told I looked very pregnant from the back during my first pregnancy. That person then went on to tell me that when his wife was pregnant you could only tell when she turned sideways. Yeah thanks, a-hole.)
- You’re all belly!
- Pregnancy agrees with you!
I’m sure you get the drift and I don’t need to elaborate any further. I feel the next list goes without saying but I will present you with the things you should absolutely NOT say to a pregnant woman. Ever. All of these things were said to me during one or both pregnancies.
- Wow, you’re getting so big!
- Hey, fatty!
- Are you sure it isn’t twins?
- You look swollen, especially in your face.
- How much have you gained?
- Wow – you’re only 6 months pregnant? You’re HUGE!
- You look really tired (this goes for all women, not just the pregnant variety. It’s basically saying “you look like crap”. Before you argue this point in your head, show me someone who looks both tired and good at the same time. Impossible. I have always found this especially upsetting because I’m usually told I look tired after a great sleep).
- Are you going to eat ALL of that?
- Wow! I almost didn’t recognize you!
I’m sure there are many, many more things you should not say but, quite frankly, who has time to read them all? I know when I was pregnant with Isla I became especially huge. Even my nose was fat. While I didn’t always believe those who told me I looked beautiful, it was still nice to hear. Whenever I was told how big or tired I looked, I couldn’t help it and almost always ended up crying like an idiot in the bathroom. Wow, that sounded a lot more tragic than I had anticipated (hormones are such little bastards). It was as if my sense of self was engaged in a battle; the former me in one corner, and the new supersized version of myself in another. My first pregnancy was both wonderful (for obvious reasons) and terrifying as I couldn’t help but wonder if my former identity would be gone forever to make room for this new person I had become. Since most books describe pregnancy as a miraculous journey (etc.) but happen to leave out the emotional elements associated with the abrupt physical transformation, I was somewhat blindsided by how I was feeling. I guess I imagined I would stay exactly the same but have a perfect little basketball-belly. One thing I absolutely did not expect was a fat nose. Thankfully in time I rediscovered myself in a new light. It was the old me, but better. So, as a comfort to anyone that may be in the midst of their first pregnancy and can somewhat relate: rest assured, you’re still in there.
When I was pregnant with Sam, he was much kinder to me. Of course they say girls apparently “suck the beauty out of you”, so maybe that was the issue with Isla. The worse you look, the more beautiful your daughter will be. I’m certain this is absolute BS but it was a comfort to me as I’m sure it has been for many others in that position. I also knew Sam would be my last baby, so I truly did try to savour each month I carried him. I have to admit that it’s bittersweet to think that I’m done having children. At least I was lucky enough to go out on a high-note because, while pregnant with Sam, I truly felt beautiful (well, most of the time). Knowing that my new shape was (somewhat) temporary, I wasn’t as sensitive to the incessant commentary I was subject to. Still, with hormones in place of rationality, I didn’t quite have the capacity to handle a blow to my already fragile self-esteem.
If you’re guilty of sometimes realizing that your foot is no longer on the floor but instead lodged firmly in your mouth, don’t beat yourself up about it. We’ve all mistakenly, and innocently, made someone feel bad. This is simply to use as a point of reference should you be interested in avoiding future “cringe-worthy” moments. Cringe-worthy meaning those awkward memories you so desperately want to forget but sadly never will. I have a few and cringe just thinking about them. Most are pretty silly and from a time when my verbal filter wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to think it is now. Really it comes down to self-awareness (one of my favourite topics that I promise to revisit). Regarding pregnancy let it be known that one should never assume that touching a belly is OK. Trust me, I get it. Nothing is more beautiful and enchanting than the miracle of pregnancy and sometimes putting a hand on a belly is simply irresistible. Unfortunately not all women subscribe to the unspoken understanding that it’s suddenly acceptable for anyone and everyone to touch them. Lots of women find it creepy and weird, and for some it’s actually a source of anxiety. A close friend of mine is afraid of how she’ll, or rather how her hormones will handle the situation should it present itself. She fears her only option to keep people from touching her belly will be to wear a novelty t-shirt with a clear warning to stay the hell away from her. Funny as that visual may be, it’s sad that it’s come to this. Maybe it’s just another example of how uptight we North Americans are, but I’m on board and encourage everyone to respect the personal space of a pregnant woman. If you simply must touch a belly, at least ask permission first.