13 September 2023

When you're pregnant, your body apparently becomes public property

| Zoya Patel
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nappy pins indicating pregnancy

Advice flows thick and fast – and not always helpfully – when a pregnancy is announced. Photo: Ralf Geithe.

That’s right, my urge to procreate finally overtook my climate dread, and I’m now pregnant. I’ve been around enough pregnant people over the years to have witnessed how social filters and courtesies just slide away when people engage with someone’s pregnancy.

But I’ve still been genuinely bemused by the sudden freedom people find in how they talk about my body now I’m carrying a baby. It’s like any sense of privacy or bodily autonomy I once had has been completely eradicated and the advice and comments are coming at an alarmingly high rate.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the advice is appreciated. It’s been wonderful to have friends and family members who have had babies share their insights with me from their own pregnancies and offer support when needed. I love that I have a strong community of parents around me who have been available for my panicked texts or questions when I’m not sure if things are right or which feelings are good ones while my body rapidly changes.

But there have been some conversations that have completely baffled me.

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For a start, there seems to be a cohort of women who take glee in the fact that pregnancy means I’ll put on weight. I thought that was a given, considering I’ll be carrying around another person inside my body, but the comments are so strange.

“You’re going to be one of those pregnant people who just looks fat,” one friend told me the other day. This didn’t seem like a necessary or helpful insight, but I suppose she felt it was worth commenting.

“Just let go of any ideas you had about exercise and fitness,” another friend advised me.

“You won’t get that back, not for years. It just is what it is.”

I mean, that may have been her experience, but it certainly isn’t shared among all the people I know with small children, so the scaremongering felt heavy-handed.

Also, surely having goals for regaining my fitness and doing all the physical activities I enjoy is a positive way to manage the stress of having to shift a lot of my activities while pregnant. Even if reality means I won’t be able to achieve those goals, that’s something for me to manage if and when the time comes.

I also just get a lot of people staring at my stomach, demanding to touch my belly, and even forcibly pulling my loose clothes around to get a better look. That feels incredibly weird, and I haven’t worked out a polite way of saying, “Please get your hands off me” without offending someone.

And then, of course, there are all the people telling me what I shouldn’t be doing anymore. Whether it’s what I eat, how I sleep, or activities they think aren’t safe, I’m getting plenty of advice, often from people I haven’t otherwise spoken to in months or even years. I haven’t even put up any kind of social media announcement to say I’m pregnant but mentioned it in passing in a comment and was inundated with contact. That’s quite nice, but the onslaught of advice was less welcomed.

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I understand that people get excited when a baby is impending. I appreciate that the people around me want to support me and provide advice, and also that for a lot of women, they want to give me information they wish they had when they were pregnant. But the balance of helpful advice versus overly personal comments is probably skewing 60/40 in favour of the latter.

Here’s some advice I’ll gratefully take – how do I politely push back when I feel someone has crossed a line without seeming ungrateful for their concern for me? And is this what all pregnant people have gone through? Because, if so, I applaud you all for making it through with relationships and friendships still intact.

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I think you need to stop painting yourself as a victim and learn to stand up for yourself. If others are offended by you asking them not to touch you then that is their problem, not yours.

Also, for the pro-abortion implications people are trying to bring into this topic, it’s actually quite the opposite: The unborn baby also deserves bodily autonomy. What abortion really is, is a woman taking away a defenceless child’s bodily autonomy and killing them because it suits her better if they didn’t exist. And yes, an unborn baby is just as human as any other person. Just look at their DNA.

Colin Jory I smell a rat. I’m 67, have 3 kids & worked for ACT Health for 11 years.
I have never, ever, ever heard any health professional (or anybody else) ask that.
Sounds like the Christian Lobby trying for a straw man argument about abortion.

No idea how to stop people being rude while you’re pregnant, but a well worded retort has worked when my partner and I are asked about our plans for kids. Akin to “what an odd way to ask about our sex life”.

I have a wife, daughters, and grand-daughters who have been pregnant (in all cases more than once). There is one “public response” which prettywell all of them have experienced on occasions, and which is more offensive than any of the examples given by Zoya Patel. This is the question, “Are you going to keep it?” The question is always put by another woman — in many cases a “health professional” — and always the unborn baby is an “it”. Perhaps Zoya will tell whether she, too, has been the target of that question.

Colin Jory, the way the world is now you cant even give your child a sex on their birth certificate just in case you are shaming them into being that sex regardless of what genitals they are born with. the fact someone say “it” is accurate unless they already know the sex of the baby. stop being so precious.

Congratulations. I’ll be interested to see if there is a change in your perspective.

I’ve never been pregnant but I was shocked when my pregnant friends told me they’ve had complete strangers come up and touch their abdomen without asking. And they also have to put up with dirty looks whenever they eat anything that wasn’t “healthy”. Even though I haven’t been pregnant, one day when I was wearing a smock-like top, I had a stranger ask when I was due. I used my ice-cold voice with as much contempt as I could muster and said “I’m not pregnant. I’m just fat”. She slunk away.

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