At 39 weeks pregnant, I am tired of my stomach being an invitation for every stranger to start talking to me about my choices, my child, and my body. Every question under the sun from the most benign “When are you due?” to the violating “How dilated are you?” makes my skin crawl and my introverted-self want to scream “Leave me the hell alone!”
After complaining one day, my aunt told me “Of course, you’re considered public property right now.” She was absolutely right. That’s how everyone thought of me. It hit me how incredibly illustrative pregnancy has been of how women all over this country are treated every day. The choices and decisions about this child and pregnancy belong to me and my husband. The only other person allowed to comment with any advice is my doctor (you know, the medical professional I hired to give me advice).
Why am I surprised though? People tell women every single day what they should or should not do with their body, how they should or shouldn’t feel about their lives, and how they should or should not be spending their time.
As a middle-class, heterosexual, white woman I have a lot of privilege. That is evident by the fact this is one of the first times I have truly felt, in an invasive way, that other people think they have a right to what I do with my body. Pregnancy has certainly opened my eyes a little wider.
Just last week I was interviewing a person for a vacant position on my staff and the candidate thought it was appropriate to touch my stomach as I was showing them out the door. This person thought it was okay to reach out and touch my body (invading two personal bubbles) without permission or even hesitation. Needless to say, that resume was quickly tossed. In fact, she seemed offended when I backed away and furrowed my eyebrows in disbelief. Excuse me, but you are not the one that gets to be put off by this interaction.
People are equally put off when I refuse to tell them what names we have picked out, like that’s any of their business. When I tell them we didn’t find out the sex of our baby, the response has ranged anywhere from a flat, disappointed “oh,” to “How is anyone supposed to know what to buy you?” Well, I didn’t ask anyone to buy me anything and it certainly doesn’t matter to me or my infant what color he or she is wearing.
People I don’t even know comment on what I’m eating or what activities I’m doing. “Should you really be carrying that?” “It won’t kill you or the baby if you have a glass of wine.” However true any of those statements are, they are no one’s business, because I am not public property. My life choices are not open to discussion. There is no public forum on what this pregnant woman should eat today, how often she should sit down, or when it is acceptable for her to go into labor.
Oh yes, people seem to find it highly amusing to tell me when I can and cannot give birth to my child (something I have zero control over anyway). “Okay, but don’t have the baby Friday, because I’ll be out of town.” “You need to have this baby today, because that’s the date I guessed.” Maybe it would be funnier if I wasn’t tired of heartburn and backaches, but I doubt it. These comments not only try to take ownership over my body (however unintentionally), but also assume that the speaker has the right to see my baby whenever they’d like. Um, who said you’re invited to my hospital room?
People seem equally entitled to know when I go into labor. “Send me a text when you’re headed to the hospital!” Yeah, no. I don’t care if you are my best friend, my grandma, or my sister. I don’t want to feel like anyone is waiting around for me and my baby, and quite frankly, I’m going to be a little busy. Pregnancy has made it so abundantly clear that people in general feel that they can have ownership over women’s bodies. They feel entitled to have whatever information or influence over it that they see fit. When is the last time you heard someone tell a man, for any reason, “Should you be eating that?” Maybe once, in my whole life, have I heard that and the man had just had a heart attack.
I highly doubt anyone who has wanted to talk to me about pregnancy has had any malicious intent or was even aware at how inappropriate the questions and comments were in the grand scheme of autonomy. However, that’s the point. Women not truly being seen as their own, independent person is so pervasive in our culture that we brush it off. “Well, they’re just excited about a new baby!” or “It’s only because they care.” We are allowed to care for each other and be excited for others, but the line is drawn at giving unsolicited advice about someone else’s body.
Photo Credit: Mackenzie Maeder Photo + Video