I can usually tell when it is about to happen. The eye contact drifts from my eyes to my abdomen. There is often increased interest in my abdomen, and I usually try to shift my stance- suck in a little and angle my hips (one of the bloggers says this makes you look better in pictures, and by better they mean smaller). I will occasionally try to cross my arms, trying to send a silent signal to stop trying to evaluate my abdomen. Then it comes. Like a bullet from a gun, the discharged statement fires through the air, never to be effectively retracted. It is in the room with us, having done all the damage it can do in a matter of seconds. There may be aftershocks, ripples of extending challenge, but it is there. The most awful question, “When are you due?
This question can be challenging when you are pregnant, because people usually have feedback about why you do or don’t look sized appropriately for the length of pregnancy in which you may be. I can remember times when people insisted that I was carrying twins (because I am sure an ultrasound would miss an entire baby), that the gender of my baby was easily detectable by the shape of my bump, or that the due date had to be wrong because I was way too large to be only x months along. A woman’s body is quite often viewed as being open for scrutiny, but even more so when there is a possible baby involved. Frankly, I enjoyed the place in pregnancy when I became visibly pregnant, because it felt that my body was announcing my happy news, and people were usually very kind to me out of nowhere. There were the random people who felt it was totally okay to put their hands on my belly, but there also were the random people who held doors and offered seats.
The question moves from challenging to a disaster when you are not pregnant. Sadly, this has occurred to me more often than I would ever hope. It happened to my mom frequently when I was a kid, and I can remember making a mental note- hit the gym so that this never happens to you. I am a religious exerciser, and really hoped that this would prevent me from the awkward moments that I witnessed for my mom. I had not taken into account the massive role that genetics plays in our body composition and the impact of 3 large babies, both of which have proven to be quite the demons for me.
The first time that I can remember running into this problem was when I was about 6 months post-partum from my first baby. We were shopping at a consignment store, and the cashier asked when I was due. I was a little dumbfounded, because my 6 month-old baby was in the stroller I was pushing. I told her that the baby had already been born, and indicated my son. She looked at me, another glance at my belly, and stated “Have you ever heard of sit-ups?” I informed her that I had, fought back the urge to point out that she appeared to be heavier than me, and choked back the tears in my throat. This was the first of many, many tough exchanges. There were the excited acquaintances, who felt like they were the first to glance my “secret.” The awkward interchanges with clients who wanted to share my exciting news, and also needed to know when to expect a maternity leave. Then there are the truly horrific encounters. There was a time last fall when I dedicated a 14-hour day to a volunteer commitment. Midway through the day, the volunteer coordinator stated loudly (in front of many of my peers) that she felt that I grew more and more pregnant as the day was going on. I quickly informed her that I was not pregnant, and she proceeded to insist that the evidence was obvious and I wasn’t fooling anybody. People watched in horror as I insisted that I was not actually pregnant and she kept up her counter argument. Finally, I walked away. She later grabbed my arm and informed me that she felt certain she had heard me share the news with someone else, in which I countered, yet again, that she was wrong. I doubt I will be volunteering to go through that experience again.
I have come up with some helpful guidelines for managing these experiences:
- Preventative action: With clients, I often will joke that my belly grows with my stress level, which can make me appear pregnant, as a tip that pregnancy will not be occurring even if they think they perceive it. With strangers, I change the conversation and may insert that I am so grateful that I am not having any more kids.
- Gratitude: Truthfully, I am very grateful for the contribution that this belly has made to my life, through sustaining my own system and growing my three babies. Thank you, belly. Also, I realize that I will reach an age where it will be clear that I am too old to be pregnant- any comment about pregnancy now is an indication that I am still young.
- Reward system: I actually give myself $10 into a “Tummy Tuck Fund” for each of these occurrences. I hope to not have the tummy tuck (one older psychologist once informed me that this would be a “necessity” after she had asked me when I was due- I still disagree), but do buy myself a nice shirt or flowers to offset the awful.
- Interpersonal effectiveness: I have learned that the longer we linger on the question, the more awkward things become. I now quickly change the subject and move on, rather than working through the apologies, sorrow, shame, etc that follows.
- Correction: This is the harder one. My doctors have told me that a lot of where people carry weight is related to genetics. We suspect that I have some food issues that cause inflammation, which is why the belly can grow or shrink with certain foods. We are still working on this one, but have made some progress. Funny thing is that, with some of the adjustments we have made, there have been much fewer incidences of the awkward question. However, this has raised a new awkward question- “You were just pregnant and now you aren’t, what happened??” I have been tempted to reply, “Dingo ate my baby!”
- Acceptance: To me, body acceptance is one of the greatest gifts we can give our children, and it starts with us. When my son was a toddler, I had a bad habit of weighing myself after using the restroom in the morning. One morning, he got up, used the restroom, and stood on the scale, just like he had seen mom do. I changed my behavior that day. I know that the best thing I can do is model health eating and physical activity habits, ad show that I can love my body, even the lumpy parts.
I hope it never happens to you, but I also hope you can manage it with ease if it does. We don’t consciously control our bodies, but we don’t have to make them a source of shame, either.