Pregnancy isn’t invitation to be pawed by strangers

Parts of my body typically considered unmentionable in polite society have recently become topics of vivid discussion among family, friends, coworkers and classmates. Soon, even complete strangers will be talking to me about body parts hitherto considered private.

When my husband and I found out we’ll be having a baby this spring, we made a rookie mistake. In our unabated excitement, we told everyone who held still long enough to hear it. Nothing could have prepared us for the barrage of advice, questions, warnings and labor horror stories we’d have to negotiate.

In what position did you conceive? How big are your breasts now? How’s your sex drive? How often do you have to pee? These are some questions I’ve been asked thanks to my pregnancy experience.

I don’t mind talking about it, though. I even appreciate once-pregnant-themselves women sharing nutrition tips or morning-sickness cures.

What drives me nuts are the I-was-in-labor-for-two-weeks-without-an-epideral-and-ruptured-my-spleen-before-birthing-my-42 pound-son-out-my-left-nostril stories. Nobody needs to hear that. It’s like waiting until your plane takes off and then starting a conversation with the person next to you about the movie “Alive.”

Women who do this are like veterans one-upping each other’s war stories. They tell me what the pregnancy battlefield will do to my ass, thighs, breasts, vagina and belly during the next year or so. They show me their stretch marks like war wounds. They almost always paint the worst possible scenario.

And it can only get worse.

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“Once you start showing, you’ll become public property,” my midwife told me.

Many, many women have warned me about the belly patters. Here’s the scene: I’m in a store, movie theater or restaurant focusing on whatever it is I’m there to do, when suddenly someone is touching my tummy. Someone I’ve never seen before, someone who has no right to be touching me.

“Ooooo!” this someone says. “When are you due?”

Let this serve as a warning: all hands touching my pregnant belly without prior permission will be severed, dried and made into a mobile to hang above junior’s crib.

When something considered so private as your own body suddenly becomes public due to something as commonplace as conception, you can’t help but wonder if it was really all that private to begin with.

Feminist theorists have a heyday exploring the various ways in which men and society in general have historically taken both physical and metaphorical ownership of women.

But despite women’s bodies remaining a topic of intense controversy (think wardrobe malfunction), I think the real reason tummy patters, mostly women themselves, think it’s OK to familiarly touch a person they normally wouldn’t isn’t that women are perceived as public property. Children are.

With kids, our social rules change dramatically. When it’s OK to talk and interact, where, why and how becomes more fluid. We refer to them as “our” or “America’s” children. We form and express opinions about how others’ children should be raised. When children are victimized, we feel, as a community, the burden of guilt.

One of my professors once related to me how offensive she finds the attention her very cute daughter gets. Random strangers have tried to tell her how to dress the child. Others have tried to play with or talk to her while her mother’s attention was elsewhere. This protective parental instinct is beginning to make sense to me for the first time. To some degree, it’s simply the nature of parenthood, but I think it’s intensified by our society’s tendency to view children as communal beings.

This is the source of the patters’ interest in the pregnant belly. They want to participate in an experience that’s so kick-ass exciting it can’t be described. But they aren’t able to do so without keeping their paws off strangers’ midsections.

So, perhaps chopping off their hands is a little harsh. I guess I’ll just break a few fingers instead.