Pregnant Women are Community Property

It seems like when a woman becomes pregnant, her body ceases to be her own.  I don’t mean in a physical, sharing space with the baby kind of way.  I mean in the social way.  Society seems to feel that a pregnant woman loses certain rights to her privacy and bodily integrity.  People feel like they can ask certain very personal questions, comment on her body parts, and, worse, they feel like they can reach out and touch a pregnant woman in ways that would never, ever be appropriate for a non-pregnant woman.

As I have started to become very obviously pregnant, this has started happening more and more.  On Tuesday, a co-worker felt it was appropriate to ask me about my eating habits.  He had overheard that I had been eating at a local sushi place pretty frequently, so he felt the need to comment as we were leaving the office for the day, “Um… I heard you talking about sushi this morning.  Aren’t pregnant women, like, not supposed to eat fish or something?”  This forced me to have to defend my food choices and explain that, of course, not all sushi is raw fish, and that cooked fish that is low in mercury is an important part of the diet because of the healthy oils it contains.

Why should I have had to explain myself to this fellow who I only am vaguely acquainted with?  What business of it is his what another person eats?  Would it have been appropriate for me to question the health merits of his lunch choices?  Likely not.  It’s just none of my business.

People will also ask you very personal questions about your medical choices.  I remember when I was pregnant with the Grasshopper, a woman at my husband’s office asked him whether or not I was going to get an episiotomy. Why on earth would anyone feel asking that would be appropriate small-talk?  That is in incredibly invasive and personal question.  Would it be appropriate for him to ask her about her husband’s prostate exam?  Absolutely not.

Please don’t get me started on the comments about the size of my body.  To the next person who looks at me and says, “Aw, look!  You’re HUUUUGE!”  I plan to respond with, “Aww, you’re huge, too!  Wait, was that not an appropriate thing to say?”  You do not, I repeat, do not comment on a stranger’s body size.  Pregnant or not.  It’s incredibly rude.

People also seem to like to touch me these days.  And not just a hand-shake or a pat on the shoulder.  Yesterday, I had two different coworkers, with whom I am not particularly well acquainted, ask me if they could rub my belly.  I said, “Only if I get to rub your belly back.”  And they both gave me an “ew, gross” look and declined.  At least they asked.

Really and truly, I’m okay with discussing my choices and what’s going on with the pregnancy.  I wouldn’t be blogging about it if I didn’t.  I’m also okay with having my belly rubbed as long as you are my friend.  One of my friends is very much a belly-rubber, and I actually like it.  It’s very sweet and she rubs with love.

What I don’t like is the sense of entitlement that some people seem to feel with regard to information and access to my body.  I think the hyperemesis gravidarum has made me particularly crusty in this regard because of the perpetual questions of, “Are those meds safe for the baby?”  I also reject entirely the notion that personal questions make appropriate small-talk.  If you ask me a question, I will answer you.

If you ask me about episiotomies, I’m happy to give you a detailed explanation on why I will absolutely not be getting one.  Very detailed.  If you don’t want to really, really know, then don’t ask.  If you ask me about my pregnancy medical issues, I will answer you.  I’m happy to educate people about hyperemesis gravidarum.  But don’t look grossed out when I tell you about my PICC line and my IVs.  If you didn’t want to know, you shouldn’t have asked.  If you feel that you have the right to lecture me about my choice to birth outside of the hospital, well, you need to be prepared to get lectured right back.

Honestly, I’m not combative generally.  A genuine question will receive a gentle and genuine response.  I much prefer to, as they say, catch the flies with honey.  But a question asked as an attempt to point out that I am doing something wrong will be met with a strong response.  Particularly because, in most cases, I don’t just do things “because.”  I’m an obsessive reader and researcher.  There are very specific reasons behind most of my choices which I am happy to share if someone is genuinely curious.

But this leaves me with this question:  Why?  Why is it that when we enter motherhood, and this only starts with pregnancy, that people feel that sense of entitlement to our personal information and the right to touch our bodies?  Why do our bodies cease to be our own?

I’m not sure I am enough of a feminist scholar to understand why this is.  If someone can help me out, I’d really appreciate it.  This is one aspect of motherhood that really, really bothers me.

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23 thoughts on “Pregnant Women are Community Property

  1. It doesn’t stop at pregnancy, though. I’ve been asked some incredibly rude things about my parenting choices. I’ve already addressed this elsewhere, so I won’t hijack your blog. I think that people need to learn that other peoples kids, either in utero or not, are not their business.

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    1. It certainly doesn’t end when the baby is born, and after reading my post, I think it can often begin even sooner. Have you known anyone with fertility issues? I have a couple of annonymous friends that did and I would bet money that they had to deal with uncomfortable and invasive questions as well.

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  2. This is so true and I am glad you pointed this out. I know I am just like most people who have thoughts, beliefs, and curiosities, but I usually keep those to myself unless someone asks or if I see someone about to severly hurt themself. I feel like my bodily functions are a wide open book for everyone to puruse and comment on. I had my first offense the other day because even though I am not at the point of showing I have a problem of bloating right under my rib cage after I eat. So when I got back from a successful lunch, a coworker pointed out very loudly in front of other coworkers, “Oh! I think I see your baby bump.” I could only reply with, “No. That is just air.” Talk about getting weird looks but I had no clue how to respond. However, I will say that this morning my boss was very open and said, “I am just going to be honest and go ahead and apologize because I will be making glances down at your belly off and on. I hope it doesn’t make you uncomfortable. It’s me being curious.” I felt that this was very considerate. Thanks for pointing these uncomfortable and offensive moments!

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    1. See, I might’ve been inclined to say, depending on the company, “Nope. That’s just gas. Come by my office later if you don’t believe me.” How to Win Friends and Influence People by Molly.

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  3. I completely know what you mean, my friend! LOL!!!

    I read something about this a long time ago, which said that we are simply programmed to protect/guide/educate pregnant mothers because they are the life-bearers of the next generation. As in, it’s an innate social instinct to make sure that the next generation is safe and protected by guiding and guarding mothers. Whether or not it’s true, it has made me a lot more tolerant of stranger interference in my pregnancies, when I realize that people don’t (usually!) mean harm – they’re just doing what comes naturally. Also, when I meet pregnant women, I find that I have the same exact instincts to do the same things to them that I find surprising when I am pregnant (belly-rubbing, etc.). And when I have a pregnant friend, I have to keep layers of virtual duct tape over my mouth to keep from giving wads of advice and asking really personal questions – the same things I’m not fond of when pregnant! So I think it might be true!

    I had a question for you (not about pregnancy, I promise!) but I can’t find your email. Would you mind emailing me? thejohnstons3 at cox dot net

    So glad all is going so well right now!!!!

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  4. I think you are right that it can begin even before pregnancy. I’ve always had horrendous periods and was finally diagnosed with Endometriosis in 2005 (aged 21). My body has put me through hell and some of the treatments tried to control my ENdo have been beyond a nightmare (2 pseudo-menopauses and surgery within 18 months at one point) and you wouldn’t believe the opinions some people have and I don’t even want to begin talking about the discrimination I experienced from my manager who was highly opinionated and regularly suggested I was weak and “if only” I did this or that I wouldn’t be so sick. My response was to become totally open about it all… if someone asked, they got a very detailed response. I got used to the questions and opinions and although it often irritated and upset me the way people judged me and my life choices, it just became normal for me. I think that’s why I haven’t noticed it as much during pregnancy, because that privacy barrier had already been broken long before I ever fell pregnant. I’m very open and happy to talk about anything regarding my pregnancy or health with people, but do take offence when I’m judged, especially by people who sailed through pregnancy and one of the major things for me was people saying “I was really sick too, have you tried x, y or z” as it was clear that although they had asked how I was, they had not really listened and tried to understand just how very ill the HG had made me because their suggestions of foods to eat totally avoided the fact that no matter what I tried eating, as soon as it touched my tongue it made me gag. That is what annoys me, when people ask but don’t really want to know the answer and if your answer doesn’t fit with what they deem acceptable, they then judge you.

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    1. Oh, it is so true about people asking when they really don’t want to know. They’ll ask how you are doing, but the only acceptable answer is, “Fine thanks!” Any other response and you get a lecture.

      Hint: If you don’t want to know how a sick person is feeling, don’t ask them!

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  5. Another form of boundary crossing is people oversharing their pregnancy mishaps. No one ever asked me inappropriate episiotomy questions but I heard a few doozies. Even when I was in the process of adopting I seemed to attract tellings of every disrupted adoption and cases of attachment disorder the teller had ever heard. I get if something bad happened to you talking about it can heal but telling someone vulnerable to that particular story is a very selfish choice.

    However, no one tried to touch me when I was pregnant. I suspect that my natural go away vibe did me a favor.

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    1. I barely had a few people touch me, I think it’s because I have tats on my arms. Kinda worked in my favor 😉

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    2. I plan to devote an entire post to this oversharing phenomenon. Pregnant women really do not need to hear birth horror stories, but some people really seem to get off on scaring them. I warned my best friend about this as soon as I found out she was expecting. It’s very weird.

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      1. I know! I was so scared by the time I gave birth b/c of all the horrific stories everyone decided I “needed to hear” UGH!

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  6. I will say, before I had Conner I was one of those weirdo’s who was drawn to a coworkers belly, even if I barely knew them. I never really thought how weird or inappropriate it was until I was pregnant myself. Some people…just don’t realize how their actions can affect someone. In my case, I just was too naiive to really understand. Honestly, there are people out there who really are fascinated at the beautiful process of being pregnant, and I actually thought it was really sweet of someone to touch my belly (as long as they weren’t a creeper). I had my days where I was like, “ew, who are you and why do you want to touch me?” But for the most part, I understood what it was like to be in their shoes at one point in my life, and cut ’em a lil slack.
    Now, as far as eating, I tend to be very vocal about what we should and shouldn’t eat…there have been many occasions where it was none of my business..but hey, it’s my personality, take it or leave it.

    I totally get the feelings you are having though, just be thankful for your little blessings, I know women who weren’t able to have children so I always feel really lucky.
    XOXO.
    K

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    1. PA once stated that for a while, there were only three or four things she could eat without becoming violently ill. Unless it was something known to cause immediate and severe birth defects or miscarriage, it’s nobody’s damn business WHAT she ate (and even then, I’d be hesitant to say it’s okay to butt in) because in my opinion, eating something that *might* not be okay is a whole lot better than NOT eating. When I was pregnant with my elder daughter, I ate an insane amount of reeses cups because they were one of the few things I could find to get my blood sugar back up and provide a bit of protein in a short period of time. Without them, I had severe dizzy spells. And if anyone asked why I was eating them, or joked about cravings, I got quite snappy with them.

      I have a strict hands-off, mouth-shut policy regarding pregnant women. I know too many who had conditions that were not obvious, but were an issue nonetheless, and comments and touching could make things worse. I know the woman who had her skin stretched so thin by pregnancy that her skin literally tore – if someone had patted her belly, they could have literally caused lacerations in her skin. Another gal I knew was carrying twins – with twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome. Asking her questions about her pregnancy would almost always make her cry, because she was single, still in high school, and knew that one baby she carried would die at the expense of the other.

      If you don’t know what someone’s situation is, what’s going on in their lives, or hey, their name, it’s not any of your business or anyone else’s what they do or don’t eat, and touching them is completely, totally off limits unless you know them well.

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      1. What I meant as far as telling a pregnant woman what to eat or not eat would only be to encourage her in eating more nutritious foods. The only time I have butt my head in was to tell a friend to slow down on eating a ton of fish (because of mercury) that was pretty much it. I don’t care what you eat, I just give advice is all I meant. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a total Biatch. lol

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      1. I’ve never talked to a stranger in that manner. If you assumed by what I wrote as talking to a stranger, I apologize. I merely meant I’ve talked to my friends who were pregnant and asked my advice. I tell them what they should and shouldn’t eat. They take my advice or not.

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  7. With respect, rawkinmama, you might need to spend some time examining your personal boundaries. It really is never appropriate to comment on someone’s food choices, particularly a stranger’s. I can tell you that after suffering pretty badly through HG, I have some pretty serious food issues. There have been times that the only thing that would stay down has been a McDonald’s Cheeseburger and a coke. It was either that or, literally, starve to death, which I was well on my way to doing for a while.

    The thing is, unless you are intimately aware of someone’s medical history, you have no idea why they may be making the food choices they are making. Or any other choice for that matter. There may be some very specific reasons why that pregnant woman is eating the sushi or why she is having a ham sandwich. Next time you feel compelled to vocalize to someone about their food choice, please stop and ask yourself: “Could there be something else at play here that I don’t know about?” Chances are, there is. You can cause more harm than good by commenting.

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      1. I apologize if anyone got the wrong impression about what I was trying to say. I’ve never EVER told a stranger what to do. It’s none of my damn business, as I stated before….I was talking about my friends….OK. Sorry for the confusion.

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  8. I am very saddened that instead of asking what I meant by talking about eating habits with pregnant women, you all jumped to the conclusion I meant “strangers.”
    To handle sensitive subjects better the next time, and to not get upset at me without knowing the facts, ask me. It’s as simple as that.

    I will give you an example of what I intended. Someone very very close to had purchased a bag of chocolate, I knew first hand that she had an eating disorder, so I genuinely encouraged her to chose better food choices rather than eat a bag of chocolate. Why would I say this? She was a family member for one, but also because afterwards she would complain to me for the next few hours that she was fat or whatever. She always appreciated my input, regardless if she asked for it.
    I always am respectful when it comes to women and eating. It is a very touchy subject.

    People need tough loves sometimes. Again, my friends are the only people who I do this with. I have very close, intimate relationships with my friends, almost all of them ask my advice on eating, pregnancy, what have you.

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    1. I’m sorry if you feel that you were jumped on. I think that the misunderstanding arose from the context of you comment with regards to the original post, which was about inappropriate and invasive comments by strangers. Maybe this helps you see how readers might have reached the conclusions they did with regard to what you were trying to say.

      I can see you’re feeling hurt and defensive, and I’m sorry that you feel that way. As always, I appreciate your comments and insight.

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