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.