And then suddenly you are pregnant. One random morning before work you pee on a stick, see the little second pink line in the control window and realize: everything will change now. And as if this mental load that you have to carry around for three months without being able to tell anyone else than the people closest to you wasn’t enough, your body starts to go berserk. You feel nauseous, you are constantly tired and exhausted or you almost collapse on the train because your circulation is not handling the increased blood production so well and shuts down all the stuff that is not immediately needed to produce the growing fetus (like your consciousness, for example). All the while the normal day-to-day-life continues – long days at work, cooking, cleaning, worrying about sick parents, figuring out how to pay the mortgage and of course lots of additional doctor’s appointments to make sure your baby is okay.
But this article is not supposed to be about the physical pains that come with pregnancy (you can read about those in numerous pregnancy-books, in case you are interested), it is about the avoidable mental injuries that women have to bear in this most strenuous time of their lives that are mostly caused by men behaving ruthless and inconsiderate. During the first six months of my pregnancy I have experienced multiple examples of impossible behavior towards me that I just wasn’t expecting – not only from men whom I know fleetingly, but also from close friends or coworkers. But let me be a bit more specific.
The close friend
I have a buddy that I have known for ages. He is past his mid-thirties, has never had a serious relationship and still lives at home with his mom and dad. I could easily judge him for his lifestyle and make hurtful jokes – but I don’t do it because I know how mean it is to point out facts about other people’s life that they are probably not very happy about themselves. When I was about four months pregnant and my baby-belly started to show this very “friend” greeted me with the words “Hi fatty!” when we were meeting for a night out with Japanese food and karaoke that I had organized. At first I was so perplexed that I did not know what to say. Having been rather on the slim-side all my life due to a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise I was not used to being called “fat” – and I especially wasn’t expecting to be called so when carrying a baby inside me. Although this comment probably was meant to be “funny”, to me it was just plain hurtful and inappropriate. The evening was ruined for me before it had even started and when I went home that night, after having tried to have a good time anyway, I could not stop to wonder why – instead of being supportive and sensitive in this difficult time of my life – my “friend” had seized the opportunity to make me feel even worse by pointing out that I had gained weight, which is pretty much inevitable if your body is producing a human being.
There is this guy at work who is always stressed and annoyed by something. When he opens his mouth, it is usually to complain about something or – lately – also to comment on my changing body due to being pregnant. I announced my pregnancy at work right after the first three months had passed and I had received positive results on various tests that ensured that the baby was fine at this stage of development. When the news had spread this guy came to congratulate me – which was nice, of course – but then he added, that he had recently had a good look at me and had thought “Man, she must have had a lot to eat on the weekend!” but, haha, now he knew “what this was all about”. Again, I was so perplexed that I did not know what to say. Why was it suddenly okay to comment negatively on my changing body at the workplace? It felt as if being pregnant allowed everybody to have and articulate an opinion on my body without thinking about the consequences it might have on my mental well-being at all. The same guy even topped his rude behavior by asking me last week: “Are you sure you’re only having one baby? Your belly is already so huge, I think there might be two or three kids in there!” This happened right at my desk in between meetings at work and I was too shocked to come up with a sharp response. Let me tell you: Being six and a half months pregnant and carrying around an extra eight kilos of weight already (no fat by the way, just placenta, amniotic fluid and about fifty percent more blood to support both placenta and baby) while trying to stay fit (I still go to Zumba and walk about five kilometers per day) and not complaining about the pain caused by your stretched skin and strained spine is no picknick – but having to listen to disrespectful comments like this makes pregnancy really hard to endure.
The guy from the gym
I have been going to the gym regularly for the past ten years (judging from their figures, both my close friend and the coworker have not) and met quite a couple of guys there. One particular guy – who is almost fifty and refuses to go to Zumba classes taught by men – has become something of a closer acquaintance to me. Before I got pregnant we went Salsa dancing a few times and he even suggested to go again when I was in the fourth month of my pregnancy, but my growing bump and the weak circulation would have made it impossible for me to wear high-heels and spin around on a crowded dance floor in some club. So I said no, explained why and offered to do something else, like joining me for the aforementioned karaoke-evening or meeting me at a café for a chat. But he did not respond to that and also never came back to my offer. When I met him two weeks ago at Zumba – where I struggled to survive even 45 minutes due to shortness of breath caused by my squeezed lungs – he looked at me rather disapprovingly and remarked: “You now really cannot hide the pregnancy anymore, can you?” This was another moment of utter confusion for me – because first of all: Why would I want to hide my pregnancy? And second of all: What was this remark supposed to tell me in between the lines? One could have said: “It is great still seeing you in Zumba-class – this must be really hard for you!” or “I admire that you still try to work out!” or “How are you feeling?” or even “You look good!”. Not even once have I heard “You look good” from a male person within the last six months.
Thank god I have my girlfriends, of whom some are mothers already and went through similar situations like I have to now. It really is incredible what a strong bond sharing the experience of pregnancy creates and I am very grateful to be able to talk openly with them about all my fears and insecurities that have been amplified by the behavior of insensitive men that apparently speak before they turn on their brains.
So here is some advice for people who want to tell a pregnant woman something about her appearance:
- Don’t say anything unless it is something positive. A pregnant woman is feeling insecure about her body already so why would you want to punish her even more by pointing out that you liked her better when she was thin?
- Take a good look at yourself first before you pass on judgement. The three men I talked about are far from having well-trained bodies themselves, but still they felt the need to tell me that I am not thin anymore. I am not a psychologist, but if this is their way to feel better about themselves, then I suggest a therapy (or the gym).
- Why does it always have to be about looks? Probably because the outer appearance is the easiest thing to spot and comment on. My growing belly is very obvious, but what is not is my back ache, my sleeplessness, my fear of giving birth and my worries about not eating healthy enough for the baby. Care to comment on that?
I am very interested in your opinion, whether you are pregnant or not, male or female – maybe you even have behaved like one of those three guys I talked about and never really thought through what your words might do to a woman. In any case: I am trying to stay positive, because at the end all the pain will have been worth it, I am sure.