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A Womb of One's Own

A Womb of One’s Own: Unwanted Advice

As a person who is female, my body is often seen as a public object open for discussion. As a pregnant woman, my body is not only open for discussion, but my choices are up for debate and judgment from friends, family, strangers, and anyone else who may cross my path. These comments are often cloaked in concern for “the baby,” but it seems like it’s really just a convenient and socially acceptable outlet for people to be pushy and pass judgment.

Happily, for at least the first trimester, it was easy to dodge the comments. The only people who knew I was pregnant were those we chose to tell, and, in most cases, we only received support (and the usual pregnancy stories). I started to “show” in the second trimester, but I thankfully only encountered strangers who weren’t willing to make a call in regards to the “fat or pregnant” question. In person, that is. Any mention of what food or liquid I consumed on Facebook opened me up to comments and judgment. Mentioning brie prompted someone to tell me that it was a forbidden food for pregnant women”¦ except it’s not (as long as it’s pasteurized), according to the FDA. Coffee? Better be decaf, even if it’s just one sip. And my love of Diet Coke is apparently the fast track to a flipper baby.

The third trimester? All bets have been off. Salespeople have seen my belly as open season to bet on what I’m having; apparently things ranging from how the kid rides in my body to if I had morning sickness are guaranteed indicators of whether I’m having a boy or a girl (spoiler alert, it’s one or the other), and people have pointed to the same perceived characteristics to support both arguments. In a small act of mercy, nobody has commented on the weight I’ve gained or made snide remarks about how little they gained in their pregnancy. At least, not where I’ve been able to hear them.

More than anything, I’ve gotten comments, suggestions, and directions on what I should do, how I should behave, and who should be around when I give birth. Our long-held plan has been for it to be just us, as it was when our son was conceived (and, of course, the appropriate medical professionals). I’d like to go medication-free as long as possible, and I’d especially like to avoid an epidural, because I can’t stand the idea of not being able to move if it’s needed. Despite having stated these preferences, I’ve gotten advice to the contrary. Though, can you really call it advice if it’s delivered like a command?

Someone told me that the only respectful thing to do was have my parents, my husband’s parents (and step-parents), and our siblings in the room for the birth. For the record, that’s six parents and seven full, half-, and step-siblings standing around gawking at the wonder that is a baby emerging from my mystic swamp. My father was uncomfortable even feeling the baby move in my stomach; can you imagine him (and my father-in-law and step-father-in-law) watching me give birth?

While the Internet is full of people who are quick to judge women who use pain medication during labor and birth, in face-to-face interactions, it seems to be exactly the opposite. People can’t understand why I would want to avoid using every drug possible to make it through labor, despite my explanations that the drugs can draw out labor and inhibit my baby’s sucking reflex after birth (however briefly). I’ve never said I won’t take drugs if I decide I need them, but the very idea of trying to ride it out seems to be personally offensive to some.

There are always other comments, ones that aren’t directed at me, that reduce me to an object in relation to my husband. When we went out to lunch this week, an older gentleman in line in front of us looked back, saw my stomach, pointed at it, and asked my husband, “Did you do that? On purpose?” How am I supposed to respond to these comments? Sure, I could let fly the first bitchy thoughts in my head, but all that would do is create a situation that might mean it takes even longer before I get my food. In the end, I did what I didn’t want to do: I bit my tongue and smiled politely, because the burger and poutine on the other side of the thoughtless comment were far more important than telling off a stranger.

What about your pregnancies, readers?  What were you told or asked that sent you over the edge with rage, even if it was “well-intentioned”?

By Jessica Werner

Free-range librarian in Seattle. A sucker for happy endings, teen angst, and books that make me want to sell my possessions and travel the world. Incurable homebody and type A. Send love letters and readers advisory requests to jessica.werner@gmail.com

21 replies on “A Womb of One’s Own: Unwanted Advice”

I got this stuff everyday while i was pregnant. Everybody I saw thought they knew better than me. The funniest was my one friend. I was prescribed medication, and she actually stole the bottle until she found out that it was prescribed by my OB.

Partly related rant ahead: The public ownership of bodies sucks. I’ve never had a baby, but I do have a lot of visible tattoos, and people have said everything from “you do know those are permanent, right?” to “oh honey- you WILL regret that someday…” usually in conjunction with “…when no man will want to marry you!” People touch me, grab my wrist to read a tattoo and touch my back when I wear a cami. As I’ve entered and neared the end of my 20’s, this has lessened, which is actually confirming that young women’s bodies are especially public property. Anyone can touch, loudly judge, dole out advice and scorn. And if I don’t like it? Well, surely I got tattoos to be seen and touched by others! I was asking for attention! Geez. Does anyone have a good response that gets me out of reading a tattoo to a stranger for the 1000th time? Is there a gentle way to let people know this is sometimes invasive?

Wow, the rudeness of others can never be underestimated. I bought my husband a tattoo for his birthday this year. It is a Mexican picture that we bought on holidays. We like the picture and it also features a rabbit which is his nickname for me but it’s a private nickname.

People just can’t get past the fact when we don’t reveal some amazing hidden meaning for the tattoo other than “I like the picture”.

I had the tattoo/pregnant intersection on Sunday! I wore a dress that shows my one tattoo and someone in 7-Eleven touched it and asked me about it. It’s on the back of my shoulder, so it’s not really a public space, but it was visible so apparently it was fair game to this guy. After I explained the meaning (4th gen in Seattle), he promptly reached for my belly and was like “what about this one?” Thankfully, my Slurpee was paid for, so I could answer as I walked away.

I was raised to not comment on others’ appearances because it wasn’t my business, but it seems like so many people never got that, whether it’s in regards to pregnancy, tattoos, hair, piercings, or anything else. A compliment is nice, a jerky comment is not.

I like to think that I’d have a sassy answer for all these inane and rude comments, but I know that months of pregnancy nausea and exhaustion would just tire me out too much and I’d end up biting my tongue 100% of the time. But if people are thoughtless enough to ask these questions in the first place, one good smack-down might make me feel better, but isn’t going to make them change their ways.

But anyway, I want to say thank you again for writing this series. I don’t even plan to have kids, but I read all your posts. Your sincerity, honesty, thoughtfulness and humor are universally enjoyable and thought-provoking. I hope you continue to share your perspectives with us as a new parent. And I hope people quit poking at you!

“Did you do that?”

Really? I mean.. really? Of course I can have the most inane and weird and (slightly) inappropriate questions popping into my head but there’s still a line to cross to speak those out.

I’m not of pregnancy-experience, but I’m wishing you all the best for your delivery and going to keep it at that (;))

I just wanted to say that I have been reading this entire series and I have absolutely loved it. I am considering having a baby on the next few years, and this has been the funniest and most honest account I have come across. Thanks!

As to advice, having attending all of my mother’s births (though obviously I don’t remember by own) I can tell you that the hospital staff will probably exert gradual but steady pressure to have an epidural, regardless of how often you say you don’t want one yet (or at all).

I’m hoping that there won’t be pressure, the hospital I’m giving birth at has a midwifery practice in-house that I’ve gone through the entire pregnancy, and the midwives have all been very supportive and encouraging regarding non-medicated labor, and have been very open about the problems/complications that can stem from medication (without being scary).

The first line of this story reminded me of the post about telling the barista she looked like Chloe .

Every single one of my pregnant friends have gone through this and said they could do without the horror stories. One friend just said I don’t really want to hear about it I have never even seen a labor, thanks! There is definitely a cult of mommyhood here in southern California and the unwanted advice and competition among mothers was the next step. Sigh.

Can I please use mystic swamp as my own??

I love the horror stories. I think people like to be their own martyr so tend to only relay the most gruesome parts. Well, I’m 35 weeks so of course I’d tell myself that… I am like you though – I don’t want to have an epidural as to be honest the thought of having a needle stuck into my spine scares me a lot more than the thought of the pain.

When we went out to lunch this week, an older gentleman in line in front of us looked back, saw my stomach, pointed at it, and asked my husband, “Did you do that? On purpose?” How am I supposed to respond to these comments?

I’m a disgusting person, because my first reaction would be to tell the guy that yes, we made this baby on purpose, because we want organs to harvest when ours start to fail. I’d shoot him crazy eyes and start jabbering about how I’m going to LIVE FOREVER!

I’ve never had a baby, but one of my best friends had her first just nine days ago. She’s a GP (family doctor in UK terms) so felt quite in control the whole time, even though they wound up having to go to emergency C-section because her awesome, healthy baby was just too big for her pelvis. She didn’t have an epidural for the sole reason that by the time they offered it, it would have taken so long to organise that she couldn’t be bothered with it (they would have had to wait longer for the emergency C even though she knew it was the only way forward). However, she did inhale some nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen for the pain, which she found very helpful and relaxing.

She tended to use ‘Excuse me, I’m an actual doctor’ as her answer to every asshole comment, which I think is a fair enough answer. I may use it myself someday, even though I’ll mean Doctor of Philosophy rather than, you know, medical doctor. But they won’t know that!

These are some of the things that I’m worried about when I do get pregnant. I know my parents will be of extra help, as they are both medical professionals, but everyone else in my family? Not so sure. I have an aunt who is incredibly critical of EVERYTHING, and she’s already asking if I think I’ll get fat when I’m pregnant.

I guess my main concern is that my bitch flag is seriously going to fly. How have you handled the suggestions? Because I would really like some pointers. :/

My husband and I are both people who have been charitably described as “pigheaded”, so once we’ve made decisions regarding some part of the pregnancy or birth, we’ve been pretty happy to stick to them and haven’t been afraid to tell people so (politely, within reason). When I was being told that I should have the whole family in, I said “well, I don’t think that would be comfortable for me or my family so that won’t happen. My husband and I were the only people there when the kid started and we want to be the only ones there when he’s born.”

Ugh, people! I got a lot of unsolicited horror stories my first trimester, most notably when I was trapped at a new dentist who, as it turned out, just had a baby, too (who was the only survivor of micro-preemie triplets) and whose hygienist was getting into baby photography (and did she mention she volunteers doing photo sessions of stillborn babies in the hospital, while handing me a flyer about the program? OH YOUBETCHA).

Otherwise, it was inane questions like, “are you married?” (which came from my boss’ boss, and we have maybe 25 people in our whole firm) and speculation as to the number of centimeters dilated I was at a given moment that really drove me crazy. And yes, more than one person asked me how far dilated I was. AT WORK.

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