Those Five Little Words
"When is your baby due?"
Those words are forever etched into my brain - burned - is maybe a better term. I've heard them many times throughout my five pregnancies and beyond. Under normal circumstances pregnant moms hear this question a bazillion times and never wary of answering (OK, maybe we get a little sick of it towards the end). Pregnancy, after all, is very exciting. But what if you're not pregnant and someone asks you this question?
I had just had my fifth baby and was four and half months post-partum when a woman asked me when I was due. I had to return back to work when my youngest was nine weeks old. Nothing really fit yet and my boobs were gigantic because I was breastfeeding. I had just joined Weight Watchers (one of the only breastfeeding friendly weight loss programs out there) and had started to workout somewhat regularly. I lost 13 additional pounds that previous month - so I was down a total of 43 pounds since giving birth and was starting to finally feel kind of normal. My fourth and fifth babies were back-to-back, 16 months apart, both delivered by planned cesarean. I hadn't even lost all the baby weight from #4 when our surprise #5 happened.
39 weeks with a 10 pound baby &
a condition called Polyhydramnios
Huh? I kind of thought she asked me how my baby was doing. So I said "What?" and she continued with "Your baby. When is it due?" I immediately teared up. I stammered over my words and couldn't even come up with anything witty and clever to say. I shrunk into myself, literally and figuratively. My shoulders slumped forward and I looked down at my feet and said "Four and a half months ago." She apologized profusely and tried to make small talk. I was mortified and ashamed and sad and I was crying. Oh my God, I was crying in front of a stranger. That added a whole other level of awkwardness. When our encounter was over, but before she walked away, I said "Ya know what? I just joined Weight Watchers and I've lost 13 pounds already. And...I'm still breastfeeding...and he doesn't sleep. He never sleeps and I'm so tired. And I've been running a lot. I'm really trying, ya know."
Well, that escalated quickly. What did I think she was going to say to me? Why did I feel like I needed to explain my body to a complete stranger? Why was I crying? Why did I feel so awful about my body that it made me cry in front of a stranger? More importantly, why does a perfect stranger think she can say anything about my body in the first place?
The second time this happened it was a couple months after the first time. I had hit my first weight loss goal. I was back in my size 8 jeans. The baby was about six months old and I was feeling really good. Around this time I was also diagnosed with a severe case of diastasis recti (it's worth a google if you are unfamiliar). This condition causes my belly to stick out because of a muscle membrane tear from my sternum to my pubic bone (Thanks, babies!). My belly will continue to protrude until I have this surgically corrected after I wean my youngest. Anyway, an older woman said to me "Oh, did you have a big lunch?" and honestly, I had no clue what she was talking about so I looked down at my shirt and said "Oh, why? Did I spill?" and she said "No! This.". And then she patted my belly. SHE PATTED MY FREAKING BELLY. I was stunned. I said "Um, no. I'm not pregnant. I had my last baby about six months ago." She laughed (LAUGHED!) and said "Oh, well you have a little bit left over so I thought maybe you were pregnant." (I mean, really lady?) I went on to tell her "I have five children so I guess I'm going to have some left over for a while." To which she said "Oh, five? I have seven." (Ugh. Give it a rest, lady. Would ya?) I looked at her and said "Wow! Seven? Well, that explains why you still have some left over too then, doesn't it?" BOOM. Probably not the nicest way to deal with it, but no tears that time. It did, however, shake me up. It filled me with more self-doubt and my self-esteem, once again, plummeted.
A few months after I had these encounters, I saw a friend post something similar on Facebook. She was six months post-partum with her first baby. And she looked amazing, like back to rocking a bikini-amazing, when some ass-hat asked her when her baby was due. She posted the details as her status and it got me thinking - how many other moms has this happened to? Because I'm clearly not the only one. The short answer to that question is: a lot.
Like most moms I'm a member of a bunch of mom groups on Facebook. These moms are my village, if you will. So I posted a quick blurb in just one of the groups asking if any of them had ever been asked if they were pregnant after they had already had their baby. It's no surprise that I got a ton of responses. Turns out this is a thing. Whether we look like we're still pregnant or not, this is an actual thing that we deal with, in addition to countless others. One mom actually said it happened to her before she had even conceived. Which goes to show this is not just happening to moms - it's happening to women, in general.
Unfortunately, we also see this happening in Hollywood. This is not just the fluffy/average-sized/plus-sized/skinny-sized/holding-on-to-baby-weight-sized moms. It's all moms, all women. It's Jennifer Garner, for God sakes. The poor girl has pictures in magazines printed all the time insinuating she's pregnant. So often in fact, she had to make a statement that she does indeed have a baby bump - but it's from the three babies she's already given birth to. Jennifer Garner is beautiful and thin and in no way, shape, or form does she look pregnant at all. Jennifer Aniston is another one. I mean, give me a break. Jennifer-freakin-Aniston? She has never given birth yet is also presumed to have a "bump". There is nothing bumpy about that woman's body. This just goes to show that even people that look like Jennifer Garner and Jennifer Aniston have to deal with complete strangers commenting on their non-existent baby bumps.
Once I started talking about this I discovered that for as often as this happens, it also seems like women all deal with it differently. Some cry. Some attack. Some just placate. Some laugh (let the record show, I'm not one of the laughing ones).
A good friend of mine from high school shared her experience with me:
"I was like four months post-partum [and] back at work. A patient said something about usually needing an ultrasound but "I believe congratulations are in order." I have this innate need to make people feel happy or comfortable so I said "Yes, I JUST had a baby" so he wouldn't feel bad. I felt ok- I knew I looked a little pregnant still."
She should get some kind of an award for being so nice and not wanting him to feel bad.
A mom from one of my Facebook groups shared:
"I had to take myself and both kids to the doctor. [I] took my son to the bathroom and came back to the doctor checking out my daughter. He looks at me and says "Oh, got another little blessing coming soon?" I died. I was like, "Nope. Just fat!" Baby is 21 months old. [It] doesn't offend me because I know I have a big belly. Luckily, most of my weight is in my belly, so I look pregnant rather than just [like] a tomato."
Honestly, I admire and commend the moms that can deal with it this way -- just keep their cool and be so understanding. I am not that mom. I was a blubbering, sobbing, depressed fool. I called my husband, who was very sweet about it and reassured me that I did not look pregnant. I messaged my friend who had also just had a baby and was on Weight Watchers with me. I confided in my co-workers. To put it simply, I was destroyed. It consumed me. Everywhere I went I was constantly thinking people were looking at me and assuming I was pregnant. Did I over react? I don't think so. Plenty of moms I talked to reacted the same way I did.
One mom shared:
"I was in an elevator at work, about 4-5 months postpartum. A woman who works in the building walked into the elevator and said "Oh, is this #2?" I said "No, my clothes just still don't fit from #1." I was so upset."
Now, this next mom's story is one that made me tear up, though. Probably because I totally could feel what she was feeling. "I was holding my 4 month old on my hip at the local natural food store, buying Mothers Milk tea. The middle aged lady at the cash register asked "How old is your baby?" I stated, "4 months" totally expecting to hear what a cutie he is. Nope. Instead she opened her mouth and said "And you're pregnant again already?" For the millionth time since having my baby I felt the need to apologize for my fat, ugly self. So I sputtered out something along the lines of "I'm sorry, I'm breast feeding and having a really hard time losing weight." Did you catch that? For the millionth time since having her baby she felt the need to apologize for her body.
Let me get a little science-y on you for a minute.
I mean, our bodies ARE amazing-
but this just seems ridiculous. ha
NO. Just, no. It's not normal. Do you know what else is not normal? Feeling like you can comment on someone else’s body. EVER. Most people, myself included, would never dream of walking around commenting on men's bodies. Like "Oh, did you have a big lunch today, chubby 40-year-old-dude?" Nope. That kind of stuff just doesn't happen. Unfortunately, women are subjected to this at a very young age for the majority of our lives.
If you think about it, insinuating someone is pregnant is like coming out and saying "Your belly is large enough for me to assume you're growing a person in there". In whose world is this an OK thing to say? To this day (six months after the initial incident) anytime someone's gaze lingers on my belly for longer than a fraction of a second, I suck in my belly and brace myself for them to ask me when I'm due. I am hyper-aware of my posture especially at work since both of the incidents happened while I was working. It's one of those things that I will never forget. The feeling of not looking how I was "supposed to".
"When is your baby due?"
Five words meant to be harmless and inquiring. But, there's a group of women who get asked these five self-esteem-crushing, rage-inducing, tear-producing words as well, and those women aren't pregnant. Many of them were recently pregnant, some have never been pregnant. Many of them are newly back to work - trying to keep up with housework, baby-work, nursing, pumping, momming other kids, and wife-ing. The majority of them are desperately trying to lose those last 10-15 pounds (which is no easy task when you're not sleeping, working 10 hours a day, pumping in your free time and raising other kids). All of them are self-conscious. All of them. Some moms I've talked to say things like "I weigh the same as I did before I was pregnant but nothing fits, things have shifted".
SHIFTED. That is the best way to describe it. I have a feeling my mom-friends are all nodding in agreement right now. Our bodies are insanely engineered for pregnancy and giving birth. Our organs and bones and even our hearts move and increase in size while we're pregnant. So, you're damn right things have shifted. More than you know, Momma.
So this is my PSA to all the a-holes out there that have asked a woman when she's due: JUST. DON'T. Unless you want strangers commenting on your belly, I suggest refraining from doing so to others. If a woman is actually pregnant - you'll know. She'll tell you, trust me.