Have you ever noticed that the expression "If you don't have something nice to say ..." does not apply to pregnant women?
Jennifer Ginsberg: When I was pregnant with my first baby, the comments I received ranged from mildly disturbing to excruciatingly unbearable.
When I arrived at my synagogue for Yom Kippur services, I was greeted by Cantor Sarah with a "Holy crap! You have doubled in size since I last saw you!" This was particularly upsetting because I had seen her just ten days earlier on Rosh Hashanah.
When I was at Costco shopping for toilet paper, an elderly man approached me, rubbed my stomach, and said, "You will have lovely triplets."
The worst of all occurred at Whole Foods Market, in the hot food section. It was a Sunday evening, and the store was packed. I ran into my friend's husband, who took one look at me and almost keeled over. "Wow," he said, eyeing me like I was the freak show exhibit at the circus, "you are huge. You look like you are going to explode! Any day now?"
"Actually, I have two more months to go," I reluctantly admitted, dripping in shame.
"Good God!" he exclaimed. "There is no way you will ever make it that long. You look like you are going to pop any second. How much weight have you gained?"
I was stunned. In whose universe are you allowed to ever ask a woman this question? Oh yeah, I was pregnant, and normal social standards clearly did not apply. My body was an open target for any assault.
"I really don't know," I answered. This happened to be the truth. Once my weight reached a certain undisclosed amount on the doctor's scale, I stepped on it backwards with my eyes closed and begged the nurse to not reveal the number to me under any circumstances.
"My wife only gained 15 pounds when she was pregnant! Can you believe it? Fifteen pounds!" I didn't tell him that I had gained that amount in my first trimester. "I would say you have gained at least 25 to 30 pounds by now." He was gleeful.
They called my number, and I went to the counter to order my food. "Take it easy with those enchiladas!" he burst out laughing. "You don't want to explode."
I went home and sobbed. "I still have two more months to go!" I told my husband, completely distressed. "If I am getting these comments now, what are they going to be like next month? I am not going to be able to leave the house!" (Little did I know how true this was. By my eighth month of pregnancy, my maternity clothes no longer fit me. All my tops became half-shirts as they hiked farther and farther up my rapidly expanding tummy.)
After enduring the humiliation of having my body constantly critiqued and condemned throughout my first pregnancy, I decided to try another approach the second time around. As soon as I began to show (which was approximately two days after I conceived), I had my pat answers ready.
"When are you due?" is a seemingly benign question, but within it lurks the most dangerous of traps. For when you actually reveal your due date to someone, you open yourself up to a whole array of criticisms. The most memorable one I received was, "How weird! My best friend is due in May also, but she is so tiny compared to you." I learned to sidestep this completely by answering, "Sometime in the spring," then abruptly changing the subject.
When people approached me and remarked, "You are huge!" I would give them a big smile and enthusiastically say, "Thank you!" They usually got the point.
Why is it that people feel free to assess a pregnant woman's body so blatantly? Is it acceptable to say this to a woman who is simply overweight, but not pregnant? Of course not! There is something about being with child that entitles people to say whatever the hell they want.
When we venture out into the world pregnant, we feel vulnerable. What we need is kindness, not critique. How about only making positive observations? When you run into a pregnant friend who looks like she is ready to give birth right there on the street, tell her, "You look beautiful."
By the way, I am pleased to report that I actually made it all the way to my due date two times without popping or exploding, thank you very much.
|Jennifer Ginsberg is a Los Angeles mother, writer, and addiction specialist with over 15 years of experience in the fields of alcoholism, addiction, and recovery. After receiving her MSW from the USC School Of Social Work and MAJCS from Hebrew Union College, Jennifer served as the clinical director of a 120 bed drug and alcohol treatment facility. She also co-developed an addiction prevention program for Jewish youth, which has been implemented in synagogues nationally. Jennifer now works privately with people who are impacted by the devastating effects of drugs and alcohol and writes about all topics related to motherhood, addiction, and women in politics. Read more about her life at angstmom.com|