In the Victorian Era, as soon as a pregnant woman’s belly became too large to hide under her clothing, she disappeared from the public eye until well after her child was born. An extended abdomen was considered immodest and embarrassing. Oh, how times have changed! Now it’s not unusual to see a pregnant woman wandering the beach in a bikini, and nude photo shoots in the later months of pregnancy have become a popular way to celebrate the beauty and fertility of a woman’s body. Yikes.
While I believe modesty should be maintained, pregnant or not, I also disagree with the Victorian methods. When I became pregnant, I couldn’t wait to start showing so I could share with the world the wonderful life growing inside me. Motherhood is a beautiful gift to be celebrated, not hidden!
As my pregnancy progressed and I grew more and more rotund, I began to notice with some amusement people’s reactions to me. I could almost see the responses change with each passing month! Now, at eight and a half months pregnant, I have decided that some people still don’t know how to handle the sight of an expectant mother, and I have been greatly entertained by observing them!
In the beginning, while surrounded by strangers, no one knew I was pregnant but me. I think I looked at people with an almost hopeful expression, as if they would see the glow of happiness around me and realize what my physical appearance was not yet revealing. Of course, people just carried on in their busy way, and I had to content myself with my own knowledge of the few little cells inside my womb that were forming into the child I already loved.
At last, after months of anxiously watching my abdomen, it began to grow rounder. Still, no one noticed–understandably so, given that it was winter in Wisconsin, and everyone looks somewhat pregnant under seven layers of clothes! However, I finally had my moment of public pregnancy triumph. People had begun to look at me a little closer, and you could see the wheels turning in their heads. “Is she pregnant? Is she not? Maybe she just had a large lunch. There is no way I’m asking her!” Then one day, at a restaurant, the sweet older lady getting my drink refill took one look at me, pointed to my belly, and gasped, “Is that a baby?!” Bless those brave souls who sometimes speak before they think! As soon as she said it, her eyes widened, and she said “I guess I shouldn’t have asked that.” I laughingly reassured her that it was, indeed, a baby. I walked away feeling very triumphant…at last, someone noticed I was pregnant!
Fast forward a month or two, and there was no longer any question of whether I was expecting. My abdomen was at that short but sweet stage where it looked cute and maternal. Everywhere I went, people would glance at me and their looks would soften, sometimes even into an unconscious smile. Never before had I been treated with such courtesy by strangers. Doors were held for me, grumpy faces in check-out lines were brightened on my behalf, friendly questions were asked about my due date or the sex of the baby. And, of course, everyone had a pregnancy story of their own to share! I enjoyed this time, quite honestly. The attention was fun, and I felt like the world was celebrating with me.
Then came month eight. Yes, the glorious final month of pregnancy when walking without waddling takes a concentrated effort, feet swell to enormous proportions, a stiff smile must be maintained while the ever-descending child is head-butting my cervix, and the belly…ah, the belly. All of a sudden, it extends before me like the front end of one of those massive 1960s automobiles. With the baby putting on an entire ounce of weight every day, I can almost watch it grow.
Here is where the sweet looks and smiles from the public changed. All of a sudden, I began to notice a new reaction. Shock, and in some cases, horror. It is truly amazing how quickly heads whip around and wandering eyes do a double-take. During these observations, I like to imagine what’s going on in their heads. The wide eyes indicate thoughts like “How is she still walking?” or “What is she doing out in public alone? Doesn’t she need someone to carry that jug of milk for her?” The more horrified expressions, generally coming from young men, almost border on fear. It’s as if they think that by being in my general vicinity, they are somehow responsible for me. “What if she goes into labor? What do I do?” The sight of my distended belly must surely bring back memories of every Hollywood childbirth drama they have seen, with a woman screaming in agony as amniotic fluid gushes from underneath her skirt. I try to smile reassuringly at these people, even as I have a good chuckle with myself.
The bright side is that people are still generally courteous, even if it is out of wide-eyed disbelief rather than warm feelings in their heart of hearts. Trucks wait patiently as I waddle slowly across pedestrian crosswalks. The less bashful ask me openly about my pregnancy. My cashier at the grocery store today even asked kindly if I wanted help carrying my three items out to my car.
It is the public that has made this pregnancy so entertaining. I’ve realized that, while we’ve come a long way from the Victorian era, our society still has a few qualms about expectant mothers. And that’s okay. Pregnancy is a strange and wonderful time. I appreciate every stranger who has, in some small way, bonded with me with just a look, a smile, a considerate act.
In a few weeks, I’ll venture out in public with a newborn. I wonder how many different reactions I will have the pleasure of observing then…