Stop the Unsolicited Tummy Touching (and other pregnancy requests)


Anxiety and depression aside, it didn’t take long for me to realize I didn’t care much for being pregnant. With the exception of near-uncontrollable catastrophic vegan pregnancy farts that cleared entire floors and feeling the baby treat my uterus like her own private Soul Train line, I found the whole thing unpalatable.

My list of grievances ran the gamut from minor to major. I abhorred the many common, maddeningly nonsensical abbreviated terms used to denote pregnancy: preggers, prego, pregs. I strictly forbade everyone I knew from using those terms around me, both verbally and in writing. I remember a woman at work g-chatting me to ask if I was pregnant. It went precisely like this:

Her: “Hi! Can I ask you a personal question? Are you preggers?”

Me: “I will answer that only if you swear to never use that term around me again.”

For me, one of the greatest ironies about pregnancy was the increasing visibility of something I considered deeply personal and private. I detested the way other people felt inclined to discuss it with me, and was routinely irritated and put-off by people’s comments. Work presented its own unique set of irritations. As both the circumference of my stomach and word spread around the office, people began to treat me differently. Female coworkers I once mistook for intelligent started commenting on my size. Generously, I returned the favor “Oh my God, look how huge you are!” a particularly astute coworker said as she passed me in the hall one day. “Wow, you too!” I replied brightly as her expression fell and soured.

One of my superiors developed the habit of stopping by my desk to quietly ask how I was doing. Humorously, before he knew I was pregnant we would typically share a robust greeting as he bulldozed his way into the office in the mornings. But once he found out I was in the family way, he took to approaching me almost deferentially, tilting his head and using a tone of voice akin to one commonly used in times of tragedy: hushed, sympathetic, almost tentative.

The first time he did it, I was so baffled and vexed I could do nothing but guffaw. “How are….you?” he asked quietly, tilting his head to the side and gesturing gingerly toward my stomach. I stared at him blankly for a second before realizing what he meant. Hoping my face didn’t reveal my realization that he was an even bigger idiot than I thought, I responded equally deliberately. “Fine,” I said slowly. He continued to look at me with concern and something akin to pity as an awkward amount of time passed in silence. “I’m fine. I’m not sick, you know. I’m just pregnant,” I said pointedly. “Oh, I know,” he said, smiling weakly as he backed away. “Just checking on you!”

With one revelation about my womb, I had gone from Brook the Copywriter to Brook the Pregnant Woman. Looking back, I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised by that. It stands to reason that this man, like most other people, largely digests mainstream information without interrogating it. In this case, most mainstream information on pregnancy positions it as a delicate, dangerous condition (not unlike an illness) that also dulls the senses of the fetal host.

My first Google search on pregnancy informed me all about “pregnancy brain” or “mommy brain,” which would stunt my intellect, memory, and general acuity. The information was presented to me as if from a kindly old chap–male, of course–who seemed to pat my hand reassuringly while he explained to me that it was normal and natural for me to dumb the fuck out while I gestated. All these super complicated, confusing things were going on inside my body that were part and parcel of the realization of my greatest biological fulfillment and destiny. My brain function–already naturally compromised by virtue of my womanhood–would just be temporarily offset more than usual. I sat in my living room, alone save for my pitbull daughter, sobbing as I realized I would not only get fat, but stupid, too.

As much as I hated all of that, though, what I loathed most of all was the unsolicited tummy touch. In my estimation, few mentally sound, socially well-adjusted people randomly touch other people in such intimate places. It’s a very private area, primarily reserved for lovers, physicians and personal trainers. Yet some otherwise sane people feel compelled to touch pregnant women there.

I came to recognize the gleam in the eye early on–the zeal in the eyes of would-be tummy touchers is unmistakable. At work, these women would spot my stomach and their eyes would light up like a sea of Bics at a Widespread Panic concert. Not unlike zombies, they came at me outstretched hands first. While telling people outright not to touch me worked perfectly well, I figured I might as well have fun with it, so I decided to start treating non-pregnant people the way many of them treated me.

One day, as I stood to leave a  meeting, I noticed a coworker making a beeline for my belly. As she approached me, hands first, I angled my body away from her and proactively placed my hand on her stomach. “Hi! How are you doing?” I asked, rubbing gently. She looked at me blankly, completely lost. “Fine,” she stammered, backing away. “Great!” I beamed. It only took a few more aggressive tummy rubs before people around the office stopped attempting to touch mine altogether. Mission accomplished!

While my actions helped make my pregnancy more tolerable, I also hope I helped blaze a trail–however small–for those pregnant women who came after me. May they have the  freedom, consideration, and comfort all pregnant bodies deserve. At the very least, I hope they can wield their pregnant flatulence like the lethal weapon it is against those who deserve it most.

Image credit: David Leo Veksler

12 thoughts on “Stop the Unsolicited Tummy Touching (and other pregnancy requests)”

  1. While I appreciate what you are saying, I think as a society we have lost connection and this is one of the main reasons. We need to recognize that yes touching can be invasive and it does appear to be strange, but it is also another person trying to connect with you on a deeper level – trying to relate, perhaps remembering their own experiences, or anxiously awaiting for the day they will be pregnant, or because they recognize the beauty of a growing human being in another person.

    We need to stop living in an “I” focused world, in a lonely island with little love or support going around, and start embracing connection, relationships and appreciating love from others. No one is touching your belly to be rude, to be ignorant, or to hurt your feelings. They are doing so because they want connection and want to be a part of your journey (for whatever reason they may have). What is so wrong with that?

    I think of it as a blessing when another person wants to make a connection with me and my child. I am happy to allow that person into my life and to bring some of that positive, beautiful energy into my child’s future.

    1. I agree with the author that tummy rubbing is an invasion of privacy and depending on the rubbber’s enthusiasm can border on molestation. Respect my personal space. Those who rub are only thinking of themselves and are epitomizing the very “I” culture you decry as selfish Nat. Rubbers never think about the pregnant woman or any offense they may cause. I am not a lonely island without a sea of support. I am a woman who finds my child to be the result of a very intimate and private relationship with my husband. I have no desire to share that with anyone else in any physical manner. Respect the belly! It isn’t yours!

      1. I agree. Dont touch the belly. I also have issues with baby touchers as well. Why in the world do strangers forget that they are strangers and that touching my child unborn or not is strange and rude. I stop people if the try. It makes me mad.

    2. I agree with you, Nat. I believe that babies are a joy that should be shared with everyone. A baby is a miracle that others just want to embrace. I say let them! I’m okay with belly touchiny just because I know my belly brings joy to others and thats all that matters 🙂

    3. I’m with Nat. I never touch another person without permission, but loved when people touched my swollen belly. A pregnant woman is almost good luck to be around. She’s living proof that life goes on and we can always begin again. Get counseling for trauma, and welcome the love of the world.

  2. Yeah, people should not touch her belly. But asking how she’s doing is out of line? Sure it’s not an illness but a lot of pregnant women experience symptoms that make them feel quite under the weather. When a person inquiring about your well being gets your hackles up, you really need to take a look at yourself.

  3. Blessings Brook, I appreciate your position and honor your right to sacred space for your body, your baby and your farts. However as an “ask before touch” inveterate tummy toucher and well wisher I just want to say it is because you and your pregnant body, your little one OPENS HEARTS. You touch our hearts just by reminding us of our humanity. We ask how you are, want to touch, pat the baby in or out, because our hearts are open and we want to love you, just a little, stranger or not. I so respect your boundaries – but want to let you know it may not be innately rude behavior of strangers but loving kindness trying to be passed along. Love, Light and La;-)ghter to you and yours.

  4. Thank you for this article. It made me feel less alone. I really detest people invading my personal space without asking and it has affected how I feel about my pregnancy in general.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I had a similar experience in regards to tummy-touching, and often thought of reaching out to touch other people’s bellies in response, but never did. Instead, I just stopped going to the Farmers Market, where tummy-touching was the worst. It’s not that I hated anyone touching my tummy, but found it very invasive when people touched me without asking, especially acquaintances I hardly knew. My family and close friends learned to ask me, and to avoid my sore belly button. I think it comes down to respecting a person’s body–even though I agree it is a wonderful thing that pregnancy brings so much joy out of others, it’s important for people to remember to ask for permission.

  6. I agree. People coming up to touch my belly is NOT okay, it’s rude! Even friends or family touching me without permission or invitation is NOT okay. You don’t grope a woman, or smack a man’s butt without permission, or having a close relationship with them, where it’s okay. If I invite you to touch my belly to feel the baby kick, great. If you’re family, or a close friend, if you ask I will most likely say yes. Are you a stranger or somebody I know from work? Probably not. I’m still getting used to my own changing body, and am not always comfortable with my husband touching me, let alone people I barely know. I get that people want to know about a woman’s pregnancy. Babies are exciting. Ask questions, I don’t mind. But don’t touch.

  7. When I’m reading your writing, Brooke, I am hearing that overall it is an attitude that your status has changed in the eyes of society from Capable Intelligent Individual Worthy of Respect to Vessel of Baby. It’s not the fact that someone is asking how you are that is rude, it’s the tone that communicates you to not be you at all but vessel of gestation solely. It’s the idea that the woman no longer matters for the sake of the baby. It’s the idea that pregnancy is who you are. It’s the idea that now you have no spatial rights. It’s the degrading idea that once you are in “the family way”, you must be “hysterical”. Tone and asking permission go a long way. Yes, being involved with the miracle of life is amazing, sacred, and wonderful for those in your community, but the examples you have given here don’t honor the mother and don’t appreciate her as a woman. I find this deeper depreciating of pregnant women demonstrating the heart of the struggles for humanized maternal care and protecting bodily autonomy.

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