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

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