Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pregnancy and its Discontents

I’ve never been pregnant. As a relatively young male, I also have limited experience with death, bankruptcy, 401(k)’s, mortgages—the (mostly fiscal) trappings of adulthood. I derive from a tribe that weds early, so I’m well versed in matrimony, but pregnancy is another of the institutions that escapes me. The all-holy embryo only exists in two contexts: one, that at some point I was a fledgling fetus (and, according to ultrasound imaging, appeared slovenly even in utero); and two, it’s something I desperately want to avoid creating, especially if I join the National Basketball Association.

As an identity-forging enterprise, parenthood is the most indelible. Marriages can dissolve and businesses can capsize, but babies are biological facts that cannot be reversed. Quotidian though it may sound, the concept of, “Oh God, this is for real,” didn’t synapse completely until I was walking through a Barnes & Noble with my friend Elle, who is unavoidably pregnant. Yes, she craves Godiva chocolate and describes her morning sickness, but she’s only unavoidably pregnant because no one can shut the hell up about it. Store clerks ask her when she’s due, strangers stare at her stomach, and people she’s never met impose themselves on her gestation.

“I was in a public bathroom the other day, and some woman came up to me and said, ‘You look like you’re about to pop,’” Elle told me, laboring along the check-out line. “Complete strangers come up to me, unsolicited, and rub my belly.”

Well-meaning or obnoxious, oglers and tummy handlers never seemed so obtrusive to me. Feeling a bit reprehensible, since I’ve been known to pepper pregnant women with thoughts on Weebok baby shoes, I told Elle that we all mean well.

“It’s just that people are always so positive about the whole thing,” she said. Walking back to her apartment with a bag full of books, she covered her face with a scarf while two men smoked cigarettes two feet in front of us.

“I mean, they’re always smiling and saying things like, “Ooh, it’s a baby, that’s so much fun!” she cooed. “But really, it’s like, I’m nauseous all the time, I’m huge, my back hurts, there’s really nothing fun about this.”

As she and her husband Yosi led me into their apartment building, an older lady ambled up to Elle's midsection. “Oh hello, mommy,” the lady said, eyeing future mother and future baby all at once. The three of us sighed. She continued, “You know, you should really look into new nursery rhymes. My son’s daughter loves it when I give her a pacifier and sing her these new nursery rhymes.” Elle and Yosi nodded politely, their disdain almost palpable.

When we got in their apartment, Elle said, “You have to be polite. You can’t yell at someone who’s genuinely excited that you’re pregnant. But everyone has something to say, everyone thinks they’re entitled to tell me how to be pregnant, and I just want to tell them to shut the hell up.”

Intrigued by the pregnant plight, I did a little web browsing. On’s discussion board, a reader named Teresa (fourth comment down) echoed Elle’s grievances.

She wrote, “…mostly it really, really tires me being asked if I'm having twins, being told that I am so big, being told what a big baby we will have, being told I look like I'm ready to pop. I mean, are all these people without sensitivity? Don't they know we, preggers, are self-conscious enough about our weight and do not need any "reassurance" in that aspect?”

Shauna, the next poster, was more pithily pissed. “I am so tired of all the stupid advice people are giving me just because they already have children,” she said.

Perhaps I will continue to humor pregnant women, and perhaps I will have a retirement fund before I learn some sensitivity. For one night, however, I watched while a friend weathered a maternal maelstrom, and I reaffirmed my most solemn promise to myself.

I will never play in the NBA.

Stay Celibate, Athletes
MC Milk Chocolate

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