I’m pregnant and I love talking about it to my friends and family. They hear all about my cravings (Crunchy Nut cornflakes) and symptoms (luscious hair, but too much saliva). They probably wish I’d shut up about it.
But when it comes to acquaintances or strangers asking me about my pregnancy, I clam up and turn as icy as a box of Frosty Fruits. I can’t stand it.
When I was pregnant with my daughter in 2013 I used to feel bad about this and I’d answer the questions through a fake smile. ‘They’re just being nice. It’s sweet that they care,’ I’d tell myself. I’m not a newbie any more and I can now say, without apology, that I don’t want to talk about my pregnancy with people I don’t know.
Being pregnant is an intensely personal experience, and although many of the questions seem harmless and innocent they often head towards territory that makes me uncomfortable.
That one question – whether it’s “Are you pregnant?” or “Is it a boy or girl?” – inevitably leads to bigger, more complex questions that I haven’t even figured out for myself. Questions like, “How will you work?” and “When are you buying a house?” and “How will you cope with two children?”
I don’t know, I don’t know and I don’t know. Excuse me while I go and curl up in a stressed-out ball now.
Watch: Five things you need to know about pregnancy – that no one ever tells you. (Post continues after video.)
I often wonder why acquaintances need to know this information. Their thirst leads me to conclude they’re nosy and just love gossip – particularly because I know that my pregnancy won’t affect or change their lives in any way. A recent interaction with a neighbour proved this point.
My husband and I were taking our daughter for a walk when our neighbour spotted us and settled in for a long chat. We’re not friends, and our relationship so far has consisted of us waving and smiling at each other from inside our cars. Our lack of an intimate relationship is why I found her questions to be so unsettling. At the time, I was around four months pregnant and barely had a bump.
Neighbour: “Are you in the family way?”
Neighbour: “Well, I thought you were getting a bump around your middle!”
Me: “Ha, ha.” (laughs uncomfortably, and tries to walk away)
Neighbour: (loudly, so that I can still hear her) “That’s good, because I just thought you were eating too much and getting fat!”
Those softly-phrased euphemisms just sound like one question to me: “Carla, why are you getting so fat?”
I shouldn’t have to explain my weight fluctuations to strangers, especially as it doesn’t impact their lives. Questions about my weight are both amusing and upsetting for me – and, I can only imagine, soul-destroying for anyone who has suffered from an eating disorder.
But what about the acquaintances who are impacted by my pregnancy? Can they ask about it too? No thank you.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was working as a high school art teacher. I remember telling my husband that my pregnancy made me feel like a dying desert animal with hungry vultures circling around; art teaching jobs are very hard to find, and suddenly people were coming out of nowhere trying to snatch my job.
While I was marking one day, my laptop bleeped to announce a new email. This is what it said: “Hi Carla. My name is Meredith* and I work at Green Mountain Girls High School. I heard of your upcoming maternity leave, and would like to submit my resume to you as I would be interested in taking your job.” (Post continues after gallery.)
I’d never met Meredith before, I hadn’t even applied for maternity leave yet, and my position hadn’t been advertised. I was five months pregnant, and had been privately worried that it would be difficult for me to re-enter the workforce after having a baby.
This email only made me more concerned. Was everyone talking about me – not just in my school, but in the whole district?
Months before, I was supervising an exam when a middle-aged male science teacher — who I wasn't friends with — decided to have a whispered conversation with me.
Him: “I hear congratulations are in order.”
Him: “Well, aren’t you pregnant?”
I was only three months pregnant at that stage and hadn’t even told my family. I was so shocked, and also intimidated by him looming over me, that I accidentally lied.
Him: “Oh, it must be the other art teacher who’s pregnant, then, because everyone’s been saying that one of the art girls is pregnant.”
I became paranoid, and wondered if people were concocting yet another reason why I would be bad at my job. Another reason to dislike me, and try to get a new, better teacher in my place.
Watch: TV presenter Georgie Gardner on her desire to have more children. (Post continues after video.)
I decided to tell him exactly what I thought. “You know, it’s actually really sexist and inappropriate to ask a female colleague if she’s pregnant. It’s a personal matter and not anyone’s business,” I said.
He pretended to think it over, replying, “Yes, you’re right, it is inappropriate when people do that.”
He just acted like I was talking about another random colleague, rather than him. I was already concerned and confused about how motherhood would affect my job, and now I’d found out that “everyone” was talking about my unannounced pregnancy, I felt even more anxious.
Overall, though, there's a deeper sadness and pain that surfaces through the simple question of “are you pregnant?” — a grief that eclipses any angst about weight or career.
When a stranger asks about my current pregnancy, our lack of a true relationship forbids me from explaining that I had a miscarriage earlier this year. And so when the questions delve deeper — “What will be the age difference between Emmy and the new baby?” or, “Did you plan it?” — I’m reminded of what I’ve lost, and what could have been.
Of course, I’m so grateful for this pregnancy, but the loss of another baby can never be forgotten or outgrown. Nor can it be brought up in a casual conversation.
Yet I’m one of the lucky ones who has been able to fall pregnant. I already have one wonderful child. I feel for women who struggle with infertility, who may field pregnancy-related questions with mounting frustration and sorrow.
“One day you’re going to ask that to the wrong girl who is really struggling and it’s going to be really hurtful to them and I hate that. Stop asking me,” Teigan said.
“Truth is, there are so many of us that keep getting asked that baby question and people just don’t realise it hurts to constantly be asked,” Banks later elaborated on Instagram.
The secret hurt carried around by women is often just below the surface, and it can take one question to make the grief burst forth. I can laugh off speculation about my weight and career, but loss and longing is harder to brush away.
Will people ever stop asking women about their pregnancies? Probably not, because deep down we humans are curious and caring. But I know that I will always wait for someone to mention their pregnancy first as a cue before I voice any questions of my own.
I just hope that others can do the same.
Have you ever been asked if you're pregnant? What was your reaction?