“I was asked when the baby was due. There was just one problem…”

“I am going home to burn this outfit.”

I’ve never been petite. I’ve never been slender.

But nor would I describe myself as ‘looking with child’. Let alone looking like I’d been with child for four or five months.

But on this day, apparently I did.

I was working on a paper in a mid-sized country town on the Northern Tablelands, and had been sent to do a story I can barely recall – I think it was about a guy in his 60s who was going to do a marathon (60 seemed sooooo old then – it was definitely newsworthy). His wife asked me to stay for a cuppa.

I do remember thinking I looked pretty fab that day, decked out in a sunray pleated black skirt and one of those massively outsized, riotously coloured jumpers that were all the go in the 80s. Mum had knitted it to my specifications: emerald green with arrows in red, blue, yellow and orange. Flat black loafers. You can see why I might have turned heads.

someone thought i was pregnant
The jumper looked something like this … Image: Pinterest.

As the runner’s wife handed me my tea, she asked with interest: “When are you due?”

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There is no more awkward moment than being asked about a baby that doesn’t exist by a woman you don’t know when you’re in her house sipping tea and representing the local paper.

I fumbled around for an answer, bouncing like a pinball between an outright lie that would make her feel comfortable (‘Oh, I’m five months’) to a bald statement of fact (‘I’m not pregnant’). Blotchy red patches broke out on my neck. I felt deeply, deeply embarrassed. And emotionally crushed.

But I held it together. The lie won out, albeit in it a mumbling kind of way. I remain eternally thankful that a) I was able to turn the conversation back to her husband’s imminent heroics and b) I never saw her again, thereby avoiding the necessity for tales about my fictional offspring.

I went home and cried. I didn’t tell a soul. And even though I tried to wear my favourite jumper again, I never did – all I could think of was how fat I must have looked in it.

That was decades ago. It took me years to tell the story with any semblance of humour.

Then today, I read a story about Zara Phillips (granddaughter of the Queen, talented equestrienne and wife of English rugby star Mike Tindall). And that cringe-making moment came flooding back.

someone thought i was pregnant
Tabloids branded Zara Phillips pregnant. Images: Getty.

This is how it happened for Zara. She turned up at Ascot in a yellow Paul Costelloe dress that did, without question, show off her tummy. She then patted her stomach “protectively” – and with that innocent action, she set the royal baby rumour mill spinning.

Except there’s nothing to “protect”.

Zara won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics in London, and has a daughter, Mia, born in January 2014. She has said on the public record there will be no more children until after the next Games in Rio.

Watch an interview with Zara Phillips below. Post continues after video.

Video via Land Rover UK

A spokesman for the Queen’s granddaughter has since confirmed that fact, telling the Daily Mail: ‘Zara is not pregnant – her plans remain the same in terms of her preparation for Rio 2016.’

If it was tough for me, imagine what it must have been like for Zara, having to say to the world ‘Not pregnant. Just a big meal last night’.

Nicole Kidman is this week – though for the gazillionth time – in the mags for the same reason. She has a “baby bump” (or a dress that makes it look like she does), and reportedly made a toast at dinner with water rather than wine (because toasts can only be made with wine – unless you’re pregnant). No confirmation one way or the other yet if she is, actually, with child.

someone thought i was pregnant
Nicole is just one of the many female celebrities tabloid’s claim is pregnant every other week.

But speaking from experience, it’s not a nice thing to hear if you’re not. In a world where the most desirable women have flat stomachs and ridiculous trends like the belly button challenge catch like wildfire (look it up – it’s insane), you’re being told you’re big. Bloated. Maybe even fat.

None of that matters when you’re harbouring new life. But it’s pretty mortifying when you’re not.

I mustered up the guts (pardon the pun) to tell my workmates my story of phantom pregnancy this morning. I thought I’d be the only one – sure this didn’t happen regularly?

But three or four others had been through the same thing. And all of us were still just that little bit embarrassed.

But one of them had the best comeback ever.

“Just say: ‘No, I’m not pregnant. But I am going home to burn this outfit’.”

Touche.

Like this? Why not try:

Fitspo: 2015’s most dangerous body image movement.

Facebook and body image – it’s not what you’d expect.

Chrissie Swan on body image: “I know I’m fat. I’m imperfect.”

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