ControverSunday: The Culture of Pregnancy

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Thanks again to our host Perpetua and to Accidents for the amazing badge!
Check out other ControverSunday posts:


Accidents will happen.

I Know Why You’re Single

Allison @ Partial Disclosures

Now You’re In The World

The Mothering Life


Excellent Walker

Rather appropriate timing, as I have been reminiscing about how a year ago I was 9 months pregnant and ready for A to be born ANYTIME! I was at the point at which being pregnant was really not fun anymore. Little did I know it was way easier being pregnant then those first three months for sure! (Actually I did know in principle that having a baby would be harder then being pregnant, so maybe it is better to say that I didn’t really understand that to its fullest extent.)

Anyway, despite the fact I have been reminiscing, I am still totally stumped as what to write about ‘The Culture of Pregnancy.’ Do I look at the insanity of all the things ‘they’ tell you to do/not do? (I was really pissed off at ‘they’ for banning the three things that make life worth living: good cheese, wine and sushi.) Or the crazy list of stuff you are ‘suppose’ to buy to prepare, only to find out that most of what you got isn’t the right stuff or isn’t necessary? Or the way that all of a sudden you get asked about your personal details by a random person at the supermarket, thus preparing you for the shock of motherhood, where all of a sudden, all things personal are now on the table for random conversation with strangers? Or the insanity of pre-natal classes that focus so much on labour and delivery and not enough on the challenges of the first 3 months? (which is pretty much the equivalent of teaching someone how to turn on a car and not how to drive it.) Do any of these things really get at the ‘Culture of Pregnancy’? Wow, apparently I could write more the one post.

Um, enie minie moe…… personal conversations with strangers it is!

Seriously. The minute you start to show even just a little bit people start talking. They start looking at you and they start asking you questions. At first it seems innocent enough:

“When is your baby due?” Not that bad, eh? I mean, it is just date, not all that personal I guess.

Then you get:

“Is it a boy or a girl?” First of all, they have made the assumption that you know. Which is a whole ControverSunday topic all its own- to know or not to know. And then, you feel (or at least I felt) obliged to explain why you do or don’t know. (Lots of ultrasounds, all ‘inconclusive’, meaning they can’t see that it is a boy, so it is possibly a girl, but you never really know with these things….) Anyway, a wee bit personal, depending on your reasons for knowing or not knowing, but still, not all that bad.

Then you start to get questions about what you are going to do:

“Are you giving birth at the hospital?”

“You’re going to breastfeed, right?”

“Have you bought a crib yet?”

“Are you going to go back to work after your leave?”

“Are you going to get an epidural?”

“You are going to have a natural birth, right?”

“Have you picked out a stroller?”

ALL FROM STRANGERS!! Am I the only one who found that really really weird? I mean, I have always preferred to not stand out in a crowd. But if you are pregnant, you can’t help but stand out in a crowd. And not only do you stand out, but you and your pregnant state become a topic of conversation.

And then, to top it all off- PEOPLE START TOUCHING YOUR BELLY! Okay, I will be honest, this never happened to me. Probably because any stranger who got close enough to touch my belly got the ultimate stink eye. But I have heard it happen to many friends and it is so crazy.

So my question is: What is it about pregnancy that gives strangers the impression that it is appropriate to question you/engage you in conversation about a whole range of very personal choices and decisions? As if your pregnancy is somehow public property or something. I mean, I get that we women, have a very strong emotional attachment to the idea of babies and when we see a baby growing in a tummy we just want to talk about it. But seriously!

And this insanity that starts at pregnancy seems to just continue on once baby is born. I can’t tell you how many strangers asked me if my daughter was born vaginally. How is that anyone’s business, let alone an appropriate conversation starter?

Do we perpetuate this because we like to talk about our kids? I mean, it doesn’t just go one way. I light up when someone tells me my daughter is cute and wants to know her name and how old she is. I find myself telling complete strangers if she just learned to something new or if she refused to eat anything so far that day. As I walk away I always think, ‘Why exactly did I feel the need to share that?’ Because I am proud of her and think she is amazing? To have someone to commiserate with when she is driving me nuts? To engage in conversation with an other adult after months on maternity leave with limited adult contact? A little from each of the above? I don’t know.

Regardless, it seems to me that there is a line that shouldn’t be crossed. Along with the questions often comes unwanted advice or implied judgment. People are communicating to you what they believe is important when they ask you those questions. You are getting a glimpse into the struggles of the first year with baby, but because you aren’t there yet you can’t really evaluate what they are saying. So you just feel bombarded with opinions and questions in a very personal way.

On the other hand, there is sometimes something kinda nice about making a connection with a total stranger over the topic of parenthood. It feels kinda nice for someone to acknowledge you as part of a community and engage you in the conversation. But it often goes too far… like when you are asked about your preferences for labour and delivery and then given a lecture on the benefits of natural childbirth.

What is ironic in all this while people asking you and giving you advice on feeding, sleeping and crying, they are also painting a rather rosy picture of this ‘miracle’ growing inside of you. Sure, I had a few close friends confess that first year with baby is brutally hard- but most strangers talked to me about it as if it was all lollipops and candy canes. Like if I just took their one piece of advice it would all be wonderful. And while having a baby is certainly a miracle- it is also the most difficult, frustrating, challenging, make-you-wanna-cry miracle you could ever imagine. Worth it, sure, but really sucky at times.

So all these questions, all this advice, all about a number of very personal subjects- is it societies way of shaping our parenting behaviours before we even give birth? Subtly telling us what a rough sampling of our community thinks we should be doing? I don’t know if it is as complicated as that, maybe it’s just that women want to talk about babies. But still- ITS WEIRD.


13 responses to “ControverSunday: The Culture of Pregnancy

  1. Perpetua March 14, 2010 at 8:14 am

    For someone who didn’t know what to write this week, this is an awesome post! And so many topic ideas! We must work out the guest-host details.

    But more to the point…I must walk around with permanent-stinkeye, because I didn’t get a lot of questions from strangers. I do know it happens to others, though, and I do get comments on the baby quite a bit. I think you make a brilliant point about the double-sided-coin aspect of all this. Yes, it is nice to become part of a community. I do feel a sense of belonging with other parents that I never would have felt otherwise. But is it also a means of shaping behavior and informing us of community expectations? I never thought of that, but it makes a lot of sense.

  2. Pingback: ControverSunday: Pregnancy Culture « Accidents will happen.

  3. smdcanada March 15, 2010 at 7:12 am

    When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember being at off-site business meeting with a bunch of regional colleagues that I hadn’t seen in a long time. Most of them wouldn’t have known before the meeting that I was pregnant, but it would have become very apparent once they saw me (as I was about 7 months pregnant at the time).

    My relationship with these colleagues changed the instant they saw I was pregnant. Immediately, all the questions you listed started. You know, when are you due? Are you excited? How are you feeling? How are the hemmeroids (kidding)? Lord, when I was pregnant, I (insert their personal anecdotes here…). Etc. etc.

    These are people I had known professionally for some time, but for whatever reason no meaningful personal connections had evolved. But in the span of one coffee break and all those familiar questions, that all changed. Oddly, I didn’t find the question or quick personal progression of our relationships wierd or overfamilar. I found it lovely and welcoming. The conversation flowed easily and soon we were looking at pictures of their kids and talking about how much they’ve grown. And I found the stories of other people’s preganacy experienes, that they became so quick to share, reassuring too.

    I had a moment during that first coffee break where I understood that this is what parents do. In coffee breaks all over the world, people are asking about and talking about their, and other people’s kids. And because I was pregnant, on all the verge of all this, I was unconsciously welcomed into the discussion. That was my first meeting at the club of parenthood.

    During both of my pregnancies, I never did get a lot of stomach touching. I don’t recall ever anyone I wasn’t already close with touching my pregnant stomach. Thank goodness. That part is weird to me.

    • amoment2think March 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm

      Yes, I totally had that experience too. There were certainly friends and acquaintances that I became closer with because of the connection of parenthood. There are some wonderful parts to go along with what I felt was kinda weird sometimes.

      I think part of the reason I felt it was ‘weird’ was that I have always been one of those people that highly filters what I say around acquaintances and people at work (but with anyone I feel really close to I will say anything I feel)– so I wasn’t one to discuss personal choices or beliefs too much with anyone beyond close friends, let alone conversations about bodily functions. But once you join the ‘club of parenting’ almost no topic is taboo. Today, on my first day back at work, I had a discussion with my colleague about poo. Yes poo. Baby poo. So, sometimes what I found was weird was how personal the conversations were and what a change this was from the types of conversations I would have with strangers before kids (you know, weather…. mostly).

  4. Accidents March 15, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    I got it all (touching, ass-vice, etc). I don’t know what it is about me, but I attract unwanted attention A LOT. My loud glasses? Just look friendly? Don’t know. I’ve always noticed how tattoos (which I also have) seem to give people leeway to touch your body. And I was/am annoyed by that, but I at least see how body art is an invitation to look. I still think people should recognize that tattoos are not invitations to touch someone you don’t know. But pregnant bellies and tattoos are very different things. My theory is that people think it’s fair game to touch pregnant women for two reasons. On the good, tribal, side: we have deep natural and cultural desires to honor pregnant women, to protect and help with the life they are fostering (this includes the passing on of knowledge). On the bad side: they are no longer chaste. They’ve totally done the deed. Their bodies are public because they are visibly sexual. Mixed up into both of those reasons why I think people stare/bother pregnant women is a heavy dose of straight up fascination. In our modern techno culture we are forgetting how animal we are, and pregnancy is so sci-fi and bestial at the same time.

    (PS: Great post! I’m so glad you wrote about this so I could just give some shorthand in my post. If I’d had more time I should have quoted from you).

    • amoment2think March 15, 2010 at 6:33 pm

      Oh wow. I never would have thought of the “no longer chaste” angle. Good point. Also, I think your line “we have a deep natural and cultural desires to honor pregnant women, to protect and help with the life they are fostering (this includes the passing of knowledge” is BRILLIANT. Totally jealous that I didn’t write it.

  5. Megan March 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Excellent post!

    I didn’t really mind the conversations and questioning, but I’m sort of an anomaly. I am a very touch-feely, Ya-Ya Sisterhood kind of a girl. In fact, I’m sure that I’ve been guilty of a pregnant belly rub or two (never with a stranger, just people I know).

    I think most of the time people, like you say, just want to share in the excitement of a new baby. And for me, pregnancy was so all-consuming that it was all I wanted to talk about anyway, so it was okay. But, there are the people who want to evaluate your plans for birth and parenting and want to push their agendas on you. When someone asked me if I was going to breastfeed or have a natural birth it was because they wanted to lecture me if I answered “wrong”. And I know that I let things like that get to me, but I have new perspective on judgment after becoming a parent. Like I said on your last post, if someone takes issue with one of my choices, I try to accept the criticism or ignore it and remain confidence in my decisions.

    Of course, that’s easier said than done, and nearly impossible for a first-time pregnant mom. So, it would be nice if people minded their own business. But, maybe that is also easier said than done! 🙂

    • amoment2think March 15, 2010 at 6:40 pm

      LOL- yes, I believe I have also touched a pregnant belly or too… but again- only people I know really well (and I ask permission, cause that’s the way I am).

      True, just like I mentioned how I light up when someone asks me about my daughter, I also remember lighting up when someone wanted to talk about my pregnancy. Cause it was all I wanted to talk about. I found it weird when these conversations got (what I felt for me) was a bit too personal. But the basic congratulations was nice.

      I think I was not particularly sensitive to judgment when I was pregnant because I was just soaking it all in and hadn’t really made up my mind about anything yet, really. I was uber sensitive to judgment in the first 11 months of my daughters life and I am just now getting the confidence and the acceptance of judgment to ignore the criticism (unless it goes really far).

      I think it would be nice to have the connection and ‘welcoming into the community’ without strangers and barely acquaintances being so personal in their questions. I was pretty comfortable talking about anything with friends and family, but felt it was weird when it was someone at the mall.

  6. Ginger March 15, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I’ve long thought that pregnant women sort of become public property in our culture–I mean, when else is it appropriate for anyone beyond close family to 1)touch your body 2) judge your food/beverage choices 3)ask about your weight 4)discuss bodily functions 5)comment on personal choices you make for your family?

    • amoment2think March 15, 2010 at 6:41 pm

      True true. Yeah, the weight one was something that bothered me. I am already pretty sensitive about my weight and so it did bother me when people asked me about it.

  7. Ellen M March 18, 2010 at 9:12 am

    I remember the first pregnant belly I touched — a friend’s, and I’d asked first, or maybe she even offered — and it was amazing. So like a basketball, so full of pressure from the inside, rather than just this lump. So I get the impulse — it’s a unique thing in the world. But! Touching a stranger? Never. Even a friend without asking is weird, but I had a few of those.

    What got me was the men whose children were not so old that they’d completely forgotten what their wives pregnancies were like, but old enough that they weren’t aware of the “latest” in thinking, who said things like, “that’s not caffeinated, right?” and I’d have to decide whether to bore them with the “well, you know recommendations on that have changed” speech, or just nod and smile.

  8. Sophie April 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    I did get the occasional belly touch, not by strangers but by acquaintances that I don’t think should have been close enough to touch my belly without asking. But it didn’t bother me nearly as much as people who would touch my child once he was born.

    I’m not overly germ-phobic, but there is still something unsettling about strangers patting your little one’s cheeks in public places – grocery store, bus, etc. Especially when they are weirdos. And I hate how they still do it and exclaim about how cute he is as if he was a dog or a newborn, when hey, he can talk enough to express pretty abstract ideas and make 30 pieces puzzles rather easily. I mean, he’s a child, a human being, talk to him, not about him, people!

    Sorry, you just made me think about that but I guess it was slightly off-topic…

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