It’s Like Puberty… All Over Again

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Little Doll, Ottawa, July 2012

Jean-Paul Sartre was right: “Hell is other people”.

Alright, I’m pretty sure the French philosopher wasn’t referring to all the unwanted comments and warnings pregnant women receive when he wrote his most famous line in No Exil—but all the same, the quote perfectly sums up how I felt during my pregnancy.

See, I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to be one of these pregnant women described as “positively glowing”.

Sure, I had it easy: I hadn’t been sick long—only for ten days or so—and I was doing fine physically.

Mentally, it was another story.

I felt fat, bloated, ugly and weird. There was someone growing inside me. It felt… alien. See, I kind of like the concept of “one person = one body”. Suddenly, we were two for one body. How was that going to work?

Some women assert that they are more feminine and womanly when they are pregnant. They claim they have found their purpose, a new meaning in life.

Well, I can tell you I wasn’t comparing myself with a freaking fertility goddess. I felt like I was going through puberty all over again, starting at age thirteen and knowing very well the awkward period would only vanish around sixteen-years-old or so.

I was happy with the idea of having a baby but I found the process—the eight months left to the big finale—terrifying. I felt like I was embarking onto a long descent into “pregnancy hell”, a special place with huge dangling bellies, clothes that didn’t fit, and an endless list of risks, dangers, potential issues and small discomforts.

People wouldn’t let me forget that anyway.

Basically, I was trying to keep my head above water and think positive. To take it one step at the time.

But well-meaning strangers (not my friends! I love my friends!) just couldn’t stop giving me unwanted advice and making comments.

There was the time I offered an acquaintance to meet at Starbucks—the coffee shop chain was a convenient and neutral place where we could have a quick chat. “STARBUCKS?” she almost shouted over the phone, appealed. “How can you drink COFFEE? You are PREGNANT!”

Moron. First of all—disclaimer!—I don’t drink coffee. It’s not one of my addictions—I’m a tea drinker if anything. Second, drinking some caffeine (or theine) is fine as long as you don’t go over the rather high recommended threshold. Third, what the hell is wrong with you? Starbucks does offer other drinks than coffee, and above all, what I drink is none of your fucking business.

Unfortunately, as I quickly learned, when you are pregnant you become everybody’s business. You are no longer a person—you become a baby incubator whose only job is to care for the embryo, the fetus and then the baby.

I get it. It’s important. I cared and I care. I do take my role seriously. I try to make smart choices, to take care of us and all.

But I’m still a human being, with my strengths and weaknesses. I’m not perfect. And I certainly didn’t need other people to constantly interfere with my life and chime in, especially considering most of the comments I got 1) weren’t informed 2) weren’t wise 3) didn’t take into account the context of the situation.

See, the Starbucks comment wasn’t the only time I fought with a stranger. I once got “the dead stare” for ordering sushi. They were a mix of vegetarian and cooked fish sushi, in case you need to know—see, I shouldn’t have to justify myself but I feel I have to. Gosh.

In the same vein, after hesitating for a few weeks, I eventually decided to go back to doing yoga. After all, I had been going for two years—and I was going before I realized I was pregnant. It felt right and I was comfortable with the activity. I received a few rude comments: “Are you SURE you are supposed to be here?” I ignored them, but all the same, it was tiring.

Handling unwanted advice is an art. I chose to put my fingers in my ears and sing “la la la, not listening, not listening”. Still, deep down, these comments made me insecure. Am I doing a good job of baking our Canadian-Chinese-French? Should I be more careful, should I avoid this, do that?

Some days, I come to terms with the fact I am not perfect. And chances are, we won’t be perfect parents either. Some days, I feel anxious and worried and I need reinsurance I’m doing a good job.

Yep, I’m telling you, “Hell is other people”.

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

26 Comments

  1. Ugh, seen this way too often. I’ve never thought about how the pregnant person feel about all this advice though. Now I know and it’s horrible! OMG!

    I’d be real stabby after a while of this 😛

  2. The problem is that with the over-medicalization of almost everything, people tend to forget that, at the end only YOU know what is good for yourself. Seeing friends and family being pregnant, I really do think pregnant women have an amazing instinct about what’s good or not for them and their baby, and they really don’t need any interference.
    And the coffee thing, I saw it at a Starbuck when a pregnant friend of mine ordered a coffee and was asked “decaf?” with a significant look at her belly. Moron.

    • I tried my best to trust me instinct and listen to advice that made sense (because I don’t know everything after all!). But the guilt feeling is hard to get rid of.

  3. My son refers to all the unsolicited advice he and his wife receive as, “pregnancy bullying.” They are both very tired of it – even if some is well-intentioned. They’re due the end of October! 🙂

    And there is no such thing as “perfect parents.” Just parents who love and do their best.

  4. You’re right, once pregnant, people think of you as just an incubator whose sole purpose is to care for the infant. Heck, just read what’s happening in the USA when it comes to women’s rights. They’re so anti-this and anti-that, in a draconian way of “protecting the rights of the unborn”.

    Anyway, I sure hope you don’t let these pregnancy bullies get to your head. Mothers have feelings too, just because they have a baby to deliver soon doesn’t mean their wants and desires automatically disappear.

  5. Reminds me of what I get each time I mention migraines… same thing: a ton of very uninformed advices, comments and second-hand experiences. “You should do this, or that”… or worst: “come on, it can’t hurt that bad, I have headaches too sometimes!” (headahes yeah, not migraine, and I’d like to see how you look after 3 days of it).
    Actually it all comes down to how people feel free to juge the others and think they always have a better way to do things (and a right to say it). Though, if we were all doing things the same way, we might be all doing the same thing the WRONG way.

    I’m sure you’re doing fine. A bit more patience, you’ll soon see your baby!

    • I feel for you precisely because I don’t get migraines (lucky me!) but I’ve heard and seen how painful and debilitating they could be. And I’m sure these dumb advice don’t help, do they? Have you ever tried taking an Aspirin? 😆 Maybe punching people would help!

  6. Well, young women are simpletons who cannot carry a pregnancy without the stupid advice of idiotic strangers, it’s a well known fact, right? And then, I’m sure you’ll see unfortunately, it doesn’t stop once the baby is out of your belly. When Sam was small, there was always a woman (never got that crap from men) to tell me he was cold, his blanket was smothering him, I should not carry him this or that way, he was obese, breast milk is best (actually it was my breast milk in the bottle, but hey…) I wish I could tell you it stops getting annoying, but it really doesn’t. The only difference is I am not as polite about it anymore when someone volunteers their judgement (he’s not talking/potty trained yet?? He doesn’t have all his teeth?). My new formula is “forgive me, but I don’t have time to remedy your ignorance right now.” Rude? Yes, very 🙂

    • I like when you are rude 😆 But that’s true, at the end you are losing patience. I can take some shit from clueless people but these “helpful” strangers really have to mind they own damn business. Worst part is, as annoying as I can be (I’m sure I am!) I really wouldn’t dream of giving strangers advice on such personal matters!

  7. That sounds SO annoying. I’d be tempted to act like a hysterical hormonal pregnant women just to keep them from EVER saying something like that to a pregnant woman again.

  8. I can totally relate to your story. I felt like a criminal the day I walked into a LCBO to buy some rhum and a can of beer (for baking) with my 7-month pregnant (very big) belly (alcohol evaporates when cooking, guys!)… They couldn’t possibly NOT serve me, but I didn’t get any “hello” from the staff that day!

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