Just Me and My Bump. And Unsolicited Opinions.

One of the many things I’ve found weird about pregnancy is how freely people will comment on your body. Like it’s no big deal. Here is a sampling of the observations I’ve received thus far:

  • I’m carrying high.
  • I’m carrying low.
  • My feet are swelling.
  • My face is “glowing.” (What the hell does that even mean?)
  • I’m massive.
  • I’m tiny.
  • Am I actually pregnant?

I also have been on the receiving end of many a warm nod toward my bump from just about every old person I see. While on the bus/train, people will stare at my bump for a moment or two, then offer up their seat to me in a panic. Yes, panic. Like I might go into labor any minute if I don’t sit down.

It’s so odd to be so conspicuous.

My feet are massive! Wait, no... they are tiny!

My feet are massive! Wait, no… they are tiny!

The Feet Swelling comment came from none other than my co-worker Myna, aka the Queen of Oversharing and Inappropriate Behavior. She looked me up and down, landed on my feet and announced “You’re feet look really big. You’re swelling.” Followed by a 20 minute monologue about how her feet swelled 3 whole sizes by the end of her pregnancy. Sigh…

First of all, it was the end of the day after the first warm day of the year. Yes. My feet were swelling because they do that sometimes even if I’m not pregnant. But mostly I just thought “I’ve just been checked out by my coworker. And that’s creepy.”

Think about it for a minute. It’s totally weird that for a brief period of your life, everyone feels it’s okay to stare at your body, analyze, and offer up commentary about it. Of course, as women, our bodies are always subject to some inane form of public scrutiny, but I feel like there is something different at play here. I’ve been looked up and down before by skeevy boys on the street, but it was rarely followed by “Damn, girl…. you’re feet look really big.” I find this behavior appalling, even without the odd comment about my feet.

Can we start some movement about street harassment for pregnant women? As far as I’m concerned, it is never okay to make comments about other people’s bodies. I’m not sure why it is cool to do this just because I’m harboring a tiny life form. But as with most things in pregnancy, rules are rewritten and bizarre expectations are set.

Perhaps next time I should say “My feet look big? Well, your crow’s feet are coming in gloriously!”

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The Reveal

It’s that time, folks! The time when I have to tell my manager and team that I’m carrying.

And as should come as no surprise, I feel very uneasy about this. On a certain level, I’m still convinced that something will go terribly wrong. Like at my next ultrasound, my doctor will confirm that I am having a garden gnome, not an actual human. But I’m also getting to that point where it is going to be very obvious I’m not getting chubby, but getting babied.

I’m also just feeling a lot right now. My life is a whole lotta messy, but I’m finding a place of calm I can process this from. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my first pregnancy happening just as I lose my mom. To quote the immortal Whitney Houston, “It’s not right, but it’s okay.

With my mom’s death now common knowledge at work, I feel a little conspicuous. People come up to me and tell me that they’re sorry. I get hugs, invitations to lunch, random “Just thinking about you” emails. It comes from a place of kindness, I get that. But I’d really like to get back to being a normal person, thank you very much. Just as it looks like “normal” is on the horizon, I will be outing pregnant self. With this brings a whole new level public attention that I’m not really interested in, and yet is totally inescapable.

The workplace is weird. Not just my workplace, but any workplace. We’re thrown together with a bunch of people who we may or may not have anything in common with. Because we spend 8+ hours together 5 days a week, there is a false sense of intimacy. We see each other a lot, but we don’t really know each other that well. Not everyone gets this, and so sometimes boundaries are crossed. Which is part of the reason I’m queasy about this.

My manager, who I will tell first, is the bomb. He’s in the top 5 of people I’ve ever worked for. Part of the reason I adore him is that he gets the idea of privacy, while also being one of the most supportive managers I’ve ever had. He has never asked for justification for all the time I’ve needed off to go to my many, many medical appointments, and he has given me free reign to visit my family over the past year (which is part of the reason I feel at peace with my mom’s passing, if I am to be honest.)

All of this is to say that I’m okay telling him. He’ll give me the space and the support I need. He is like magic. My direct report will be over the moon. Truth be told, I think she may have already figured it out, but I could be wrong.

There are two colleagues who I am most concerned about. 1) Myna, and 2) a coworker I’ll call Robin*.

Myna should come as no surprise. In her book, boundaries are for chumps. She is the kind of person who will tell me about her labor horror story. Or how she worked up until the last possible minute, and was emailing between contractions. In short, there will be a lot of over sharing and insistence that I do my pregnancy exactly like she did hers.

My plan for Myna: I’ll accept her hearty congratulations and offers to throw an office baby shower. I will even thank her. However, I will not accept stories intended to terrify me or shame me into thinking that I am bad parent. I’ve been practicing this exact line in my bathroom mirror:

Thanks for sharing your experiences, but pregnancy is such a personal subject I’d rather not talk about it at work.

If that doesn’t work, I’ll cry at her and through post-it notes.

Robin is another conundrum altogether. You see, Robin and his wife lost their second child when they were 36 weeks pregnant, about a few days before my mom died.  I do not know the details- I’ve been respecting his need for privacy because I totally get it. Okay, I don’t get what he is going through at all,  but I do get the need not to have your grief on display.

When he returned to work, he sent an email to the team saying that if anyone wanted to talk with him about his loss, set up a meeting with him. He would talk about it with us, but he didn’t want to get approached in the hall or at his desk. (Which was the most gracious and mature thing I’ve seen a grieving person do.) Clearly, Robin understands workplace boundaries.

My plan for Robin: Uh… I’m not sure. I want to tell him about my pregnancy before it gets out. I want him to know that I understand if he doesn’t want to sit with me at lunch or hang out around the water cooler. I understand that the sight of my growing belly will likely trigger some hard emotions for him, and I do not blame him for any reaction he has. But I can’t decide if that is being presumptive or respectful. Obviously, I’m aiming for respectful.

So what do you think? Should I tell him personally? Or should I email him? Write him a letter? Send a messenger pigeon? Or should I let word get out in the usual grape-vine-y sort of way?

Advice and opinions are welcome.

*Nope. Not his real name.

Myna Strikes Again

Picture it. A generic office setting, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. There is a giddiness in the air– it is a half day, and no one can concentrate the day before a long holiday weekend.

I’m talking with my co-worker about something legitimately work-related. Myna is hovering near our desks. Not asking a question, interjecting, or asking to see either of us before we leave. Just staring at us while she is eating yogurt.

It’s weird.

After about 5 minutes, I ask if there is something I can help her with. No, no… she is fine. She just wants to check in with said co-worker before she leaves. And yet, Myna continues to stand and stare.

It’s so weird.

I’ll take a break from the story telling to clarify that this isn’t unusual for Myna. Of her many, many, many quirks, Myna suffers from a colossal case of FOMO (i.e. fear of missing out.) It’s a little junior high, but I also get it. She sits in an office while most of us are in cube farms, so she can get a little isolated. Still, Myna’s FOMO is painful for everyone.

Now where was I… At this point, I realize there is no way that I’m getting back to work. The only way to get Myna to leave is to make idle conversation with her for about 15 minutes until she is reassured that nothing interesting is happening.

We start off talking about her daughter’s birthday party. It sounds like a delightful time was had by all. We talk generically about kids birthday parties. And then….

I can’t remember. Do you want to have kids or not?

I’m 4 days post transfer at this point. I’m mixed with excitement and fear, all of which I want to keep very much to myself. This is a personal question, which seems even more so with the timing.

Of course given Myna’s track record, it is a small miracle that I have worked with her for two years and dodged this particular question. My co-worker is frozen in horror. But I’m prepared. I have a retort.

You and my mother-in-law would love to know!

This usually gets people off my back. I simultaneously remind people that this is a personal question, and compare them to a nosy mother-in-law. No one wants this. It is a graceful out for all parties involved.

But Myna doesn’t take the bait. She asks AGAIN. What kind of emotionally tone deaf person am I dealing with?!

So I steamroll that fucking question by talking about how my mother-in-law has been asking me this question for over 13 years– before Mr. Ostrich and I were even engaged. I tell her about the time she asked at Labor Day cook out. And that time she cried at me over Christmas dinner to “give her grandbabies.” Or at a wedding in front of her three sisters. If I just overwhelm her with information, at some point Myna will forget what she even asked in the first place.

After she walks away satiated with her colleague bonding time, my co-worker looks at me and apologizes for not intervening. Sweet, but what was she going to do? This isn’t on her, it is on Myna.

I thought back to when Myna told Grebe that she would want children if she happened to find herself pregnant. Or when she told another colleague that having babies in ‘Murica isn’t the same as in Nigeria. In both instances I literally walked away because I was so offended. But perhaps that is cowardly.

So here’s a question for the class… Next time Myna asks someone (including me) about their reproductive choices, should I actually tell her to shut the fuck up? Obviously in a nice, work-appropriate sort of way. But is it better to deflect or tackle this kind of shit head on?

Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Nigeria anymore

Oh Myna… I’m going to have to create a whole tag for you, aren’t I?

For those who don’t remember, Myna is my co worker who does not have a filter. Or empathy. Among many other “Insert Foot In Mouth” moments, she has implied that people who don’t have children shouldn’t inherit and insists that everyone wants a baby. (These are only the baby-making-related atrocities. There are so many more that are equally horrifying, if not topically appropriate.)

Last week, a colleague shared that his wife is pregnant. This is their first pregnancy, so they are excited and a little nervous. They are also first generation Nigerian. (Sadly, this will become a relevant plot point.)

Colleague: You know, my wife wants a natural birth, so we’re exploring that…

Myna: I don’t think that’s a good idea. She does know that having a baby in America isn’t the same as having a baby in Nigeria, right?

Um… actually, YES. Biologically speaking, having a baby in Nigeria IS the same as having a baby in America. As it is the same in Peru or Botswana. It’s not like America waves some magical wand over every womb and we all magically give birth out of eye balls. Human bodies are pretty much the same from one geographical region to the other.

And having a natural birth is not crazy talk! I know a ton of ladies– American-born, white ladies– who have opted for natural childbirth. It’s not like this is an entirely unheard of practice in the US. Because… you know… NATURE kinda invented it.

Yes, there are some differences in medical care across countries. Nor do I wish to downplay the issue of maternal mortality rates in many developing countries. (Though even here, the US has seen a rise in maternal mortality rates.)

There is just something so disgustingly paternalistic about this entire conversation that I applaud my colleague for not hurling a stapler at Myna’s head.

Let’s hear it for restraint!

Not Everyone Wants Your Life

Earlier this week, I had to attend a few all day offsites for work. This meant, among other things, having to spend gobs of quality time with my coworkers.

I mostly enjoy my coworkers. I am fortunate enough to work with incredibly smart, passionate people. These are my two favorite qualities, so this mostly works out.

Mostly. Did you notice how many times I used that word? Because there are exceptions.

After a morning brainstorming session, my team had lunch together. I was sitting at a table with a colleague who is getting married soon, and Myna. (Some of you may remember her from an earlier post.) For the purposes of this post, let’s call said colleague Grebe.

Myna: So do you and your fiance want children?

Grebe: No, not really.

Myna: You’ll feel differently once you’re married.

Grebe: I don’t think so. Neither of us want kids.

Myna: But I’m sure if you found yourself pregnant, you’d want to have children.

Grebe: I’m 36 years old. I’ve managed not to get pregnant so far, and I don’t think there is a big chance I’ll “find myself pregnant” anytime soon.

OH. MY. GOD.

This woman is legit nuts. What was Myna hoping to accomplish? I mean, how was Grebe supposed to answer that last question? “If I found myself pregnant, I’d probably give it up for adoption. Or abort it. Yes, I think my reproductive choices are perfectly acceptable things to talk about over lunch with colleagues.”

“If you just happen to find yourself pregnant, you’d want them.” Um, no. Not necessarily. There could be any number of reasons that Grebe and her manfriend don’t want kids. Maybe she can’t have them. Maybe he can’t have them. Maybe one of them is a carrier for some crazy genetic disorder that they don’t want to pass on.

Or maybe they just don’t want to have kids.

This is not an affront to humanity. And most of all, it is none of her business.

I am offended by this, even though I do want children. Myna was so intent on making Grebe agree with her that she couldn’t fathom that her questions might be hurtful to Grebe (or the innocent bystanders at the table. Ahem.)

It is amazing to me how hard it is for some people to accept that not everyone wants their life. Myna has two kids, and they are the center of her life. She is flatout in love with her children, which is lovely. But this doesn’t mean that everyone wants what she has– or can even attain it.

I know this. You know this. But what is it with people who need their lives validated by EVERYONE ELSE? And if you happen to choose differently, you’re obviously wrong. Or you don’t know any better. Because if you just happened to find yourself living their lives, you’d realize what you’ve been missing all along.

Luckily, I’ve come to realize that I have a choice when these conversations spring up.

I got up and left the table. By the time I came back, the plates and the intrusive assumptions had been cleared.

On Working with Dummies

I work with this woman… Let’s call her Myna*.

Myna is one of those people who expresses her ignorance with gusto. Sometimes, she has no idea that she sounds like a jerk. Other times she knows it, admits it, but will take the trouble of justifying herself. It’s weird.

Like this one time I was hosting a donation drive for a local Boys & Girls Club. She comes over to my desk where we’re collecting the needed items, and asks how the drive is going.

Me: “It’s going really well, but we could always use more!” Nudge, nudge, wink, wink

Myna: “Well, everyone is always asking for something.”

I was collecting sunscreen and beach towels for at-risk children attending summer camp.

Let’s just say that she and I don’t always share the same world view.

Today she and I were talking about keepsakes from loved ones. You know, like your grandmother’s china, Aunt Bessie’s sapphire tennis bracelet… Because everyone comes from that kind of  privilege.

Anyway, she was talking about how her great aunt left a whole bunch of things to her. At some family event down the road, her cousin sees her wearing Great Aunt Whatever’s necklace. Cousin makes some snide comment. Myna says Great Aunt Whatever gave it to me, so suck it.

“I mean, she never got married, doesn’t have any kids. What does she want the necklace for?”

I don’t know… to WEAR IT? To feel connected to her dead Great Aunt?

This actually echoes something I’ve heard several times over the last few weeks. Or perhaps I’m just more sensitive to it now.

People who don’t have children shouldn’t have any right to family heirlooms. Because we’ll all insist on being buried with our treasure like Egyptian Pharaohs? What?

Really, all us childless, barren, old biddies should just live in squalor and leave all nice things to people who can have kids.

Admittedly, Myna has no idea of my IF woes. But I don’t think that really lets her off the hook. Regardless of whether or not I can have children, I don’t think anyone is more entitled to the memory of a loved one than anyone else.

Like I said, she and I don’t share the same world view.

*Nope. Not her real name.