There are times when I am astounded at the things people think they can say to others.
When I was about 11, I remember going to brunch with my father and brother. It was a nice buffet and we were enjoying it. As a lanky preteen, I was used to eating whatever and whenever I pleased. My jaw just dropped though, when, while my father was away from the table, my brother, nine years older than me, said, "You know, if you eat enough eclairs, your thighs will go condo." Gut sibling instinct kicked in, and I told him a few nasty things myself, then when Dad returned, promptly told Dad what my brother had said and got him a few stern words.
Of course, this kind of thing among siblings is pretty normal, if not expected. There are things that brothers and sisters (and other family members, even close friends) say to one another that are plenty hurtful, but we move on, get past it most of the time, and hopefully talk about it so hurts don't fester. But what does one do when out in the world strangers and acquaintances make inappropriate comments? Returning nasty comments and telling don't quite work in the workplace, or on the street.
Fortunately, this isn't such an issue for many people. Common etiquette and increasing awareness of the appropriateness of comments (or lack thereof) do take care of quite a bit of this for most people that I know. Unfortunately, once one is visibly pregnant, propriety seems to go out the window for many of the same people who would be oh-so-careful about comments otherwise. It is as if a pregnant woman - in her state thanks to a very private and personal decision and act - is suddenly public property, available for comments from all sides without the common courtesies extended most of the rest of the population.
What's with that?
Last week, a coworker - just a coworker, not a friend - said to me, "It's fun seeing you get so fat."
Big mistake on her part. I became very stern and told her that was in inappropriate comment to make to anyone, pregnant or not, and that any comments about my pregnancy or body or personal life were strictly off-limits in the workplace. She tried to tell me that I was overreacting, but that made me even angrier. In another moment it clicked in her brain that she had no defense, and all she could say was, "Don't yell at me."
Well, I wasn't yelling, but I was plenty steamed. This woman would not have made any similar comment to anyone else in the office. "Gosh, Arnie, your butt is getting a bit generous there." "Hey, Lottie, ease up on the cookies, why don't you." Why, suddenly was I a valid target?
The reasons why pregnant women seem to be public property, open to any and all comments, is, at it's core, really kind of sweet, I think. We're carrying these new lives around inside us, obviously displaying our optimism for the future of the world. That's a pretty neat thing by most people's standards. The need to make commentary about and to a pregnant woman often is harmless in intent. The comments, ranging from a woman's increasing size to what she is eating (particularly if she is indulging in a treat of some kind) to whatever kind of activity she is engaging in (exercising, gasp!) stem, I think, from the optimism of that very pregnant woman rubbing off in some way on everyone around her, known or unknown. Those making the comments think they have the best interest of the baby at heart. But it still doesn't make certain comments any more appropriate, or what I am eating any more of their business.
I'm more willing to forgive comments if they come from an older generation, and specifically my grandmother's age group. There is so much more we have learned about pregnancy since my grandparents gave birth to my parents that I try to forgive some of the comments, hurtful as they are at the time. If it's appropriate to the situation, a little education is in order.
In others, some comments cross the line from merely inappropriate to downright nasty. In those instances, the individual issues that color that core goodness is what makes the comments sometimes so wrong and hurtful. I think my coworker has some of these issues, though I am not about to bring them up with her. As inappropriate as her comment was to me, so, too would be any I comment I made to her about her personal life.
My coworker's comment is not the only comment I have heard recently. In total I already have heard more comments with this pregnancy than with my last. Most of the comments were plain annoying, but easily dismissable. Most were strangers, and thus not worthy of wasting energy in response (all that really means is that I thought of a witty retort five minutes too late). Some days I deal with comments better than on other days. It seems to be part of the game this time around, much as I wish it weren't.
The day after my coworker's comment, when I was picking up my son from preschool, Gregory's mom stopped her car as she was driving out, rolled down the window and said, "I see congratulations are in order. You look great." I smiled and said thank you, more thankful than she realized, for she reminded me of the good comments that come with pregnancy, too.