After sciatica and hemorrhoids, unsolicited advice may be the pregnant woman’s biggest pain in the ass.
That’s because you can’t tell nobody nothin’, least of all me.
If you think you don’t like people telling you what to do, well, meet me. If you tell me that hitting myself in the head with a hammer is a bad idea, I might grab one in each hand and start banging away at my temples just to be contrary. Part of me is still a surly 13 year old who think she knows everything until confronted with the clear and unavoidable evidence that she doesn’t. And then the fury starts, because how dare you point that out, you heartless bastard?
Charming, right? Poor Dr. Awesome.
Because of this tendency, I think I’ve been pretty restrained so far when dealing with the comments that are starting to roll in as predictably as my belly is beginning to grow out. Everybody’s an amateur going into parenting, but everybody’s also a goddamned expert afterward.
Most people are just being friendly; the bump is compelling, for whatever reason. (Personally I find it more comical than anything else. I hope I can maintain that perspective the more I resemble an egg on legs.) And I’m being perfectly pleasant in return. Generally that involves a lot of noncommittal nodding and polite noises. (“Hmm.” Oh yeah?” “Wow.”)
But sometimes it’s intrusive. Take the livery cab driver who gave me a ride home recently. Having put in a 10-hour day at the magazine, I was yawning away in the backseat as we zoomed along the East River heading toward that amazing stretch of the FDR Drive that puts the skyline, the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges and the harbor on a glittering display of light and reflection and height. I always think then that NYC looks like a dragon languorously sprawled across a horde of gold and jewels.
Two weeks before, his daughter had given birth to a girl at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, so he was on the baby tip big time. In short order, I learned four incontrovertible facts about the world: girls only want to talk about hair and clothes; it’s “weird” that Dr. Awesome had initially hoped for a girl, because all men want a boy; epidurals are for the weak-willed and selfish; and male obs-gyns are infinitely better than female ones.
Take your pick as to which one of these assertions you would have been most annoyed by. I went with the final one. I wanted to slap the back of his head, but instead I said I had only ever chosen female ob-gyns (and here I considered how weird it was to discuss Intimate Fun with the Speculum with some random Israeli man my father’s age), and that they had been perfectly good doctors. Finally I ventured to ask, “Why would you say this, that men are better than women?”
He shrugged. “This is just the way it is. The truth.”
I rolled my eyes. “Look, would you take your car to a mechanic who didn’t drive one?”
“I don’t think that’s a good metaphor,” he said seriously.
And then there was the waitress at the diner a few weeks ago. That Sunday morning I awoke and decided that there was nothing I wanted more than some big honking breakfast involving pancakes and meat and eggs and coffee, and I wanted to be reading the Sunday Times while someone delivered it to me. Thus the diner.
As coffee jacks me up like a cracked-out gerbil, I rarely drink it. But that morning I figured the “lumberjack breakfast” before meâ€”three pancakes, two eggs, bacon, sausage and hamâ€”would soak up the jitters. The enormous platter did a fine job of keeping my blood sugar’s response to the coffee minimal, so I happily requested another cuppa joe.
As the waitress refilled my cup, she said, “You’re not supposed to have this, Mami,” and nodded at my belly.
“Really, it’s fine.”
She shook her head. “No, coffee’s no good when you’re pregnant.”
“No, really, it’s fine. You can have coffee. You just have to keep it to a minimum. People are so hysterical. And you can have a drink once in a while too. Oh, and I had a glass of wine last night. You’d better call child protective services.”
“Oh no, that’s fine,” she said dismissively. Booze in, coffee out. Noted.
She leaned companionably against the next table. “The doctor told me I couldn’t have children, so when I got pregnant I didn’t even know it,” she said. “The only sign I got was I had big boobs. My friends were like, ‘Did you get a boob job, Mami?”’
We both laughed. “I know, they get huge.”
“So I didn’t even know I was pregnant. And I was eating and drinking things I shouldn’t have and at five months I lost the baby.”
I winced. Jesus Christ. “Oh, I’m so sorry.” I was just about five months myself then.
“No, it’s okay, it’s okay. Because now I know that I can get pregnant. So next time I’ll do it right.”
I didn’t quite finish that second cup of coffee.
Most of the time the conversation is neither as macho as Mr. Men are Better or as unexpectedly personal as Ms. Mami. I apparently “look” like I’m carrying a boy for various reasonsâ€”because I’ve gained no weight in my face, because I’m carrying somewhat low, because I don’t resemble the speaker’s memory of herself (or of his partner) when she was pregnant with a girl. I’ve been advised to do stomach exercises. I’ve been advised to avoid stomach exercises at all costs. I should breastfeed til The Kid applies to college, or I should swap out the tit for the bottle ASAP. I’m clearly insane if I’m considering going for natural childbirth, or I’m clearly insane if I want to be as drugged up with painkillers as is medically safe. (For the record: I haven’t decided yet.) To my endless consternation, the first thing many people mention is the baby’s astrological sign, which, I have been well informed, will be Geminiâ€”and which means fuck-all to me or to Dr. Awesome.
Still, people are being quite kind. In the same way we reflexively say I’m sorry to the bereaved, most default to saying Congratulations and You look great to the knocked-up. Which is lovely and sweet, even if mere form.
It’s winter. I imagine that as the weather grows warmer and I grow larger, so too will the number of comments expand. I’ll have to handle them as they come. But at least I know exactly what I’m going to say the next time someone questions my cup of coffee. “Oh, don’t worry,” I’ll assure them. “It’s just scotch.“