It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Beauty is in the … mind of the beheld

“She gave me soap!” Her blue eyes, though dimmed with age, still manage to flare in indignation. “Does she think I’m dirty? Does she think I don’t wash?!?”

My elderly neighbour, Mrs. L., is in full battle-cry against her sister-in-law. Again. Being a well-brought-up woman, I don’t argue with my elders. I don’t know the sister-in-law, despite all the tales of offense and infamy I’ve heard. What Mrs. L. tells me won’t hurt this woman, since the much-scorned SIL lives in a different city.

The offense is clear, however: The scorned sister-in-law gave Mrs L soap for her birthday!!!!

I like Mrs L, I really do. She’s a feisty old thing, determined to live her life till the last breath as an independent woman. She still drives her car — only in brightest daylight, as her vision fades, and it won’t be long before he license is taken away, I’m sure. She lives in her own home. She has supportive family, who see that her fridge is properly stocked and that she gets to doctor’s appointments. And she has attentive neighbours, myself among them, who note whether she’s walking her little dog every day, and that her mail is not accumulating worrisomely.

But she’s also a cranky old biddy, only too willing to take offense, to see offense where there is none, to be OUTRAGED by something as simple as a gift of soap.

I listen and nod, listen and nod, until Mrs. L runs out of steam and totters back into her kitchen. Then I breathe a sigh of relief, shake off her negativity and willful self-absorption, and move on to my day.

I never argue with Mrs. L. She’s old, and, despite her brave front, she’s frail. The days that she can continue to live on her own are numbered. Though she’s in denial, I suspect much of her rage stems from this awareness. (Even if it doesn’t, even if she’s just a cantankerous old biddy, she’s old.) I am kind.

A frail, cranky old lady who, despite herself, sees the writing on the wall, is one thing.

I am less patient with the gazillions of healthy young things who do this sort of thing day after day. Today I came across this post.

I’ve been pregnant, three times. I meet a dozen or two pregnant women each year; on average, one of my clients becomes pregnant each year. When I taught prenatal classes, I saw hundreds of pregnant women in a year.

This sort of article wearies me. The woman who wrote it doesn’t like to be asked when she’s due, and doesn’t enjoy the ‘wow’ comment. Okay. So she doesn’t. But you know what? Lots of women do. What’s the poor hapless bystander to do? You say ‘wow’ to one woman, she’s offended. You don’t say it to the next, she’s disappointed.

When people make complaints of the sort this author makes, they are assuming that all people feel as they do. Therefore, what they need, is what everyone wants, what pleases them is what everyone should be doing. And that just ain’t so. Since all pregnant women don’t respond in the exact same way to their pregnancy and to comments on their pregnant body, then what she’s asking of people is that they be able to read her mind. Which is hardly fair or rational. This exasperates me.

I could have stopped here. There would have been a certain amount of undeniable satisfaction in writing an acerbic, biting, sarcastic post on the self-inflated precious snowflakeness in our society, the incessant demand that everyone UNDERSTAND me, and react EXACTLY how I want and need. How dare you step on my delicate toes?

But you know what? Once that moment of exasperation had passed, compassion arose, and I just couldn’t be so unkind. Because what this woman is really expressing is insecurity. She’s not being fair or rational, but her distress is genuine, and I feel compassion for her.

And I am here to say to the author of this post, and to all of you who empathized with it, “Oh, honey. The problem is not with those people, even if some of them are tactless. You’re pregnant? Congratulations! And I will tell you now, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, you’re gorgeous.”

How do I know that, sight unseen? Because pregnant women are. Gorgeous. Yes, you are. Each and every one of you. Despite how tired you feel, how bloated you feel. Despite the bags that may or may not be under your eyes. Despite varicose veins and linea nigra and flatulence and stretch marks and the aches and pains and general weariness… You.Are.Beautiful.

Know why? Because you are a miracle on legs, you are. And that baby inside you? Is another miracle.

Those people who want to know when you’re due? It’s because they want to celebrate with you! Or perhaps to commiserate, and on a day where you’re feeling nothing more than “will I ever, EVER get my body back?”, a little commiseration is always welcome. Isn’t it?

Those people who look at your belly and go, “Wow!”? They are thinking, “Wow. Isn’t it amazing what the female body can do?” Or they’re thinking, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me any more!” Or maybe, “Wow. I can hardly wait till I get to do that!” Or, “Wow! Who knew a tiny woman could stretch so far!!” Some of them may even be thinking, “Wow. Why, why, why won’t my body let me do that?”

What they are not thinking is “Good lord, what a whale!” Do you hear me? They.Are.Not.

If you take offense or cringe in shame, when you hear that ‘wow’… Do you know who’s thinking that ‘whale’ comment?

You are.

Nobody else. Just you.

When you are pregnant, you gain weight. You do. It’s a fact. A biological necessity. 25 – 40 pounds is perfectly, deliciously, healthy. You are not “fat”. In fact, this is the one time in your life when gaining 25 – 40 pounds is the right thing to do. (If you gain more than that, you are not ‘ugly’, but you are making it harder on yourself. Pregnancy will be harder. Labour will likely be harder. Chasing your wee one after s/he is born will be harder. So, for your own sake and comfort, please keep the gain to healthy limits. But ugly? You’re Not.) And shame? It’s so unwarranted as to be ridiculous. Truly, it is.

Okay, we could all wish some of them would be a little more tactful. Sure. But I will tell you with 100% sincerity, no one who says ‘Wow!’ when they see a pregnant tummy is thinking ‘Ew!’. (Okay, maybe 0.0001% of them do. You can pay as much attention to those people as you do to people who think the world is flat. They are the lunatic fringe and should impact your self-esteem as much as the flat-earthers impact your travel plans.) So, please believe me: people are excited, not repelled. Pregnancy may not bring out the tact in everyone, but it does bring out the joy. People love babies. People love pregnant woman.

If you feel shame — seriously: shame?!? — when someone comments on your size, the problem lies not with the commenter, but with you. Because you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that your growing, blossoming, lush body is beautiful.

I’m here to tell you, it is.

When I taught prenatal classes, I would often hear women complain that they didn’t feel ‘feminine’ any more. And I would tell them, “Can you think of a single time in your life when you are more womanly? What man on the planet can do what you’re doing now?” You may not look like the pencil-thin 14-year-old models in Vogue, but you are as female as they get, sister!

All of it. All the aches and pains and lumps and farts and burps… and … beautiful skin and thick hair, blossoming breasts and lush, luxurient curves. You are beautiful. Utterly beautiful.

If you believed that yourself, if you really, really believed that, then every time someone asked, “When are you due?”, you’d be thrilled to tell them. And every time someone looked at your voluptuous belly and said, “Wow!”, you’d caress it with your mother’s hands, and you’d say, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?!”

Because it is. It’s great. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful.

You’re beautiful.


October 21, 2014 - Posted by | controversy, health and safety, parents, pregnancy and delivery | , ,


  1. I’m totally with the writer of that post, I got so fed up of strangers commenting on my size, shape or how many weeks I had to go or kids I had already, it seemed I wasnt allowed to talk about anything else but my pregnancy for the last trimester. I dont go up to random people and comment about their appearance, “you’re quite short/tall/slim/obese/hairy/smelly” to me rubbing a strangers pregnant belly is akin to rubbing a persons head who has lost their hair through chemo, its not appropriate, its intrusive. The fact that pregnancy is so visible does not mean it cant be a personal and private time in someone’s life. I try very hard not ask all the standard questions that people ask of pregnant women as I know they will probably have been asked several times that hour already, I very much enjoyed when someone didnt say a single thing about my giant bump and we had a normal conversation about normal things!

    You’re totally with the author of that post? So you, also, felt ashamed of your body? I’m so sorry to hear that.

    I’m not sure, though, that you caught my point. It seems that your complaint is twofold: 1) you’re more than your bump, and would like to be treated that way, and 2) it got boring. To which I say, fair enough, and, since people can’t read your mind, if that’s how you feel about it, just say so. “Oh, you know, some days I just want to talk about something else than my pregnancy,” and then, quick, change the subject to the weather or some such.

    What bothered me about the author’s point was that she said she felt shame. No matter what her size, no matter how rude, insensitive or intrusive the other people may or may not be, shame should never be part of the equation for her. My argument is that the shame she felt almost assuredly came from herself, not the other people. That’s a sad thing.

    As for the touching? Yes. It’s presumptuous. However, it’s also rare. During my three pregnancies, I only had a stranger touch my belly twice, each time when I was living in the states. I think this might be more a Gregarious American thing than a more reserved Canadian thing. Once was an elderly lady, and though it made me a little uncomfortable, I put up with it because she was so unabashedly joyous about the life inside me. The other was an middle-aged man, and as he was reaching for my belly, I reached out and held his wrist. “That makes me uncomfortable,” I said, calm but firm. He apologized, and that was that. Again: no shame on my part, and, in the end, some well-earned embarrassment on his.

    The point of my post was this: You should never feel shame about your pregnant body, because it’s a thing of beauty.

    Comment by jenny | October 21, 2014 | Reply

  2. I totally agree! Now, sometimes questions get way too personal–and people get too preachy. When I was pregnant with my first, my co-worker used to tell me how dangerous it was for my baby that I was eating popcorn. This, mind you, is the co-worker who smoked throughout her pregnancy.

    Oh, gracious. It would have been very hard to bite back the sarcasm. In fact, unless she was a vindictive sort, I probably wouldn’t have. “Oh, right. And popcorn is SO much worse for the baby than smoking!” followed by a peal of laughter. She’d either join in, or go away…(hopefully never to return to the subject!)

    But, I also liked talking about my pregnancy and my upcoming baby, so I was fine with it. The only time I cried about a stranger’s comments was when the cashier at the grocery store lectured me on what food I was buying. Jerk. I should have told the manager.

    Being pregnant is such a happy time that many women do like talking about it. Generally, people enjoy talking about happily anticipated events: their upcoming wedding, an anniversary, a holiday. Why should pregnancy be different?

    And yes, that cashier was a jerk. Gah.

    Comment by evilhrlady | October 21, 2014 | Reply

  3. I love this post. I was the opposite of the blogger. I loved the attention. I loved my bump, and all the ups and downs it caused in my life. I knew that in the grand scheme of things I would only be pregnant for such a short period of time in my life – and after the babies came my life would somewhat centre around them for a long period of time. It was nice to be noticed and it was nice to talk to people about the baby to be.

    The reason I appreciate your post so much is because sometimes I would have stopped. And not thought about the other person’s perspective. It reminds me that everyone suffers in their own little way with some self esteem issues and that above all I need to remember to be KIND. Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by Cindy | October 21, 2014 | Reply

  4. Yes yes yes! An old college buddy of mine posted something on Facebook saying “dear world: when a new migher’s baby starts to cry HAND THAT BABY BACK!!!”

    I couldn’t believe it. So I commented and patiently explained to her that not all new mothers feel that way. That some, exhausted by hours of colic, are grateful when a friend takes on the impossible task of soothing the child and gives you a break. That some would be INSULTED if you just chucked their baby back at you the moment it was no longer cute. I cited examples of times that I have purposely continued to dangle the baby and soothed it back into silence only to get a deeply thankful look from the mother who continued her task uninterrupted.

    NOT EVERYONE FEELS THE SAME ABOUT THINGS. Consider someone’s intentions before getting angry. If you feel differently than they expected, tell them. It’s that simple.

    Comment by IfByYes | October 24, 2014 | Reply


      Comment by IfByYes | October 24, 2014 | Reply

  5. Lol, IfByYes, at dangle…

    It’s all about perspective, and if you assume everyone shares yours, you’d be wrong at least 50% of the time. Be sensitive to others and you’ll be fine.

    I don’t remember anyone touching my belly without permission, and only a few who asked. I gained 50lbs and proudly still wear the photo taken at 7mo on my work badge, because I glowed.

    Comment by Jackie/Ailsa | October 24, 2014 | Reply

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