I’ve always been outgoing.
In fact, I’ve had to tone it down in recent years so that I could actually get things done. I’ve been known to make friends with the cashier (and therefore hold up the irritated line), to have complete counseling sessions in the produce section, to “catch up with a dear friend” in the noodle aisle, and to accidentally attract a guy 50 years my senior into thinking I was being “friendly”. So smiling and saying hi and talking with just about anyone anywhere has never been too much of a challenge to me until I came to realize that a simple trip to pick up apples took 4 hours. So now, normally, I try to look straight ahead, and go about my business, much as I would love to see what that little elderly lady is up to in the pharmacy line.
And people generally let me.
But when I have a baby bump, it’s like I’m a walking invitation to interact and talk to me, even when I have a scowl on my face because my back hurts and I am just plain tired. When I have all my kids in tow, I seriously want to get in and out of wherever and hope that no one even sees me. Mainly, this is because I feel like a freak show with 8 kids and another on the way and it’s like people feel the need to make some sort of comment that I don’t want to hear after 3 hours picking out cereal and calming an argument going on in the cart between the three toddlers who are stuffed in the back, surrounded by carefully organized toilet paper and canned tomatoes and bread that I pray won’t get squished.
When I’m alone, I’m even MORE of a walking invitation, with a much sweeter ‘Awwwwww’ reaction, because now I’m not a freak show (“Is this your firrrrrrst?”) and for some reason, everyone stares at a big pregnant belly. I mean, I do, too. It’s like a magnet, even when you try to look away. No one even looks at my eyes for about 6 months (the first 3 are more trying to NOT look at my belly and speculate my old bloated look). They look at my tummy, they want to touch my tummy, they want to smile, move out of the way, open doors, get me a cart, let me go first… it’s literally fascinating.
And this time around with a HUGE belly and #9, I decided to study these reactions and pay attention to them, as it were. (Please say that last phrase with a British accent. )
I’ve noticed that people can’t seem to be indifferent to a big pregnant belly. It’s just THERE. No one has to say anything. I don’t need a shirt with painted words that say “I’m pregnant!”. It’s obvious. And almost every single time, my belly invites a reaction.
Most of the time, the reaction is a smile. For some reason, pregnant bellies seem to make most people happy. There is unspoken hope and expectancy. There’s the thought of teeny onsies and lullabies. There’s fascination that we just can’t help, that in this dark world, there are still sweet and innocent babies coming into it. In some places and areas of the world, there aren’t many pregnant women, and people long to see them. Elderly people have sweet memories come back to them of their youth and their children and grandchildren.
Where as I may have been outgoing before, my belly seems to invite natural conversation way more than normal. Mama’s want to tell their labor story, or how old THEIR baby is, or how their children have grown and they miss the diaper stage. They want to recall whether they have boys or girls or both, or they simply give knowing looks, acknowledging the tiredness-mixed-with-joy that goes along with babies. They want to share how they can’t believe how old their “baby” is now, and they want to know when I’m due and ‘what I’m having’.
For some, and more rarely, there is a sad reaction, which is mainly characterized by an awkward looking away. Maybe they lost a little one… or maybe they “chose” not to give life to a little one. I notice this reaction more with young childless couples. For those that are older, some feel compelled to defend their decision to get sterilized. I can’t tell you how many strangers have told me of their sterilizations and reasons for doing so when seeing my pregnant tummy. It’s like for some, my tummy brings them guilt, although I always smile and never try to be “in your face” about each individual person’s decision. Cashier after cashier has told me how they either miss their little baby in daycare, or how they are so glad to be away from their toddler and they are glad to have stopped at one or two. Some people my parents’ age have expressed a longing for grandchildren, and shared their heartbreak that their children do not want to either get married or have children.
Most importantly, what occurred to me recently after a shopping trip alone and after I had thought about everyone’s reactions, was that my baby’s mission had already begun. Just being there, being present, existing, has reached out to people who otherwise would never have talked to me. This struck me as profound… My baby already has a mission.
Without saying a word, my baby says “I’m here, and you can’t deny it. I’m real, and I’ll be making an appearance soon.” This is a mission of silence, but many times a much stronger witness than any words I could say about life. Each of us simply IS, starting in the womb. And as for us pregnant mama’s, for some reason, it seems we become non-threatening when we are expecting. Other people’s husbands don’t feel threatened, other women don’t feel threatened or competitive, kids love to see pregnant tummies and stare, and above all, it seems that pregnancy brings down natural barriers. I think this is also an interesting reason why people naturally start to talk or make eye contact. And isn’t this how we SHOULD be anyway, if we were all a little more pure of heart?
The most rewarding part of this experience of being obviously pregnant has been the several times when I had a mama stop me and talk to me, asking when I’m due… my outgoingness takes over and we start to chat… and by the end of the conversation, she says, “You know, I had thought I was done, but I think I WOULD be open to having another one.” These experiences have brought tears to my eyes… mainly because this was not anything I did, but rather it was my baby already at work, silently in the womb.
So what’s the reason for this aching back, varicose veins, heartburn, and going to the bathroom every two hours? I would say, the reason is a beautiful, solid, and inarguable testimony to life, without words, but with a sacred hidden baby, behind a sacred growing tummy.
Congrats, to all mama’s out there… and thank you to all pre-born babies. Your mission has already begun, and you are doing wonderful work. ;)