With one month to go, I have reached the point in pregnancy where I often spill food on my belly while eating. The first thing I do when I walk in a room is look for available seating. I waddle. When I drop something, I seriously contemplate if I need to pick it up. If I decide to, I splay my knees to the side to make room for my belly and make an audible sound on the way back up. I rest my hands on my belly ledge. I laugh when I catch a glimpse of my body profile because, well, it’s just crazy absurd how this all works.
The size of my belly is the topic of conversation throughout pregnancy, but now is also the point where it is the main and only topic of conversation, most notably with strangers:
“Whoa. You must be having twins.”
“You’re carrying low. It’s a boy.”
“You’re all belly. You won’t make your due date.”
“You’re carrying so high. It must be a girl.”
“Are you sure there aren’t two in there?”
“Any day now huh?”
I get it, I’m huge. I’m sure the comments are well meaning. People like babies and my belly means there is a baby coming. Yet we aren’t talking about babies. The comments, pitched as funny, tend to be flippant, and are centered around how big my belly is. It gets old.
I’ve gotten good at entering into the playful banter about the size of my body in a way that ends the interaction as quickly as possible. This usually requires me to laugh, agree and self-deprecate. These interactions are so subtle and regular that I accepted them as normal and understandable, and didn’t reflect much on the possible low-grade toxicity of their cumulative effect.
Then last week, a man I don’t know well smiled at me, and in a tone of complete reverence said very gently, “It is just so good to see, can I say, your belly? What a joy.” His comment took me aback. It was not just that he asked my permission, which was lovely, or that he saw my belly without placing a value on its size. It was also coming from a father, filled with happy memories, filled with genuine excitement for me. His voice was laced with respect and awe, an affirmation of life in anticipation and hope of what is to come. He was not talking about the size of my body, he was talking about my remarkable ability to bear life and be a mother.
A few days after the comment, I was in the kitchen feeling huge and sore. It was snowing outside, and I was making Thanksgiving pies. A man opened my screen door, threw a package on the porch, rang the doorbell and trudged back through the snow to his delivery van. In the bag was a gorgeous pair of comfy, soft, decadent pants from my friend Kate. The note said, “Armor, for your time pre and post baby.” The pants instantly reminded me that I am working my ass off to grow this human, and I matter. What is happening inside me is amazing, and sometimes creating space for amazing things is really hard. The pants reminded me that I have a body, and that body has desires and needs. That body wants to be in comfortable pants. Period. And that body needs some armor to face the world because something remarkable is happening that is not reflected in the comments of strangers. It was validation landing on my porch.
The reverent comment and the unexpected gift helped me run the offhanded body banter through a different lens. I let myself admit how fatiguing the belly comments have become, requiring me to take time to pace myself, get on my timeline and claim my story. It made me wonder, what if the sheer size of my swelling body carries with it a gorgeous and intimidating power that is hard for people to handle and react to appropriately?
My body is a home to a growing human. When the child enters the world, I will already know its feet and elbows and squirming patterns intimately. It will know my heartbeat, warmth, voice and smell. Pregnancy is easy to dismiss as normal. Pregnancy brings with it very trying consequences, it is not always so fun, so it’s often easier for me too, to focus on the surface jokes about my size. Maybe folks, including myself, just simply don’t know what to do or say when faced with the ability, strength and sacrifice the female body is capable of.
Today, I’m thankful for those people who help me shift the focus from my size to my power, from my discomfort to my beauty, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.