Are You Pregnant? Is A Question That Should Never Be Asked
The other day I was at a friend’s house and, with no malice, her mother gently rested her hand on my stomach and looked at me questioningly before finally saying, “Are you?”
To be clear, I am not and, thanks to Jimmy’s vasectomy, hopefully never will be again. I’m also fairly body confident and generally at peace with my lumps and bumps but even my confidence was a little floored at the thought that I looked pregnant. I was four days away from my period, already feeling emotionally erratic and I was tired. It wasn’t a great combination.
Then, I saw that Outlander actress Catriona Balfe, came across a similar situation when someone commented on a picture of her suggesting she was pregnant. Balfe responded on Twitter swiftly, “No, I’m not pregnant. Just having my period and was bloated… So yeah… Thanks for asking. Not really. Not all stomachs are washboards.”
Let’s not even waste time wondering what on earth that person saw when she thought she was looking at a pregnant bump. I can only imagine, if she saw my tummy, that she’d assume I was incubating the Hulk’s big brother. Instead let’s just unpack this and take it for what it really is. There are two things at play here. First, there’s the obvious issue regarding our scrutiny of female bodies, especially those in the public eye and, secondly, we simply can’t afford to be that insensitive when it comes to fertility issues.
Let’s tackle the body stuff first. When my friend’s mum thought I was pregnant, it was a bit of a punch in the gut. I don’t like to admit it because I work hard to embrace my body as it is, but it cut a little deeper than I would have liked and sent me down a temporary spiral of negative thoughts and thought processes that I’ve really tried hard to combat. I got over it, had a stern talk with myself and saw it for what it was - a genuine mistake offered with the best of intentions - but I was surprised (and slightly terrified) at the ease with which such a comment invaded my brain. But what if I wasn’t the person that could get over it? I know plenty of phenomenally strong women who struggle day in and day out as they struggle between what they look like and what they think they should or could look like. If I hadn’t been the person that could bring myself to brush that of, a comment like that could have been devastating.
Then there’s the issue surrounding fertility. I know plenty of couples trying to conceive but unable to do so. I know many women who’ve suffered miscarriages, often in silence. I know people who have lost babies at birth or shortly after and people who have spent all their savings and got themselves into enormous amounts of debts either on IVF or surrogacy. They are all strong and determined but they are also mentally drained, exhausted, frustrated, sad and emotionally fragile when it comes to the topic of pregnancy. A simple question such as, “Are you pregnant?” may seem innocuous but there’s a significant chance it could be the very worst question you could ask.
Women suffering fertility issues are often unable to speak openly about it. They may be desperate to avoid the pitying looks, the uncomfortable questions or it may simply be too hard. Despite our best efforts in the parenting blogger world, the media are still spinning us a fairy tale of motherhood as a magical, natural and intrinsic part of being a woman. It doesn’t feel so magical or natural when you’re on your third cycle of IVF or you’ve suffered another miscarriage. Instead it feels like you’ve failed, like you’re not enough and that you’re broken.
Even if a woman is pregnant and you are absolutely certain of the fact, it’s not your responsibility to dictate the timeline when it comes to sharing the news. Let her take responsibility for that - you have no idea why she may be waiting to announce. Let her announce it when she’s ready; don’t push the issue and force her to lie to you or do something before she’s ready.
So, please don’t ask a woman if she’s pregnant. Whether you know her or not, whether she’s your friend or your favourite TV start, respect her right to privacy when it comes to pregnancy.