SHE IS PREGNANT with her first child and working for a large corporation where she sees lots of people and lots of people see her. The trouble is that the only way they see her is pregnant. Colleagues -- not to mention total strangers -- are forever asking her how she is feeling and when the baby is due and how she is going to have it, and whether she is going to breast-feed. As far as she is concerned, people may be trying to be kind but they are, in effect, invading her privacy and driving her crazy. What's more, she says with considerable vehemence, she is not likely to go through "this experience," as she calls it again, for at least five years.
"I'm astonished and I'm appalled at people's poor taste and lack of manners," she says, "I'm really very much of a reserved person and this has just been torture for me."
Women, she says, have been as annoying as men. Take the incident with the woman selling ice cream. "She's younger than me but as soon as she saw I was pregnant she started treating me like I was someone who didn't know as much as she did 'Here, little mother, let me give you an ice cream cone with walnuts on it, and I won't charge you for the walnuts.' Well, I don't want to be treated like that. Then she got out pictures of hers and kept saying it was a wonderful experience. That's all she could say: 'What a wonderful experience.'
"Well, I thought I would make it out of the store but while my husband was paying, she turned and said, 'Are you going to have natural childbirth?' The peer pressure to have natural childbirth is astounding . . . . It's a whole thing just like 'How are you going to feed the baby? Are you going to breast-feed or not?' I said I don't know and I gritted my teeth and she said the baby will love you for it. I couldn't believe it. I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT.
"I think when you become pregnant you give up a lot of your dignity. At the end of nine months you're kind of exposed to the world. It's like you're the little mother. I'm very annoyed by people who condescendingly refer to me as the little mother. I've been on my own since I was 17. I don't enjoy being patted on the head or having people say you have that glow about you, like it's an existential religious experience. I hate it. For the normal woman who is kind of conservative and straightlaced to be pregnant today is truly horrendous experience . . . . The last thing I want to talk about with people I work with is breast-feeding and how I'm going to deliver.
"People say the most astonishing things to me, like 'Hey, when the little bugger starts moving, can we all come and feel your stomach?' What possesses people? They lose all of their tactfulness."
Pregnancy, she has decided, it not what she expected it to be. She is bigger than she thought she would be, she tires easily and her husband has not lived up to the Hollywood image of solicitous, if nervous, expectant fathers. "I always thought my husband would be kind and wait on me and bring me drinks and say don't make dinner tonight. But nothing. He helps me when I ask him, but picking up dishes after dinner, doing the laundry, walkng the dog, taking out the garbage, I do that. I resent the fact that I'm losing my stamina and my energy and I can't do a lot. I get mad because my husband didn't know he should come out into the kitchen and take the garbage out. He's never been through having someone being pregnant before and I guess he thinks there's nothing abnormal going on."
Then there is the matter of her size. "It really hurt me when I started to show and people would say, 'God, you're getting big,'" she says."I think maybe they've never seen a pregnant woman before, but these are full-grown adults. I guess people don't think about what they're saying. They just blunder out with it."
"The other standard question, you cannot get away from is 'What do you want, a boy or a girl?' Doesn't everyone always say it doesn't matter as long as it's healthy? No one ever says 'I want a boy,'" she says.
This woman wants to continue working until the baby is born because she wants to use her maternity leave after the baby is here, not before. "It's going to be worse during the last month," she says. "It's nice that people take an interest in you. They just don't understand that it's the kind of thing you're asked constantly, all of the time, for months. It truly tests the limits of your graciousness."
"The nice things people say far outweigh the awkward things," says another pregnant woman who is expecting her third child, and has been through two corporate pregnancies. "I try to have a sense of humor about it. I've had some really terrible things said to me, though. Like, 'What, again? Don't you have a bunch of kids? I think people mean to acknowledge your condition, but instead of saving congratulations or you're looking lovely, they pick things like 'What have you been up to ?' or 'Don't you watch TV?' Someone said -- and it really stopped me in my tracks -- 'You're in a mess. Don't you have two already?'
"They just feel they have to say something and they don't have to say something at all. 'How are you?' will suffice."
It really would.