Let it never be said that New Yorkers aren’t polite. Ever since my belly really popped over the last month or so, strangers have been showing the kind of consideration that would bring tears to your eyes.
At some point I started counting the folks who stood up for me on the subway and keeping track of demographic information, because it was fascinating. Here are the stats so far:
MEN OF COLOR: 7
WOMEN OF COLOR: 3
WHITE MEN: 2 (both foreigners–one Russian it seemed like, one European)
WHITE WOMEN: 1
The one white woman may not even count, since she didn’t actually get up or offer me her seat; when a seat opened and we were both standing near it, she asked if I would like to take it. But it feels nicer to say 1 than 0. The men of color have been black, Hispanic, and, as of today, South Asian/Middle Eastern (I couldn’t really tell and certainly couldn’t ask). Almost all of them have been young. Another black guy not counted here also put up his hands to steady me at one point when it looked like I might fall. I smiled at him in thanks and he nodded seriously like some kind of mid-century superhero just doing his duty.
This may be the best unexpected pregnancy perk: The random, sweet interactions with strangers with whom I would otherwise have no reason to even make eye contact.
If you had asked me what I thought the demographics of this kind of courtesy would look like, I would have been entirely wrong, because I would have guessed that the people most likely to notice and offer assistance would be the people most likely to identify with me in some way. Instead, it’s been the opposite. Apart from the one white girl who only sort of counts, so far, my experience has been that the surest route to remaining on my feet in the train is to plant those feet in front of someone who looks like me. That’s pretty sobering. It makes me reflect back on my own train behavior. I have given up my seat, because my father set that kind of example for me growing up (he helped women carry baby-strollers and always held doors) but on lots of rides, I’ve also been so absorbed in whatever I was reading that I barely noticed what station we were at, let alone who standing in front of me may have needed my seat more than I did.
For now, I almost always smile and shake my head at the person trying to get me to sit, because I’m still feeling fine — walking briskly, going to the gym, wearing regular shoes. There’s no reason I need to sit down. As the summer gets hotter and this planet inside me expands further, I’ll have to adjust; but I don’t want to take advantage of anyone’s kindness before I have to.
That the kindness exists, though, makes me swell with joy.
Thank God for What to Expect When You’re Expecting! Without their daily emails, I would only spend one out of four minutes every day worried about body image and the bizarre physical manifestations of pregnancy; thanks to their constant carping on issues of weight, however, that increases to one out of three.
Here are some other [points] that might motivate you to keep your eye on the scale — and your hands out of the cookie jar (unless, of course, you’ve wisely stocked the cookie jar with soy chips).
Reader, I love you, and I even love potato chip substitutes, but if you keep a cookie jar in your house filled with soy chips, I will plant a bomb under your carriage and you will go up in flames like Archduke Ferdinand.*
*Fascinating historical note: the Archduke never did go up in flames. I just learned, doing some cursory research, that although bombs were thrown at Franz’s carriage, the assassins were incredibly inept, and none of the bombs managed to do the intended damage.
According to Wikipedia, “The motorcade passed the first assassin, Mehmedbašić. Danilo Ilić had placed him in front of the garden of the Mostar Cafe and armed him with a bomb.Mehmedbašić failed to act. Ilić placed Vaso Čubrilović next to Mehmedbašić, arming him with a pistol and a bomb. He too failed to act. Further along the route, Ilić placed Nedeljko Čabrinović on the opposite side of the street near the Miljacka River arming him with a bomb. At 10:10 am, Franz Ferdinand’s car approached and Čabrinović threw his bomb. The bomb bounced off the folded back convertible cover into the street. The bomb’s timed detonator caused it to explode under the next car, putting that car out of action, leaving a 1-foot-diameter (0.30 m), 6.5-inch-deep (170 mm) crater, and wounding a total of 20 people according to Reuters.
Čabrinović swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the Miljacka river. Čabrinović’s suicide attempt failed as the cyanide only induced vomiting, and the Miljacka was only five inches deep. Police dragged Čabrinović out of the river, and he was severely beaten by the crowd before being taken into custody.”
Franz was shaken up but all right. He went about his business, complaining a little (and who can blame him?) about the attempted murder. Then, however, he echoed the mistake made by so many heroines in horror movies: HE WENT BACK INTO THE HOUSE. Er, well, car, in this case. That is like if the bullet had missed JFK and he decided to just keep joy-riding through Dallas to feel the wind in his hair. Sure enough, that decision was the death of him and the start of World War I: he was shot to death on the road.
Back to fat and how bad it is. Perhaps you were unaware, you fat fatty, that fat is bad, perhaps because you missed your regularly scheduled Fat Shaming Class or didn’t you do your reading on the Obesity Epidemic. Let’s go over the high points, shall we?
Excess weight gain increases your risk for developing hypertension and diabetes — both of which make your pregnancy much harder to manage, while creating risks for your baby. The heavier you are, the more likely your baby is to be larger, increasing the odds that a vaginal delivery will require the use of forceps or vacuum. That’s if you can deliver vaginally at all, since being overweight increases your chances of delivering by C-section — which makes for a more difficult recovery after your baby is born.
Obesity and ongoing health issues: Gain too much weight and you’re likely to retain twice as much after your baby is born than you would have if you gained within the guidelines. And if you think all you need is time and willpower to lose the extra fat, research has weighed in with a different idea: Women who gain excessively and don’t lose the extra weight within six months after the birth are at a much higher risk of being obese ten years later. Obesity often leads to significant health issues, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease.
YOUR FAT WILL LEAD TO DEATH AND SHAME, not necessarily in that order, so get it together, you fat fatty! What defines a fat fatty, by the way? So glad you asked. “If you’ve been instructed to gain the standard 25-to-35-pound total in your pregnancy [i.e., by 22 weeks, or five-and-a-half-months], by this week you’re likely to have gained anywhere from ten to 16 of those pounds.”
Here is a picture of Nicole Ritchie at around 22 weeks. If that represents a weight gain of only 10-16 lbs, I’ll buy a hat just so I can eat it.
What to Expect is saying you should strive to be thinner than NICOLE RITCHIE. And look at that picture! You can still see her ribs!
Say you haven’t managed to restrict your gain to only 10-16 lbs at this stage of pregnancy. What should you do to avoid the terrible fate outlined above? Now that you’ve larded your body with all this extra fat that’s going to ensure that you’ll have a C-section and be obese forever until you die young and your corpse has to be airlifted out of your bedroom with a crane, how can you rid yourself of those pounds? TOO BAD, SUCKER. You can’t. As the email goes on to note in a parenthetical, “losing weight is always a bad idea when you’re pregnant.”
Thank you, What to Expect. I will be forwarding all further correspondence to the dumpster, where it belongs. In the future, I will be getting my health news and information from Gretchen Reynolds and the NYT.
NOTE: Because I am as vain and neurotic as the next person, I feel the need to mention that I have not actually gone off the deep end, weight-wise. But what if I had? Or what if I do soon? What if other people getting this email have been trying their hardest and yet have been putting on more weight than they would have liked? These kinds of emails are gross and unhelpful. Fat shaming is not productive, not even when it comes from a “good” place, as these pieces of advice ostensibly do.
Pregnancy has turned me into a baby. For stretches of time, all I want to do is eat, sleep, and cry. My needs feel impossible to articulate, so I wave my tiny fists in the air with impotent frustration, until someone holds me and I sniffle a little and am comforted.
Who said “second childishness” comes only with old age? (That’s a rhetorical question: I know who.)
“At 18 weeks pregnant, your baby is hitting the height chart at five and a half inches long and weighs about five ounces (the weight of that boneless chicken breast you’re making for dinner).”
Hahahahha yes! Boneless chicken breast! That’s exactly what I’m making for dinner, because I am a non-vegan, fetus-carrying version of Gwyneth Paltrow. No way will I be stumbling home from the gym and heating up some frozen Trader Joe’s entree in the microwave. Similarly, no way did I go to Five Guys for lunch today to satisfy a serious craving for french fries.
My favorite “What to Expect” tidbit was actually meant for the male half of the couple, and it said, “Soon you’ll see whether she’s carrying Daddy’s Little Princess or Daddy’s Little Slugger.” These were the options! I was like, man, what if I want a Jewish baby? Or at least one that’s not quite so aggressively gendered? Why not just tell me I get to have either a He-Man or a She-Ra?
Speaking of gender, people keep misusing that word. No one wants to say “sex,” possibly because it will remind me of what got me into this pickle. So people insist on asking, “When will you find out the gender?” I’m tempted to answer, “Oh, when squee* is in middle school, maybe, or goes through puberty–whichever comes first.” Since I’m not an asshole, though, and because being outraged all the time is exhausting, I answer the question they mean to ask and tell them, At the Week 20 Anatomy Screening, coming up soon!
It will be pretty exciting, if only because Mr. Ben and I get to narrow down names. No, I’m not sharing the options as they currently exist. Okay, fine, but keep it a secret, okay? We’re thinking Vanilla Lacrosse Galynker for a boy (“Nill” for short) and Raisinette Aloha Bloom for a girl. Or vice versa, whatever.
Back to the point: I have become a baby–selfish, emotional, needy, uncommunicative–but the world, sadly, is not baby-proofed. I still have to ride the rush-hour Q train every day, pressed up against people who are singing along to whatever’s playing too loudly on their iPods. Meetings at work are still mandatory. (Sadly, I can’t suddenly shout, “The baby doesn’t like it!” and walk away from unpleasant situations, as one good friend suggested.)
And art is not a reliable escape. Anne Lamott’s new memoir about becoming a grandmother, Some Assembly Required, could have been an adorable, stress-relieving bedtime book. Instead, its vivid, horrific description of pregnancy, labor, delivery, and early motherhood sent me down a panic spiral last night that left me hyperventilating on the floor by the bathroom. And the intense Iranian drama A Separationis a great film, but its plot hinges on a 2nd-trimester miscarriage. (Surprise!) I gotta improve my screening process.
Just over 17 weeks down; 23-ish to go. There’s still time to get the hang of things.
FRIEND, PHD: hunger relates to calories needed vs calories consumed. ME: yeah, but calories burned => calories needed. we don’t burn calories sitting at our desks! FRIEND, PHD: if you are gestating a baby presumably you do. ME: presumaly, cuz otherwise, this [i.e., eating like a Sumo wrestler in training for a marathon] is ridiculous. FRIEND, PHD: maybe the baby is more of a manual laborer type, not a diaspora Jew ME: hee! or a little sabra in training. FRIEND, PHD: exactly. farming the land inside you, building towers and stockades, fighting off the natives, etc. that takes calories. ME: fleeing cossacks, crossing the seas … FRIEND, PHD: right, maybe it is fleeing persecution. let’s not assume it has already achieved proud sovereignty in its homeland. ME: the story usually begins with trauma and adversity, the overcoming of which brings the emigrant to the holy land FRIEND, PHD: that’s the typical teleology! ME: and prepares him/her for the toil of settling this new empty* barren country FRIEND, PHD: nowhere in this story is there a desk job at a nice American Jewish foundation. ME: that’s several generations later. why am i giving birth to the past, anyway? FRIEND, PHD: ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny ME: sesquipedalianism obfuscates pellucidity FRIEND, PHD: shut up ME: my journalism teacher in HS had that on her wall 🙂 FRIEND, PHD: no, but really! don’t you remember that from high school bio? ME: OH PLEASE FRIEND, PHD: I think that was actually very clever of me, if I don’t say so myself. the development of the fetus somehow mimics the status of human evolution from fish to human, or amoeba to human. ontogeny = fetal development, phylogeny = development of the species. recapitulates = looks something like. ME: uh huh. FRIEND, PHD: i.e., your fetus first has to flee the Cossacks before it can work at [your small Jewy nonprofit]!
Be that as it may, although there are pregnancy resources up the wazoo, I haven’t found anything to help me deal with the fact that suddenly, under these circumstances, big does not equal bad. Having a belly has been a source of shame since I was little. Once, I remember, I was looking in the mirror in my bedroom and my mom came in. “Look, Mommy, I have a belly!” I said. “I know,” she said. “That’s because you don’t exercise.”
A fixation on appearance — specifically, wanting to be slim down as far as possible — is a common affliction among women in my cohort. That being the case, why isn’t there more attention drawn to the fact that it’s destabilizing to get pregnant, wake up every morning feeling like a stray dog who hasn’t eaten in weeks, and visibly expand? It’s just so strange. Suddenly, I’m supposed to listen to my body and eat what it wants. (Up to and including two  cheeseburgers, my first since I was 13.) When my pants start feeling tight, that’s a good thing. When I look down and see the beginnings of a dome, I’m supposed to rejoice. I keep thinking, “Really?”
I’ve been sucking in my stomach since high school and now I’m supposed to throw my shoulders back and bear my belly proudly. The cognitive dissonance is intense, and it’s taking me time to adjust.
I’ve crossed the Rubicon into the 2nd trimester of pregnancy, and the Hairpin is throwing me a coming out party! Read all about the travails of the 1st trimester, including trans-vaginal ultrasounds, on the Hairpin(but, um, maybe finish eating lunch first):
“The trans-vaginal ultrasound wand really is as big as they say: faced with one, I flashed back to the scene in Marla Singer’s apartment in Fight Club where, sitting on her dresser, there is a dildo of unusual size. Tyler Durden may not have been daunted in the moment, but, eyeing the wand, I was. Before I could say anything, though, the doctor squirted the length of it with unromantic-looking blue lube and thrust it inside me. …”
And yes, this is why I haven’t been blogging! It’s so exciting to be able to talk about how horrifying and hilarious this process has been. Now that I’m safely in the 2nd trimester, the story-telling can resume.