It starts early.
It can happen anywhere.
It could come from anyone.
Unsolicited parental advice and “mommy judgement” are just a few of the annoying pregnancy symptoms you’ll have to deal with, and unfortunately, probably some you weren’t expecting or were ever warned about.
So I’m here to fill you in on a little secret: your baby bump will be like a bat signal shining on the smoggy skyline of Gotham to every parent–and curiously, some people who are not yet parents–who think they’ve got it all figured out. These people are way worse than the belly rubbers. Belly rubbers seem to be nice people who pretty must just relish the thought of babies, so I don’t want to murder them quite as much. (Except when they touch my belly-button, that’s a no-fly zone.)
But you can bet that anytime a stranger casts a sideways glance at your swollen abdomen, you’re about to get questioned. Some will be polite, others…more to the point.
Take this experience, for example. I ran into a friend of mine at a restaurant a few weeks ago. He was smiling, rubbing the belly, going through the niceties. I noticed in the background that a male acquaintance of mine that I’d run into occasionally at a previous job was watching. He must have seen my “condition” and called out over our conversation, “You married yet?!” I pretended not to hear him, as I didn’t feel the need to address this question to him, nor anyone else within earshot so I continued talking to my actual friend. Not to be deterred, the acquaintance repeated his question, loudly. My friend and I exchanged an awkward laugh, at which point I told him that no, I hadn’t tied the knot yet. Cue the tight-lipped nod and eyebrow raise. This uncomfortable interaction continued whilst I waited for my food, but I took relief in the fact that he had changed the subject to his many ex’s and how they had all failed in one way or another since moving on from him. However, as I paid for my lackluster pork, he decided to ask what church I frequent. As most people who know me have already figured out at this point, I do not attend church, and therefore told him so. With a shake of his head, and a finger pointed at my chest, he explained that, “You NEED to go to church.” Oh, right. Because of the whole child-out-of-wedlock thing! Guess I better go ahead and sneak in there now since the deed is already done and try to save some face, right? I explained to him that I was more of a “science person,” and that probably wasn’t going to happen.
For another example, I give you today’s interaction. Most things I do now revolve around food, so this took place in another restaurant near my office. I had come to obtain my bacon and eggs, when a gentleman turned to me and asked if I knew if I was expecting a boy or girl yet. I explained we were expecting our little girl, and he naturally asks when, is it my first, do we have any names, etc. Everything was going well, and I found him to be rather pleasant. So when he turned to me very seriously, and pointed (What’s with the authoritative Christian pointing?!) to say, “Keep her in the Church!” I was caught a little off-guard. It’s not as if this is an offensive request in itself, I understand the meaning behind it. He’s ultimately saying, “Raise her with some values and she won’t turn out like Miley Cyrus,” but it’s the attitude behind it that I find striking. The way it is said in command, rather than request. The assumption that this is the way all people should be raising their children, and those who don’t are not doing right by them. I let out a nervous laugh because I couldn’t bring myself to lie and say, “Okay! Haha Boy, do we WANT TO DO THAT!!” I just said, “And school, of course!” I think he could tell that I was disengaged at that point, and he left it alone.
To many people raised in our little corner of the world, these types of statements seem neither offensive nor out of the ordinary. But, if you take it at more than face value, you can see the issue. When things like this are said to me, I feel like it’s glaringly obvious to them that I don’t have a ring on my finger. I feel like I look young, inexperienced, lost and in need of direction. Truthfully, it makes me feel shame. I feel pressured into renewing a relationship with God and starting one for my daughter so that we can find salvation for my “mistake.” Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe I should take it at face value. But as someone who is happy and secure in my relationship with my partner, and looking very much forward to raising a child with him, I find it troubling when it is suggested I do things differently than what I’m comfortable with.
Interestingly, it is almost always men that ask about my relationship status and my church attendance. I’m not sure what the correlation is there. Maybe it’s just because boys around here are often taught that if you get a girl pregnant, you do the “right thing” and make her “an honest woman.” So those issues might be more relevant to men. Women, on the other hand, are perfectly content judging you on practically anything else! Hah.
In a country as child-obsessed as our own, none of your parenting ideals are sacred and above review. You want to breastfeed? It is likely you’ll hear another woman in a haughty tone say, “Well, I never did, and my children turned out just fine!” Listen ladies who didn’t breastfeed–that is not a swipe at you! Just a personal choice that I’m interested in. On the other hand, and perhaps more commonly, saying you don’t want to breastfeed in front of a woman who’s very passionate about it can mean getting verbally chastised and more statistics thrown at you than you can even comprehend. You want to try cloth diapers? Clearly, that’s unnecessary and I can just about guarantee you’ll get a response like, “Chyeah. Let me know how THAT works out for you!” Then, some things can get down-right personal. “You went to which doctor?! Oh no! Let me schedule you an appointment with Dr. So&So. She’s a GENIUS!” “I thought you weren’t supposed to have caffeine while you’re pregnant?” “You should really be walking more.” “Are you watching your sodium intake?” “Don’t you think that outfit is a little ridiculous for a newborn?” “CAN YOU PLEASE JUSTIFY ALL THE MISTAKES I MADE AS A PARENT BY LETTING ME PASS JUDGEMENT ON YOU?!”
It’s enough to make ya crazy, folks. If you decided to breed, let it be known that every decision you make may come under scrutiny, and be prepared to either walk away with a new-found stick of contempt up your ass, or defend your personal choices.
So, if I may, allow me to chip in my unsolicited parental advice:
1) Pick your battles. Some things aren’t worth defending to people you don’t know. On the other hand, sometimes we need to adjust others’ perspectives of us. With a fist is optional, of course.
2) Don’t stress over it. Your child will love you if you love it. Your child will forgive you the “mistakes” you think you’ve made if you nurture it. They will not call you in high school and complain they got a low grade on the ACT because you bought processed baby food instead of steam-mashing your own peas in a sterilized jar.
3) Let it out. Vent your frustrations to people close to you. They will help you see the ridiculousness in all the demands that are being made of you. They’ll let you talk about how men stare at your jiggling stomach now instead of your cleavage and how weird that is. They’ll let you cry, when it gets too much. And you know what else? They’ll annoy you, too. But they’re the ones you’ll need the most.
4) Admit you’re not perfect. You’re not gonna get it all right. You’re going to slip up and ingest something you probably shouldn’t have. You’re going to gain a pound or two more than you’d hoped. You’ll probably leave something out of your hospital bag. There’s going to be something you forgot to buy until you realized you really needed it. There will be something you do that makes you feel guilty as a mother. But you need to anticipate these things, and learn to roll with it. If you’re already worried about it, you’re already a great mom. Just don’t obsess, and give yourself a break.
And that’s all I have for you, ladies and gentleman. I woke up this morning with these thoughts on my mind and considered blogging about it. My breakfast experience earlier solidified my idea to do so. I did this for other girls, to be a bit satirical, and also for myself. I need to remember that I can’t control everything and have it perfect before Kairi gets here, and that people are always going to take issue with one thing or another. But Caleb and I have the power to make our own decisions about our family, and I will stick by them with pride. In the meantime, I’ll continue dodging eye-roll-worth questions while I get bigger and bigger in anticipation of her arrival!