These days, it is an overwhelming experience to be in public. At 30 weeks pregnant, I am hard to miss. Yet, I am so easily missed. I am never in-between. Many folks have transformed me into a vessel – simply a body carrying a baby. So I am cooed at, told how cute I am. People also have lost their sense of boundaries. Many say “You are so big!”, “Are you about to pop?”, “Are you sure there aren’t two in there?”, “You are certainly ready!”
But the most common question I get is ” How are you feeling?” I am asked this nearly ten, twenty times a day. I struggle with this question, because it’s not presented to want to hear the joys happening in my body, but it’s always asked with implied concern. This question assumes that I am feeling something other than joy. People want to know what ails me, as people often find connection by commiserating experiences. But, pregnancy is an experience I choose to embrace as a miracle, a gift to and from my body, a connection to our larger whole as people. I think it’s beautiful and most of the time I feel supernatural, miraculous, living my destiny. The best part of my day is when others see this in me. When someone simply says “You look gorgeous” or “How beautiful.” My partner once said to me, “You are exactly what you should be right now, you are perfect.”
This need to connect over negative shared experiences feels so unnatural. And I feel pressure to share my woes in order to have connection. Isn’t that how we do that these days? Listening to our discontent, unhappiness, what ails us? When you stand in line at the grocery store, the person in front of you or behind you wants to chat, but only about the person in line taking too long, or the slowness of the cashier. I admit that I too participate sometimes, because life has moments of frustration. But I want to be better, I want to be the person who when someone asks me “How are you feeling?”, I answer with “I’m experiencing pure joy and love. I feel blessed to grow this human who I know is going to be incredible, full of light and hope, and who will step into this world to make it better.”
For now I simply answer “I feel pregnant,” because it has no attached emotion. I am working to find confidence in my narrative, but also am trying to ignore the need for negative interactions. I want my child to see this. That you can avoid a negative narrative, that you can stay in your humanity no matter the feelings of others around you. This is an important skill that I fear we have let go. And for those of us that want to avoid negative, instead of engaging in the positive, we avoid people all together.
Which brings me to the second part of my everyday experience – that most of the world ignores me. I am round, hard to miss, yet I am bumped into, pushed, doors slammed in my face, you name it. And let me first say, that this is a typical experience of being in the world for me and for many. When I was younger, and smaller in size, my body was sexualized, ogled at, treated as a commodity. Now as an adult, I have simply blurred into the larger mass of people, completely invisible to most. But being pregnant I am hyperaware of my needs, of protecting this growing being in my body – I am becoming more cognizant and baffled by humanity when it comes to being in public.
In my two pregnancies, I have ridden public transportation a couple of times. Once was two days ago. That morning, I rode into town with my partner who aided in shuffling me on the train and blocking a seat so I could sit down. Coming home, I was on my own. I told myself, this is an experiment in humanity. Who will choose to see me? And when I say “see me”, I simply meant who will look at another person for all of their being rather than choosing to ignore their presence.
Walking down the steps to the train, one person ran up the stairs next to me and hit me pretty hard with their bag. They didn’t stop, nor did anyone say anything. This is not the first time I have been bumped while pregnant, I saw it coming and at least blocked my belly. Standing waiting for the train, I thought, “let me relieve people of the burden of having to consider giving up their seat and instead get on first so I can just get a seat.” When the train pulled up, a woman older than me cut in front of me and pushed her way onto the train. The people she pushed through then did not move for me. I had to ask them to move twice but ended up bumping them with my belly anyhow because they failed to notice that I needed the extra space.
When I got on , there were no seats. So I stood and wondered if anyone was going to look up from their phones. I was surrounded by people of all different ages, genders, race, and no one looked up. After about thirty seconds, a young girl looked up from her phone and gave me her seat. She couldn’t have been more than 16 years old. The people to the left and right of me didn’t move so I could sit in-between. So I sat awkwardly with my belly on my lap, shoulders hunched forward. When I looked across from me, there she was – the woman who pushed in front of me to get on the train. She was in a seat. She never looked at another person and certainly not me the entire train ride. I was just so struck by this. Being surrounded by so many humans and no human interaction.
Towards the end of the ride, two young girls were talking about the tv show Empire and what had happened on the episode that week. Even though it was all spoilers, I spent the rest of the ride listening to them. They were replaying the drama, the humor, the story. They were engaging and I wished I was sitting next to them to engage too.
The irony is that these young people are often considered a burden to adults. They are seen as a nuisance when they talk out loud on the train, or goodness if they’re even laughing. They don’t show their exuberance to be irritating, but perhaps it’s just their inherent joy. And we silence it, tell them to be quiet or not to be so loud. Of all of the times I have been on a public train while pregnant, two people have offered me a seat, both young people – both noticing me and my needs before any adult. We blame them for a society consumed by technology. But what I saw this day and most days, is that these young people are holding tight to their humanity while navigating this world, and doing it much better than we adults.
When did we lose this? At what age do we give up? It’s like we’re resigned to unhappiness, choosing to not see the world, to ignore others, to dismiss humanity.
We have to stop asking our young people to do the same. We have to show our kids that our inherent humanity is key to changing this world for the better.
I recently joked about how my daughter stares at people when we go out to eat. She gets so engulfed in other people that I have to regularly remind her to eat. I try to not ask her “not to stare”. In fact, I never say that anymore. I want her to take in the world around her, to see people for all of who they are. I want her to ask questions, to smile at others if she so chooses, and to laugh if she overhears a funny joke. If I teach her to stop looking, to stop seeing, she’ll never see the world for what it is. She’ll exist in her own bubble, one of advantage, whiteness, comfort. She’ll fail to connect with other people, find laughter, love, kindness.
We recently met up at a friend’s house and she played with another child a little older than her. This child was filled with energy. I’d be lying if I didn’t have a moment of feeling concern for my fellow parent. But I quickly snapped myself out of it to see this child having the time of her life – exploring, laughing, playing, connecting, finding happiness. She exuded an abundance of joy. When we were leaving, my daughter said, “I love her, she is so funny and so crazy.” I responded with, “Yes, she was so full of happiness.” My daughter then responded “Yes, Mommy, and she made me full of happiness.”
Joy. As caregivers, we see it in our kids. We even experience it. We need to hold onto it, or rediscover it. We need to do this for ourselves. Our humanity depends on it.