Sometimes it can seem that pregnancy automatically puts your body in the spotlight for others to comment on. Emma Fahy explores 'bump invasion' and what to do when your bump becomes public property.
Is the world obsessed with baby bumps? It certainly seems so! It seems that a pregnant belly is exempt from the general laws of personal space, instead, screaming, "pat me!" While you would never go up to a random person in the street and pat him or her on the head, or shoulder, or, indeed, tummy, the presence of a small person inside said tummy tells us it's okay to poke, prod, and otherwise fawn over it as if it were quite removed from the person it is actually attached to.
Who are the worst culprits when it comes to bump invasion? generally women (which is just as well - the dad-to-be might not take too kindly to another man moving in on his territory!), and the older we get, the worse we behave. It's almost as if time erodes our own memories of how much we disliked strangers handling our baby bumps, leaving us prime candidates for committing the same offence ourselves. Younger women who are yet to have babies are also fond of rubbing the belly - perhaps as some sort of fertility idol?
While it may be comforting to have your partner put his hand on your belly to feel the baby kicking, or your midwife palpating your middle to feel the position of your baby, the same endearment doesn't extend to random people - the old lady in the supermarket, great aunty Ethel, or the lady next door who's had six babies and knows all there is to know about bumps and such things.
It's not just touching the bump that is a problem. In addition to the need to touch the bump, society also deems it appropriate to make comments on the size of the bump. Again, this seems to be an "only during pregnancy" thing - it wouldn't be polite to comment on the size of a woman's belly were she not pregnant, no one likes to be reminded that they've eaten too many pies!
I remember at antenatal classes the inevitable comparison of bumps, perfectly acceptable when you have a group of women together who are all due around the same time. The difference in bumps was amazing: Some looked as if they'd swallowed a basketball, others as if they had a camel's hump on their belly, and a few, like myself, barely looked pregnant at all. Yet despite this obviously huge range of "normal", it seems that the perfect bump is elusive - no matter what the size or shape of your bump, or how close you are to the big day, your bump is always "rather big" or "not showing very much".
I took great delight in shocking people when I was pregnant with my twins. Growing two babies at once is hard work, so watching people's faces when they contemplated my impressive belly offered some light relief. Once, when I was around 25 weeks or so, a lady in a store asked me if I'd considered the possibility that I might be having twins, based solely on the size of my belly. I'll admit to being a little facetious - "really? I hadn't even thought of THAT!" By the time they were born, I was almost too scared to leave the house - my bump was so impressive that, when grocery shopping the day before I gave birth, the checkout supervisor insisted I sit down for fear my babies would be born on the floor in the frozen foods department.
But despite being a victim of bump invasion myself, I do find myself tempted, or even compelled to comment on my friend's baby bellies. A friend who is rather small-boned and is lucky enough to have a tiny but perfectly round bump, recently told me how tired she is of people commenting on how small she is for dates, yet the first thing I find myself saying every time I see her is, "gosh, you haven't grown much, have you?"
In my defence, I haven't yet found myself guilty of mauling other women's bumps, although I suspect that is more to do with my own personal boundaries - I'm not a touchy-feely person by nature - than any great effort of my own.
So what to do about the bump invaders? I've seen some great T-shirts with slogans like "hands off the bump" and "talk to the bump", which get the message across pretty succinctly. If you're not into the blunt approach, you could always edge carefully back into your own personal space and subtly change the subject. Or do what I did and have a wee giggle at someone else's expense: "no, I'm not pregnant, I've just really been enjoying my food lately" is bound to send would-be bump invaders scuttling away scarlet-cheeked after they commented on the size of your expanding belly!
And if you really can't get away from the bump invaders, take heart. One day, you'll be on the other side of the coin!
Emma Fahy is the former OHbaby! website editor and mum to four girls. By the time her twins were born, her baby bump was measuring an impressive 52 weeks pregnant. She says unsolicited comments about her bump helped prepare her for the unsolicited parenting advice she got after her babies arrived - but that's a whole 'nother story!