Week 17: Honor curiosity

"A man wearing a ridiculously long wig pointing accusingly to a young pregnant woman, another man sits with his back to them." |  Wellcome Collection

"A man wearing a ridiculously long wig pointing accusingly to a young pregnant woman, another man sits with his back to them." | Wellcome Collection

Throughout most of this pregnancy calendar, we're focusing on resources to make you a better researcher and critical thinker, which will in turn make you a better parent. But we also need to think about you talk to strangers, those people who were content to ignore you only a few weeks ago but who now seem magnetically drawn to your now-visible baby bump.

You're confident your order is safe, but the barista tells you she won’t serve you because that tall latte might hurt the baby. A fellow restaurant patron interrupts your dinner to discourage you from eating sushi while pregnant. A baby superstore clerk confronts you about the possible hazards posed by each item your spouse scans with the registry gun, as well as the registry gun. Don't you know that those can cause cancer? 

As soon as there is public evidence that you’ll soon have a child, you’ll be the recipient of many opinions. Your response to those opinions might be to pen an open letter ridiculing the intrusive stranger who offered advice you didn't ask for. But as fun as it is to respond with pregnancy comebacks, there may be a few good reasons to brush off any commentary you receive about pregnancy and childbirth. 

Treating all but the most intrusive grabby strangers as merely curious can help make your daily encounters more pleasant for you. A pregnancy is a visual clue to what’s going on in your life, and suggests an opening for conversation. It's okay that they are curious about the sex of the baby, or your due date, or whether you're carrying twins. It's good that humans are curious. 

We tend to treat children as thoughtful, curious people deserving of thoughtful, curious responses. We hear questions like “Why is it called a raspberry?” “Why are tomatoes red?” “Why can’t we buy that toy? “How did a baby get in that lady’s tummy?” “Why don’t you have a penis?” Responding to these questions with “What do you think?” prevents parents from serving as walking encyclopedias. More importantly, this question is a pause that allows a little more insight into the motivation behind the question. A child who asks "What happens when we die?" might not actually want the metaphysical discussion of the afterlife you just launched into, but instead a reminder of what the word "cemetery" means. 

We'd do well to treat inquisitive strangers the same way we treat children with questions. In both cases, we have an opportunity to engage and educate. When a person asks you why you’re drinking that glass of wine, you can turn the question back to them with “What makes you ask that?” or a snark-less “What do you think?” Your response allows the stranger to offer additional information to connect with you. Maybe that person is genuinely interested in knowing what the risks of drinking wine during pregnancy are. Maybe that person read a news article about why it’s okay to drink a glass of wine and wants to tell you about it. Who knows? Everyone might learn something. 

Unexpected conversation is one thing, but what about uninvited touching? I'd say that the general rule still applies: treat curious adult strangers much as you would curious children. We teach children to respect bodily autonomy, so we should teach adults to do the same thing. 

I can confirm that recoiling and screaming is a useful strategy for deflecting unwanted baby bump touching. It can also be a useful way to teach strangers about umbilical hernias.

If you can't pull off the scream, there are plenty of other options. You could tell people that you baby bump is not a basketball, and ask them to stop dribbling. If you find yourself enraged beyond words, there's always the No Touchy spray bottle.