As any pregnancy book will tell you, there are many things that lie in store for those who are with child. A daunting list, perhaps, given that piles, varicose veins and constipation are the recurring themes in every tome I’ve ever read. But on most fronts I guess I got lucky, so I shouldn’t complain.
One thing, however, no manual cared to mention — the fact that the second your stomach starts to swell, you become fair game for passing comment from the world, his wife and his second cousin once removed. It is almost as though a doctrine has been issued from on high: “And verily, it has been decreed that any person who crosses your path has divine right to pass judgment upon mother and/or child.”
Tact and sensitivity fly straight out the window. Take the time my boss shouted to a crowded office: “Guess what everyone — she’s not fat after all. She’s pregnant.”
Then there was the neighbour’s drinks party when, with four months to go, I declined hard liquor with a coy pat of my blossoming belly. It was only later that my host came rushing over calling (loudly) “Oh, I seeeee. You’re pregnant. It’s just I never really thought of you as thin…”
Nor did it stop with the birth — the focus of the ribald remarks simply switched to my bouncing bundle of joy. “Hasn’t she got a big round face? Just like you” — the neighbour again. We are thinking of moving.
I wonder — would you walk up to a teenager in the street and say: “Sorry about the acne, love. Give it a couple of years and it’ll pass”?
No, I didn’t think so.
And yet people I have never seen before in my life have stopped me in Tesco to tut at my infant offspring’s milk spots, shaking their heads sagely while muttering things like: “What a shame.”
My experience this past year has made me quite the authority on the interpretation of the backhanded compliment. Allow me to demonstrate:
What They Say (What They Mean)
“Oh, isn’t she bonny?” (“She’s fat.”)
“How old? Ooh, she looks older!” (“She’s fat”)
“Look at those cheeks.” (“She’s fat.”)
“Isn’t she big for her age?” (“She’s fat.”)
“Ooh, aren’t you chubby?” (“She is FAT and what sort of mother do you think you are, feeding her so much junk?”)
Just for the record let me state that, a) she’s not, and b) I’m a loving mother who adheres strictly to a healthy, balanced and organic diet, thank you.
While I have learned not to take what people say at face value, it has become ever more apparent that there’s nowt so queer as folk. A week or two back, my gorgeous girl — dressed head to toe in fuchsia — was ambushed by a posse of blue-rinsed octogenarians.
“Oooh, what a lovely little fellow,” cooed one.
“What’s his name?” asked another.
We duly replied.
“What a funny name for a boy,” was their only response.
As one who is still scarred from being called “sonny” at the age of seven (and I was wearing a skirt at the time), I figure we’re going to have to go with powder pink and frills until she grows bosoms large enough to allay any ambiguity.
But then there is the good side too: the times when complete strangers stop in the street to admire my girl’s big blue eyes, her blonde (ish) curls, her heart-stopping smile.
Best of all, perhaps, was a recent stroll in the park. A three-year-old boy scooted past at great speed — then reversed for a quick “Hello cute baby” before wheeling off into the distance. Two foot nothing he might have been, but he sure put a smile on this proud mother’s face.