Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hi, I'm the least threatening person you know!

As a white woman without multiple visible tattoos, I was pretty used to appearing approachable to the general population. I visited Australian schools often in my role at TA and though I always followed school protocols for signing in as a visitor at the head office, no one at the schools seemed to question for an instant my right to be there. I truly believe that if you look the part and act like you belong, you can slip in almost anywhere. I knew that I wasn't a crazy lady, but did the schools really know that?
Would you talk to this woman?

Anyway, I've recently learned that pregnancy makes an already non-threatening looking woman even more approachable. I was prepared for strangers to try to touch my belly and fortunately, that has yet to happen. I wasn't prepared for what has actually been happening for weeks: lots of strangers talking to me in public.

I suspect people feel more inclined to chat to an obviously pregnant stranger because, just by looking at her, they're aware of one of the most important parts of her life. Most people who have approached me have been friendly and kind: store clerks asking when I'm due, people in our building asking if I know whether my baby is male or female, etc. Sometimes, though, comments can be mildly rude or revealing. A man recently looked at me and said, "my kids are grown up. I don't envy you." Ummm... thanks? Minutes later, a woman in the elevator asked when I was due and said "my daughter is struggling with IVF." I wished her the best of luck and she thanked me when she got out at her floor. Perhaps when people feel they know something personal about me, they feel they can tell me something equally personal about their own lives.

I'm convinced that I'm more approachable than ever because strangers often ask me about things totally unrelated to my pregnancy. A man in a furniture store asked my opinion about a chair and lots more people than ever before ask me for directions on the street.

There were plenty of early weeks when my pregnancy was only my business, but when someone offered up his seat on the train at 24 weeks, I knew I was definitely showing. Pregnancy has relatively few perks so I eagerly accepted the seats offered by strangers on buses and trains. I find it interesting that it's usually women my age who offer me a seat, but I don't believe that chivalry or courtesy from men in Australia is lacking. Instead, I believe that women are far more observant than men, particularly of a bulging belly. Mickey insists that almost every woman we pass on the sidewalk checks me out.

When I assume a less telling shape, I wonder if I'll miss the attention and smiles from strangers. Who knows? Maybe my baby will attract more attention, questions and conversations than my belly currently does. What I might miss, though, is the mischievous feeling that I could walk into almost any store, steal anything and get away with it. After all, who would suspect the pregnant lady?

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