If There’s a Newborn in Her Arms, That’s Not a Pregnant Belly
When my first son was born I didn’t leave the house for nearly six weeks. I was overwhelmed with the bigness of new parenthood, weepy with intense baby blues and far too fearful of my baby getting sick to go out before the weather warmed and my confidence grew. By the time I ventured into the world, my little guy was chunky and smiling. And I, while still soft and thick postpartum, had lost the roundness of my pregnant belly.
This time, though, with my second baby, I was on the go as soon as I left the hospital. On the way home from the hospital I went grocery shopping, picked my big boy up from preschool, and stopped at the post office to mail a few overdue thank-you cards. My confidence the second time around was due to a couple of major differences in my birth experience and life place. My second delivery was much smoother than my first and I felt pretty good physically. The baby blues I had worried about never showed up. And while I still didn’t want my newborn getting sick, my two-year-old had coughed in his face the first time they met, so I figured there was no way the outside world was germier than my preschooler.
Having a two-year-old, one with activities and energy and needs meant that hibernating for a few weeks after birth wasn’t possible. Ten days postpartum, I found myself at the mall. I was shopping for something “holiday-ish” for my son to wear in his winter concert at school. I had planned to shop in advance of giving birth. But my baby had arrived two weeks early and my big boy’s concert snuck up on me.
As I walked around the mall on my first solo outing with my new baby I marveled at how light on my feet I felt. As I passed a three-way mirror in the kid's section of the department store I stopped to check myself out. I hadn’t really looked at my body since giving birth. I’d been too busy tending to my kiddos and enjoy life. “Looking good!” I thought. My ankles and fingers were all already less swollen than a few weeks before. As I turned to the side I noticed that, while still rounded and thick, my previously pregnant belly had shrunk quite a bit in the last ten days.
As I admired myself, amazed at my body's elasticity, an older woman wandered by. “Oh, how sweet!” she gushed. “A tiny baby in the stroller and already another one on the way!” Startled by her comment, I was able to muster a confident, “Nope, I just had him!” She looked confused, mumbled an apology and walked away.
Though her comment had startled me, I assumed it would be in isolation, the overconfident mumbling of an ill-sighted old lady. As I moved through the mall I was proven wrong time and again. Strangers made comments and small talk about my “pregnant” body. With each comment, my heart sank a little bit more and the confidence I’d felt looking in that three-way mirror faded.
“Wow, mama! Irish twins, I guess?” said the man selling perfume from the center aisle kiosk.
“You certainly don’t like to waste any time! At least your baby will have a sibling close in age to play with,” said the young woman at the smoothie shop.
“How old is he?” asked the middle-aged man I shared the elevator with. “Ten days,” I replied. “Oh my! And how far along are you?” he replied.
The thing is I KNEW I LOOKED PREGNANT. That’s how bodies often look in the days and weeks after birth. I’m wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed or dying to have already bounced back. In fact, the evening before, a child at the Christmas tree lot asked if there was a baby in my belly. I was delighted to serve as an example of a realistic postpartum body. I explained that no, I wasn’t pregnant, but bodies often look this way after they’ve stretched to grow a baby.
What was so frustrating about my trip to the mall was that I was talking to adults. These adult, grown-up people who presumably have jobs and drive cars and maybe even parent kids themselves (or at least know how babies are made) should have known better. We’re all guilty of a foot-in-mouth moment every now and then. But adults should have the knowledge of the reproductive system to understand that it’s not possible to have a newborn and simultaneously be far enough along to have a visibly pregnant belly. They should also have the tact not to ask unwelcome questions about someone else's body.
I know that our society hides postpartum bodies. It’s not often that a woman moves forward with her everyday routine post-birth without trying to minimize or hide her no longer pregnant belly. But seriously, pregnancy isn’t detectable until at least 12-14 days past fertilization. That’s at least 2-4 days longer then my son had been on this earth when I took my trip to the mall was confronted time and again with questions about my body. I actually explained this one woman who kept pushing. “But your belly?” she said, motioning towards my protruding midsection after I’d told her I was not in fact “pregnant again so quickly.”
So, seriously, next time you see a woman with a pregnant belly and a brand-spanking-new baby in her arms … bite your tongue! Think for just a minute about what you learned in that middle school sex ed class. And then, simply and with kindness, congratulate her on the beautiful baby in her arms.