APPARENTLY, 'DIVERSITY' HAS ITS LIMITS
Why Is It O.K. to Insult a Pregnant Lady?

April 1999By Kathleen Whitney Barr

Kathleen Whitney Barr is a stay-at-home mother of five in Newark, Delaware. Her article “An ‘Educated Woman' Who Stays Home With Her Children" appeared in our May 1998 issue.

A pregnant lady is a conversation starter. That unmistakable bulge of new life under the maternity smock has impelled utter strangers and casual acquaintances into intimate chats with me and other women I know. We've found that these unsolicited conversations often turn into amazing sermonettes, confrontations, or even inquisitions. It starts after the questioner finds out that this is not the "blessed" first child and not the "acceptable" second child. It's not even the "you-must-be-crazy" third. When your interlocutors learn that this is the "irresponsible" fourth child -- or fifth or sixth -- they feel that license is granted them to say whatever pops into their heads.

"You do know what causes this, don't you?" is very popular. One cousin of mine has asked me this for each of my last three pregnancies, seeming each time to delight afresh in his own comic genius. (If he asks me next time, I may just have to have my husband explain it to him.) Complete strangers can be even bolder. In line at a smorgasbord, the man next to me began recommending different sleeping positions and bedroom habits that might prevent this from happening again. I would have walked away but we had just reached the food table and I was really hungry (eating for two, you know). I did check to see if anything about my attire was provocative or suggested that I would welcome such a discussion with him. But I was buttoned and bowed up to my neck in a tent-like maternity dress that came down over my ninth-month abdomen to my knees, and my wedding ring was firmly in place. Moments later some acquaintances of my husband's from a fraternal organization paused near me to remark that they would have to keep my husband busier so he wouldn't have time to produce such results.

Is it something about smorgasbords? A pregnant friend told me she got similar treatment at the upscale buffet of her husband's new law firm. One partner even offered to set her husband up with his urologist, saying, "It's a simple operation, really." But from the stories we wives tell one another, it's clear that impertinence is not limited by place, time, or gender. At a soccer game, when a button popped off the maternity pants of a four-time mother, a fellow soccer-mom remarked, "That's what happens when you have too many children." Another woman on announcing her sixth pregnancy to a dear friend was told solemnly, "I don't know what to say. Should it be congratulations or condolences?"

Once the hostess of a college faculty party thought it would be fun to introduce to the directress of the local Planned Parenthood office a lady expecting her ninth child. She did so, loudly noting the number, in the crowded living room. People paused, waiting for the sparks to fly. Both women were uncomfortable. The Planned Parenthood directress started off with, "I believe a woman should have as many children as she wants -- as long as they're planned." The mother replied, "I believe that all children are planned -- by God." The two women nodded to each other and turned away. The pregnant lady -- a friend of mine and now the mother of ten -- said this was her best comeback line during the many confrontations she had had through her pregnancies. She was sure that the Holy Spirit had supplied her with the answer. (I'm sure He won't mind if I use it, too, next time I'm expecting.)


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