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Discretion, Don't Be a Stranger

I’d like to talk about the country all parents dread; the place no one will admit to visiting but where all strangers seem to be from – the Land of Uninvited Opinions.

When I was pregnant, I felt as if the sign around my neck reading, “Please tell me your birth story” was dwarfed only by the one hanging over my expanded rear proclaiming, “Please comment on the way my body looks.”  Here’s a sampling of actual comments by actual acquaintances (though obviously, not good friends!):

  • You’re pregnant?  Thank heavens!  I noticed your thighs were getting wider.
  • You’re pregnant?  You and your husband have been married so long I just assumed you couldn’t have kids.
  • Look at you! (to me at 8 months pregnant) Your legs don’t look like they’ve gotten too big, or do they just look small in comparison to the rest of you?
What is it about reproducing that gives our society free reign to comment on things that would otherwise be extremely off-limits?  Because as humiliating as such comments were while I was pregnant, they were largely limited to physical observations, whereas once you’ve had a child, everyone seems to feel free to criticize your labor, the way you feed your child, how you dress them, and so forth.  Here are a few of my favorites:
  • On finding out that I had a C-section (not by choice!), a (childless) acquaintance of mine exclaimed, “You had a c-section?  That’s cheating!  That’s not work, like real labor.”  CHEATING??? EXCUSE ME???  Was it cheating to have major surgery, live on a morphine drip for two days, then painstakingly crawl home to start taking care of a newborn?  Was it cheating to be unable to sit up in bed without grasping desperately at the headboard for weeks?  Or perhaps it was cheating when I had to hold a pillow against my incision to try to allay the unbearable pain as I coughed or sneezed for weeks afterwards.  I understand what she was saying about not having to go through the pain of labor, and I am not in any way demeaning the strength and fortitude it takes to do that, but honestly!  Who says something like that?
  • Another busybody example – one of my Lamaze class friends was unable to breast-feed.  She tried for six weeks, and trust me, she tried everything, so please don’t send me an email asking, “Did she try (fill in the blank)?”  The answer is, “Yes, she tried it.”  So after six weeks, she had to go to formula for her son, who is thriving and healthy, but every time it comes up in conversation she has to endure the “Did you try (fill in the blank)?”  And that’s the best-case scenario; I’m sure she’s been scolded by many women for giving her son (gasp!) formula.  Look, I think everyone agrees that breastfeeding is far superior to formula for many reasons.  But when the choice is formula or I.V., well, that’s why formula was invented!  What do people think they will accomplish, making her feel bad for doing what it takes to get calories in her son? 

Why do people not feel so bold in other areas of our life?  I have never had someone come up to me in a park and say, “You know, that hamburger you’re eating is clogging your arteries and poisoning your liver and you’re really doing yourself a disservice.”  Or how about, “Lady, I don’t know you, but it’s clearly too cold outside for you to be wearing such a thin jacket with no hat.  That’s just irresponsible.”  Yet I know there are mothers out there who have had the equivalent said to them by total strangers regarding their children.

Look, I know there’s something about the helplessness of a small child that brings out the protector in all of us.  I’m simply saying we should try to remember our social boundaries a bit better and give people the benefit of the doubt before launching into a lecture or vitriolic commentary.  My thighs thank you.


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