'When are you due?'
I have lost count of how many times over the past few years I have heard those words, but I can remember many specific occasions when it has been said to me, and how it has made me feel.
I am not pregnant. I have never been pregnant, and I don't anticipate being pregnant in the near future. But I have heard those words or words to that effect so many times that I feel like the effects are permanently engrained on me.
I am not pregnant, I am fat. Or rather, I'm not fat, but I carry more weight than I should for my figure, and I carry most of it on the front of my stomach. That's just where it has collected as I've gained weight, I don't know why. So many people have mistaken it for a pregnant tummy over the years that it's something I am constantly thinking about. It's never far from my mind, whenever I sit down or stand up or generally move around outside my own home I'm wondering whether people will be thinking it, and I'm constantly aware of how I'm positioning my body whether I'm sitting at my desk, or standing at the photocopier, or in the kitchen at work making a drink. Every minute of every day. It's one of the first things I think about when I wake up. I'm so wary of people asking me that whenever someone is polite to me, someone approaches me with a smile in a shop or a restaurant, I'm expecting the next thing out of their mouth to be a question about a baby.
At my father in law's wedding, a woman came over to talk to me and Paul. She started to say 'I couldn't help but notice...' and for all I know, she could have been going to make a completely innocent comment about the fact that we were a couple, or that we were part of the family group, but I was so sure that she was going to ask that question, and because all day I had already been wary of how I was standing or sitting, and because I had already experienced the prying I was scared of so many times before, that when she got distracted before finishing her sentence, I ran away and hid in the back garden.
It happened again today, in the same week I was feeling proud of myself for completing the first week of Couch to 5K at the gym. I saw a woman in town who we quite often see, who asks every person she meets for change. I'm not sure whether she really is pregnant, or just uses that as a way to get people to give her money, but I knew when I saw her coming towards me what she was going to ask. Except this time, she started with a glance at my stomach and said 'oh I'm pregnant too, and I was wondering...'
It seems that every time I start to feel better about myself, make any kind of progress, I get knocked back down. I came home today holding back tears and wishing I could be someone else when just yesterday I had started to feel a bit more positive. These questions and comments have gradually chipped away at my confidence bit by bit so that I've gone from a relatively care-free teenager to a woman constantly weighed down by insecurity, who doesn't feel comfortable going out without a coat even in the hottest weather - especially in hot weather - because of what questions I might get asked. I know you might be wondering why I don't just lose it and I want to tell you that I really do try. I have started going to the gym again, and up until today I had been feeling pretty on track. I berate myself every day over my food choices, I try to eat healthily every single day, and it's just so disheartening to see little to no change. I try so, so hard.
Maybe I won't get a comment like that for a few months, and I'll almost have forgotten how absolutely soul destroying it is and how much it makes me hate myself. Most people will mean well when they ask, I know that, and they are probably mortified to have upset someone when they find out that I'm not. But once they've apologised (profusely, and often making it worse) they forget. I'll remember their comment for days or weeks or even months afterwards.
Then there are those who refuse to believe you when you correct them. On holiday in Florida, the man serving breakfast at the hotel laughed when I feigned shock that they were out of eggs and said 'oh that's the last thing I need, a pregnant woman on my back about the breakfast choices.' Paul politely corrected him, and he proceeded to look me up and down and repeat 'oh really? She's really not? Really?' in disbelief. I cried in many theme park toilets that day (thankfully not a day we were going to Disney). During a shift at the cinema, a customer told me he 'thought I would have had that by now' and gestured to my stomach. I corrected him and he laughed and said 'okay, if you say so.'
And it's all the more painful to me as someone who actually does want children - it hurts me to have to tell people that I'm not when I really want to be able to share in the joy they are anticipating when they ask me the question. I don't know what my life is for if its not to be a mother.
I don't really know why I'm writing this, apart from the fact that this happened to me again today and I'm really upset. I have so many regrets and I desperately wish I could go back and teach myself how to cook healthy food before I went to uni, because I gained this weight somewhere and I have a feeling that it was then. I wish I could say this is my biggest insecurity right now, but it's not. Some people seem to breeze through life, figuratively and literally - I feel like I am constantly weighed down by all the things I dislike about myself and all the disappointment I carry around with me.
I suppose my point is that I shouldn't have to hear it from people who don't know me and I hope someone reading this might think twice about asking any questions of the next stranger they see who may or may not be pregnant. People don't need any help with their insecurities; I certainly don't. I give myself a hard enough time, but I can recognise that some of that is fueled by the things strangers have said, and maybe if they hadn't, I wouldn't be quite so unhappy with myself. Sometimes I want to scream at these people that it's none of their business either way; even if I was pregnant, I'm not sure I would welcome interest from people I don't know.
Just please keep your opinions to yourself, because you just don't know how much you could be hurting someone.