“All major changes are like death. You can’t see to the other side until you are there.”
― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park
You can’t be invisible when you have a baby. Even if you were a person who lived in virtual anonymity and walked through life and department stores without being noticed… When you have a baby… Even when you are pregnant… It changes. Wherever you go, someone will notice you and they have plenty to say…
I was six months pregnant with my daughter, Harper, and standing in the waiting area of a Chinese Restaurant in Reseda when the hostess came up to me, and without asking, put her hand on my stomach and said, “What are you going to have?”
“Are you taking my order?” I asked, taken back by the strange gesture, “I need to see a menu.”
“No, no…” She said… laughing… “Are you having a boy or a girl?”
“Oh, right,” I said, laughing uncomfortably. “I’m having a girl.”
“Girl,” the woman repeated, running her hands across my belly like she was rubbing it for good luck. “This is a good year to have a baby. This is the Year of the Pig.”
She gestured to a large Chinese Zodiac banner above the register which read YEAR OF THE PIG.
Quite honestly, I felt like a pig that year.
I’d gained close to thirty pounds and I wasn’t exactly svelt when I started… And a stranger rubbing my belly in public wasn’t helping.
“Pigs make good babies,” she continued, at the keen interest of everyone in the waiting area. “They are friendly. But you can’t force them. Pigs will be friends, but only if you are gentle. Be gentle with this baby.”
“Thanks. I will,” I told her, wanting to put a period on the interchange so it would end.
But the woman kept her hands on my stomach for a moment longer, then looked at me like she was going to impart some kind of ancient wisdom.
I braced myself…. Imagining words of prophecy that I could write down in Harper’s baby book that she would one day read, and would give clarity for the rest of her life.
The woman leaned into me, smiled and said…
“I’m giving you a free appetizer. Free Pork Buns. My blessing for the baby.”
And that was the end of it.
Several more times throughout my pregnancy this would happen.
A friend I hadn’t seen in awhile came up to greet me… But instead of hugging me, she put her hands on my stomach. “I’ve always wanted to do this she said.” She ran her fingers around the full circumference of my belly, feeling under it, then resting both hands right in the middle. “Your tummy is hard like a watermelon. That’s weird.” She laughed while she groped me. “This is so cool! Like a giant coconut!!! Could the baby bang her head in here? Don’t jog or run too hard.”
An elderly woman even snuck up on me in the grocery store while I was reaching for Triscuits. She placed her small hand on my stomach. “Can I tell you a secret?” she asked, speaking softly.
“Sure.” I told her… And when I turned around, she took my very pregnant belly in her hands and rubbed me like Buddha.
“If your water breaks in the store,” she whispered, “grab a jar of peaches and drop it. Then, just walk out. My daughter-in-law did that and it worked.”
“Really?” I asked her. “Will my water break that hard? Will it be like a river gushing out of me? And what if I’m not near any peaches?”
“Well,” she said, looking perplexed. “If the peaches are close…. Find some. I guess a jar of anything could do… Even pickles… It will save you some embarrassment.”
That was the most bizarre information I received while pregnant and begged the question… If you drop a jar of peaches in the woods and no one sees it, are you still liable? And how could dropping a jar of peaches on the ground save me any embarrassment?
I would be the woman whose water broke AND she dropped peaches. Should I also accompany dropping the peaches with a loud exclamation like… “I’m sure glad my water did not break… But I’m sure sorry I dropped these peaches and they splashed all over me like a flood of incontinence…” Then I run…. No one would suspect anything I’m sure… No one…
The inquisitiveness of strangers continued once I had the baby.
Take for instance… The Baby Bjorn… I had a Baby Bjorn and I was very proud of it. Baby Bjorns are the Mercedes model of free-handed baby carriers. It was red and black and I found it actually looked quite slimming on me despite the human being dangling from the front of it.
I would soon learn, however, that whenever you saddle a small human to your frontside and carry her in a contraption that fastens about your back, the way the Baby Bjorn does, you will be subject to LOTS of concerned people CONSTANTLY making statements about whether or not it is good for your lower back.
“Does your back hurt?” random people who’d never given a crap about me before, would say… “I don’t see how that could be a good thing. It puts too much pressure on your back. I don’t want you to have a back problem.”
WHO ARE YOU?!?!? This thing was tested by loads of Swedish So-and-Sos. Can a mamma take a walk?
God help me… Once I ran into an actual Chiropractor while I was walking in our residential area. Harper had fallen asleep in the Baby Bjorn and this man stopped me and talked to me for ten minutes at least about his “concern” for my lower back. By the time I had gotten away from the good DC, I of course had his card and a promise to give him a call so he could “manipulate” me later that week. Then Harper woke up, realized she was trapped in a straight-jacket, and proceeded to scream-cry the full twenty minute walk back to the house.
But the group of “back supporters” weren’t the only people I had to look out for.
Concerned old women who thought my baby was cold seemed to magically appear from thin air.
It didn’t matter where I was, either…. I could be standing next to an oven inside a tanning booth, surrounded by Heating Lamps in the middle of the desert… But if Harper wasn’t bundled up like a papoose, these old women would step up and make comments like, “Do you have a jacket for that baby? I think that baby is very cold.”
“No,” I would say, “She’s not.”
“Do you always take your baby out on such cold evenings?” an old woman sitting in a car actually asked me as I passed her on foot. “It’s too cold out here for a baby. You’re baby is going to catch a cold.”
“First of all,” I told Driving Miss Daisy, “She’s not cold. But anyway… Even if she was… You can’t catch a cold simply from being cold. A cold is a virus.”
“You can catch hypothermia, though,” she called after me… “And your baby might get it if you don’t get her inside.”
Right… Hypothermia… On a freezing California evening in the middle of summer…I walked away from the woman between palm trees and a man mowing his lawn in shorts.
Then… There are the people at the grocery store… These people are terrific. They love to talk to your baby. Feel your baby’s feet and give unsolicited parenting advice that can range from what type of diapers to buy…. To what to feed the baby and the kind of formula to use…
All this… while you clumsily try to get in-and-out before another major meltdown. And when your baby does melt down, or is driving you crazy… And you think the line might stretch on for eternity…
Someone will always say… “Remember this time. It passes so quickly. It feels like my kids were that age just moments ago.”
One of my favorite poems by Kahlil Gibran says:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of life longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you.
Though it’s hard sometimes in a fast world with places to go and things to do… To appreciate those people driving me crazy with tips and anecdotes… I try to remind myself that from that first moment when a woman placed her hands on my stomach and gave me free Pork Buns, it was clear that Harper’s life didn’t belong only to me… There was a world of people excited about her entrance into the world… Excited about her life, and the care of it. Concerned about mine too…