I’m not Chiara Ferragni or the Duchess of Cambridge, but I’ve still been on the receiving end of some serious, no-holds-barred bump-shaming. The problem is people don’t even realize they shouldn’t be doing it. They actually think passing judgment on the shape and size of a woman’s body during pregnancy is perfectly acceptable — as much a part of the whole baby-growing experience as, say, heartburn, stockpiling diapers and hearing ridiculous name choices.
You wouldn’t greet a nonpregnant friend with, “Oh, my God! Look at the size of you!” would you? You wouldn’t typically stare, saucer-eyed and slack-jawed, at her belly. You probably wouldn’t declare in front of a houseful of guests, “You’re so big, aren’t you?”
If you’re a decent person with manners, you wouldn’t normally say any of these things because 1) it’s rude and none of your business, 2) it’s probably the quickest way to lose all your friends and 3) you might get punched in the face. But for some reason, such constraint goes out of the window when the recipient is a pregnant woman.
Can’t people just say, “Your bump looks great”? Or if they don’t think so, keep their mouths shut and talk about something else? I’m more than happy to talk about my heartburn or my swollen ankles.
I saw my midwife last week for my 28-week check, and after she got the stuff that’s actually important out of the way (listening to my daughter’s heartbeat and checking her movements) she produced a measuring tape.
“I’m just going to measure your bump,” she said.
I waited for it. Was my lovely midwife going to be the next person to develop saucer eyes and tell me how massively, gigantically enormous my baby bump is?
“Perfect,” she announced, as she plotted my measurement on the chart. “You’re in the 50th percentile. You couldn’t be more average.”
I’ve never aspired to be “average,” but on this occasion, I was delighted. I felt validated. Rather than having a baby bump that was too big or too small to be contained on the chart — as so many self-appointed, dedicated bump-watchers might insist I have — my bump was wonderfully, reassuringly normal. It was crazy to describe it as too big (or too small, for that matter – not that it has ever happened to me personally) when I had all the proof I needed on the chart in front of me.
I know people’s comments about my baby bump are harmless in the grand scheme of things, and it’s not as if I have to worry about Ferragni- or duchess-level pregnancy body-shaming. But unwanted remarks on the size of our baby bumps is something far too many women can relate to. My friend Sal was constantly asked if she was having multiple babies when she was pregnant with her son, and when she said, “No, there’s definitely just one in there,” people didn’t believe her. Another friend was pregnant at the same time as her sister and cousin, and at a family party, they were coerced into standing together in a row so everyone else could compare the size of their bumps.
Being pregnant and growing a baby for 40-ish weeks is no picnic, no matter the size of your baby bump. It can be tiring and stressful and emotional — and the last thing a tired, stressful, emotional woman needs to hear is how big she is. I’m sure it’s equally frustrating for women with small baby bumps, but when someone tells you you’re “so big,” it’s hard not to take it as an insult. Let’s not forget that we live in a fatphobic, sizeist society that celebrates thinness and criticizes anything else.
And if there’s one time when a woman cannot possibly succumb to the overwhelming pressure to be slim, it’s when she’s pregnant. At this stage in my pregnancy, I feel like I’m getting bigger on a daily basis. And so I should be; after all, I’m growing a baby inside my body, and it would be hugely alarming if I were getting smaller.
According to Patricia A. Evans, nurse practitioner and certified nurse midwife at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, there are many reasons for a woman’s abdomen to measure particularly large in pregnancy — from the position of the baby to incorrect dating to high amniotic fluid levels to weaker abdominal muscles from previous pregnancies.
“If your OB provider feels your baby is measuring too large, an ultrasound may be ordered to estimate your baby’s weight,” says Evans. “But the majority of the time, your baby may simply be on the bigger side and still be healthy and normal.”
I know my baby is healthy and normal. But it still bugs the hell out of me when people comment on the size of my bump. Because every woman’s body, belly, baby and how she carries her pregnancy is unique — and absolutely none of anyone else’s business. Can we all finally agree on that?