Is It Ever Okay to Comment on Other People's Baby Bumps?

Self on 11.04.12
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Photo: Photos by Lina/ Creative Commons

Loitering outside the building where I teach on 59th Street (pre-Sandy), I witnessed the following scene:

A very pregnant woman chatting, eating Pinkberry with a man. Suddenly, loud, friendly guy, approached, reaching down to touch the woman’s belly and extending his hand to the man.  

“Sooooo glad to finally meet you. We were all just talking about where she’s been hiding you. We thought maybe you didn’t exist.”

“Oh, I’m not…,” said the other man, color draining from his face.

“He is not the baby’s father. He’s just a friend,” the woman answered, looking down, seeming evasive.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the awkward fumbling. I wanted to yell at the loud, friendly guy. Maybe the woman has a partner or husband who works around the clock or is dealing with a crisis out of town. Maybe she used a sperm donor or is no longer with the father. Or maybe she just never ever wants her husband to meet you because you are too loud and too friendly.

I felt the pregnant-belly-questioning-impulse a year ago when a friend of a friend announced her pregnancy when she was without a partner. Out of earshot we speculated about whether the baby was from a sperm donor, friend or failed relationship. When I saw her pregnant belly in person it was tempting to ask, but I knew better.  After all, she could always tell me.

My ex and I split while I was pregnant, and the questions over my growing belly humiliated me. Even typing this, I can still feel the hot red flush creep up my cheeks. At that point, my ex was cheating with his co-worker, and the burgeoning baby bump felt like a sign flashing s-e-x. I never knew what to tell people when they asked where dad was “hiding.”

Watching the scene unfold outside work the other day, I wanted to rush in and tell loud, friendly guy to mind his own business and keep his hands off her stomach. I mean, come on, when is it appropriate to stroke a woman's belly in public? In reality, I just went back to work. 

Pregnant women and children trigger this care-taking impulse. Ordering a short morning brew from my local coffee shop when I was pregnant, I felt like the barista and the cashier were “talking about me.” I chalked this up to paranoia, until one day the barista admitted they’d been giving me decaf…for the baby. 

There is a difference between kindness and looking out for each other and prying. And now that I’ve seen all the different ways (sperm donors, adoptions, surrogates) and different kinds of families (single parent, gay couples, friends) that bring babies into the world, I understand how loaded the question, "Where is the baby's daddy," can be.

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