A Word of Advice

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You know how Iran and North Korea keep putting hikers and journalists in jail for so-called “border incursions” when they step across some imaginary line in the dust right about where the the lunatics in charge think their territory starts? I’m starting to warm up to that idea.

Just before we knew we were pregnant, I complained that the general public felt free to ask personal questions about our sex life over cocktails, e.g. when and how many children we intended to produce. Apparently, that was just the tip of the iceberg. Now that I’m obviously pregnant, a whole new world of boundary violations has opened up.

For starters, there’s the touching. I thought we’d all gotten the “show me on the doll” memo when we were kids, but clearly some segment of the population feels that a.) that doesn’t apply to children before they’re born, and b.) it doesn’t apply to other adults who are carrying those children.

Let me ask you this: when was the last time you walked up to someone you haven’t seen in ten years, a co-worker or really anyone you’re not sleeping with, and put your hand on their stomach like you were their high school boyfriend copping a feel between first and second period? Never, that’s when.

I get that it’s interesting that I’m carrying around the equivalent of a bear cub in my abdomen. Yes, it’s weird. Yes, she moves. It’s fine that you’re fascinated. That’s your deal. My deal is that I still retain air-space rights at least several inches around my body. If you want to enter the no-fly zone, you ask. Period.

Then there’s the advice. International law on this one is unclear. The United States offers all kinds of unsolicited input to countries all over the world, especially ones in some kind of transition: don’t stuff your ballot boxes; don’t blow that up; don’t eat that; stop hitting them, and so on. Usually though, there’s a cash incentive (like, we’ll give you money for counter-terrorism) or a serious disincentive (like, we won’t give you snacks).

That makes sense, since, let’s face it, unsolicited advice implies that you’re doing – or about to do – something “wrong” or that you don’t know what you’re doing at all, which, unless you’re really evolved and secure, makes the advice-giver seem like kind of a jerk, however well-intentioned or correct she or he might be. Money softens that blow. It’s kind of like employment: you pay me so I’ll do what you tell me to do.

Apparently where pregnancy and children are concerned though, there is no such arrangement. Advice, usually absurdly specific to the giver’s situation, is not accompanied by a cash incentive.

Just between you and me, if you handed me a roll of twenties before advising me not to take drugs during labor, I would definitely be more receptive to your suggestion.

Worse – and more common – than the advice is the unsolicited negative input. It’s the lazy man’s advice: it just sits in your path like a suicidal frog on a road in a rainstorm. No plans, no suggestions, it’s just out there. I can’t make out what the intent is in recreationally telling someone who is inevitably going to have to deliver a baby in a few months all the things that can go wrong when she does. Unless you have medically relevant information to disclose, discussing disastrous deliveries with an expectant mother is like stopping by the JFK security line to share the latest on airplane crashes.

Also inexplicable: telling me how I’ll be sleep-deprived after the baby arrives (as if I’m not now) or how my life will never be the same again. Since I don’t live in a cave, am sentient, reasonably well-educated, and not sixteen years old, trust me when I say that I am already aware that my life will change and it will, for a while, include less sleep. (We thought of that before we decided to have kids, didn’t you?) So the intent can’t be informative, right?

And don’t tell me it’s just making conversation either, because when you make small talk with a non-pregnant person you barely know in an elevator, I guarantee you don’t start with freak accidents or Things I’m Bitter About. You say pleasant things about rain showers and television shows and puppies. OK, maybe not puppies, but please know that I’d much rather hear about them than how your cousin’s husband cheated on her while she was pregnant, who you know who had a late-term miscarriage or how your daughter grew up to be a teenaged mother living in your basement. I can say unequivocally that I do not want to hear any of those stories because a.) they do not bring any useful information into my life, b.) as stories, they are total downers, c.) I am often awake and paranoid at 4AM and your story’s not helping, and c.) they make me want to kick you in the shins, which is kind a losing proposition for you too.

Let me return the favor and offer some advice of my own: unless an expectant mother asks for your rundown of worst case scenarios or Your Least Favorite Things About Being a Parent, say supportive things. Say happy things. Mention what you love about being a parent. Tell her what’s gone right. If that’s beyond your reach, save it for your close friends, say, “Congratulations!” and move on to the weather and small animal antics. Your shins will thank me.

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Categories: News, Nuisance, Miscellany

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2 Comments on “A Word of Advice”

  1. Em
    January 15, 2010 at 11:30 am #

    Oh Emma, you poor thing! Encountering a pregnant woman certainly brings out the worst in some. I have a litany of “happy things” regarding being a mum, but, perhaps the best I can share with you is that after the first, I loved mummying so much I went on to have two more. We’d have continued to populate with our progeny, but despite our best efforts, three seems to be our limit. Also, I believe having children after you have done so much with your life, as you seem to have, makes you an even better parent. Your child is blessed to have for a mum a lady with a vast world view and such a passion for travel. I, for one, can’t wait to read about your little one’s first plane trip abroad. On that subject, I have much advice to offer, but only if asked.

  2. Wanda Pratt
    March 27, 2010 at 1:15 pm #

    LOL! Your posting brings back lots of memories for me. I could tolerate the positive advice (which was occasionally useful) much better than the plethora of gropings, nightmare stories, or what seemed like accusations that I was not being a “good mom” (e.g., when a total stranger started lecturing me on the dangers of caffeine when I was carrying around a decaf cup of coffee!).

    If you want positive stories, I have lots to share. I had a great, fairly fast birth with no complications, no drugs, and (the only thing that really counts) a happy, healthy baby girl. Motherhood is challenging, but it is oh so worth it! I wish you and Ramon the very best. Your child is very lucky to have you both as parents. I hope that I will get to meet her (and see you and Ramon again) sometime soon.

    –Wanda

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