Sigh. I'm officially pregnant now. There is a bump. Not a big bump, but a noticeable one. Which means for the next 5 months I can look forward to conversations like the one you are about to read.
I'm standing by the pool at relative's birthday party last weekend, when a middle-aged man approaches me and holds out his hand.
- “Hi Charlotte, I'm Bob, Sheila's husband. Congrats on the baby.”
- “Hi Bob, thank you so much. Are you enjoying the party?” “Oh yeah, it's great. So, are you using paper or plastic?”
- “ grocery bags?”
- “No, diapers.”
- “Ummm, we honestly don't know yet. Probably cloth, but we're still exploring options.”
- “Oh, trust me, you'll use those for a day and then drive to Costco for Pampers. What about drugs are you having a natural birth?”
- “Wow, that's kind of personal. But no, right now we're not planning on a natural birth.”
- “Good idea, otherwise you'll never have another one. When is the next one planned? You don't want to wait too long.”
Now, there are basically two schools of thought on pregnancy-related lines of questioning. Some of you probably read that in total disbelief and outage. “Charlotte, who is this nosy man you don't even know to ask such personal questions?” And some of you are thinking, “Well, babies are exciting! He just wanted to share in your happy news.” I hate to break it to you, but I'm typically in the first camp. I know I'm only 16 weeks, but already I'm kind of tired of people asking about my pregnancy especially people I just met. So, it might surprise you to learn that I didn't mind answering Bob's questions. Similarly, I had a church acquaintance ask me a few weeks back if the baby was an accident, how long we'd been trying, when I stopped taking birth control and whether we had used IVF. I didn't really mind answering her questions either.
But the one question I do mind, the one I really can't stand, is, “Are you excited?” I know that seems like the absolute nicest, most innocent question you could possibly ask. And I know that everyone means well when they ask it. But ladies, if you have a child, think about how you felt when you learned you were pregnant for the first time. Excited? Of course. Terrified? Oh yeah. Confused, exhausted, overwhelmed, overjoyed? Yep, those too. Learning you are going to bring new life into this world is the scariest, most mind-boggling and bizarre thing you can possibly imagine. Boiling all that down into a "yes" or "no" answer is practically impossible.
So, the answer I'm really tempted to give is something along the lines of:
“You know, we are excited, but we're also contemplating the physical, emotional, financial and existential ramifications of our decision to have a child. This is the greatest responsibility we will ever undertake. We can sell our house. We can change careers. But we will be parents for the rest of our lives. What does this mean for my sense of self? I want to be a strong female role model who balances her personal interests and the career she loves with the obligations of home and family. Not to mention the incredible challenge of raising an intelligent, gracious, open-minded and optimistic child in a culture so plagued by violence and negativity. But it's difficult to prepare ourselves for these new roles while fielding questions and well-meaning advice from people who don't know me or my husband or our personal values.”
But I'm not supposed to say that.
I've also tried the less intense, but still honest, “You know, it's kind of surreal right now. I'm sure it will sink in more over the next few months.”
I'm apparently not supposed to say that, either. It's met with an awkward stare. Sometimes a deflated, “Oh ” Because you and I both know there is only one right answer to the inevitable, “Are you excited?” question. And it's “Yes, we are excited, thank you for asking.”
So, that's why Bob and my church friend are off the hook. Because their questions albeit nosy and overly personal are at least open-ended. Social etiquette doesn't limit what I'm allowed to feel to a single, mindless piece of dialogue. I can explain, “Actually, we're thinking about cloth diapers and here's why.” Even if the asker doesn't like my response, I still get an opinion. I get to have a brain and the whole big mess of human emotions.
But, at the end of the day, I'm going swallow a gigantic chill pill and give the answer I know I should give. Because Bob and my church friend and great-aunt Cheryl and Jimmy Joe down the street aren't trying to cause offense. And you know what? We are very excited, thank you so much for asking.