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As far as I’m concerned, you should never ask a woman if she is pregnant. Not if it looks like she’s showing, not if she’s carrying a shopping bag from Destination Maternity, not even if she is squatting on the subway platform with a small head crowning out from under her skirt (in that case, dial 911).
When my now 3-year-old twins were nine months old, we took our first trip away from them, flying down to Turks & Caicos for a few nights of sun, sand and baby-free fun. On our first night there, on our way to dinner, we stopped at a local grocery store to pick up a few items for the condo we were staying in. I was wearing a blue and white puffy-sleeved number with an elastic bodice and buttons running up the front—H&M’s version of a dirndl. I was pretty certain that I evoked a wanton peasant girl or maybe a sexy bar wench on vacation. As my husband and I perused the aisles, we made small talk with another young couple who were also on vacation. We headed up to the register together and as I put our items on the belt the female member of the couple nonchalantly asked, “So when are you due?”
My first reaction was to laugh. I looked at my husband and he too laughed nervously. “Actually, I had twins nine months ago.” Time stood still as this woman’s expression morphed from calm to horror. “I ... I saw the family bug spray!” she explained, referring to the safe-for-kids insect repellant I was buying. I handed her a few laundry detergent pods from the box we’d agreed to split back in aisle 7. “Can we give you some money for it?” she asked. “Nah, just buy us a drink if you see us again,” I said, trying to sound easy and cool when inside I was burning with embarrassment.
It seemed like everyone had a story just like mine. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so fat and alone—I felt fat, but in good company.
Out in the parking lot, I put my hands around the empire waist of the dress and tried to assess if it really made me look like I had a baby on board—or maybe just a “food baby.”
“She’s an idiot,” my husband said. I tried not to let this woman’s gaffe ruin our trip. Upon further reflection, I realized that my Oktoberfest frock probably wasn’t the most flattering look after all. But her comment did get me thinking that I WAS still above my pre-pregnancy weight and I wanted to change that. Unfortunately, we did run into this couple again, on the night we were out at a romantic restaurant on the beach to celebrate my birthday. They sheepishly waved and sent over two glasses of champagne.
Back home in Brooklyn, I met up with some fellow moms in Prospect Park for our weekly stroller workout. We often commiserated about new motherhood and I decided to share my shameful story of being mistaken for a pregnant bar maid.
“That happened to me once, too!” offered up a pretty blonde mommy whose son was the same age as the twins. “Me too!” said another. “Someone said that to me,” said a shy mom who rarely spoke during our sweat sessions. “I never told anyone before.” It seemed like everyone had a story just like mine. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so fat and alone—I felt fat, but in good company.
“Alright!” yelled Joanna, our awesomely fit and fierce workout instructor, snapping us away from our chit-chat and back to attention. “Nobody’s getting mistaken for being pregnant anymore!”
And there in the park, on a warm summer day, seven muffin-eating, wine-drinking, empire-waist wearing mommies gritted their teeth and grasped the wooden slats of the park bench, ready for another set of pushups. In that moment there were no words—no random comments from strangers, no insults from family members, no self-critical voices in our heads. There were only numbers, and we counted them off out-loud together: 30, 29, 28, 27 …