I can handle stupid question from strangers, but when stupid questions come from friends, I flounder. Friends and strangers both ask stupid questions and pass mean judgments that border on cruel, but strangers and friends ask totally different questions. The most common stupid friend questions are, in this order:
- How pregnant are you? (only 50%, thank God!)
- Did you mean to do this? I mean, was the pregnancy planned? (Kind of. I mean, I planned to get pregnant by my husband. Oops)
- OMG!!! Who is the father?? (you are too stupid to talk to me)
- What are you going to do? (I f it’s ugly, I’m totally gonna eat it.)
- Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl yet? (nope, we don’t want to know)
- OMG WHY DON’T YOU WANT TO KNOW???????? (Doesn’t matter. If it’s ugly, it’s dinner)
- Do you want a boy or a girl? (twin girls) What will you do if it’s a boy? (see Question #2)
To answer the first question, we planned an exotic honeymoon in September to kick-start baby-making season, but two pink lines kicked that plan to the curb. Around the same time we found out about the pregnancy, my husband’s company decided to see how many consultants would quit if they were relocated, so instead of a nice long honeymoon we settled for 4 ‘mini baby-moons’ to house-hunt.
I’m one of those people who refuses to buy bottled water unless I’m in Thailand, and runs everywhere with a half-empty nalgene bottle clipped to my purse. Last Thursday, I cleared Newark customs and made a beeline for the water fountains in Terminal C. They weren’t working. I ran to the next set, still no luck. With about 15 minutes to go before my flight started boarding, I ran to the food court and approached three bored-looking Ben & Jerry’s employees.
MIC: “Excuse me…would you mind filling up this water bottle for me?”
Worthless employee: “There’s a water fountain around the corner”
MIC: “Yes, I know, but it isn’t working. Would you mind?”
WE: “You know you can buy bottled water from McDonald’s”
At this point, I’m PISSED. She’s standing in front of a sink, so this is hardly an inconvenience for her.
MIC: “Just say it.”
WE: “Say what?”
MIC: “Yes I mind. No pregnant lady, I will not help you.”
WE: “I’m trying to help you.”
MIC: “SAY IT!!! NO PREGNANT LADY, I WILL NOT GIVE YOU WATER! LOOK AT ME!!! SAY IT!!!!”
A manager appears out of nowhere and touches my shoulder. “What my colleague means to say is that this water isn’t filtered, and we only use it to wash our hands and clean the ice cream scoops. We fill our water bottles up at the bar at Gate 80.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and thanked her, noticing a healthy bump under her apron. She patted it, smiled, and while walking me to the bar we laughed and talked about that special place in hell for people who make pregnant women cry. We’re convinced that 80% of Newark transients will end up there.
I’m convinced there is a special place in hell for child abusers, people who kill kittens, and people who hit pregnant women. Actually, I’m counting on it. You see, these actions are NOT NORMAL. No rational, sane human would ever consider admitting to the aforementioned actions much less performing them publicly. A different perspective on this same theory is that my unborn child is a trump card: you strike, I retaliate, game over. I will do my worst and you will walk away, because there is a special place in hell waiting for those who strike pregnant women.
En route to the gym this morning, I took the long way so I could stop by Starbucks for a decaf soy latte. I was blissfully happy, savoring the creamy foam on my weekly treat and blatantly ignoring the obese woman standing next to me, staring daggers into my cup.
She clears her throat to get my attention, then pokes my belly with a fat, presumptuous finger and says, “I hope you know you’re killing your baby with that sh*t. Pregnant women aren’t supposed to drink caffeine.”
I should have pointed out that my drink was decaf and told her to mind her own f*cking business, like a good New Yorker would. I know this, I know this, I know this. But my hormone-addled brain doesn’t care.
Twenty strangers in my peripheral vision were watching this interaction, so I calmly looked over her head, saw a taxi, tossed my hand in the air, and then twisted the lid off of my cup to see if I finished all the foam. I had indeed. “Thank you for saving my child. I’ll get rid of this right now.” I tossed the remaining contents of my cup at her torso, then jumped in the cab.
Was this wise? Not at all. But it felt really, really good.
Early in the year, I left my high-pressure finance job and was lucky enough to secure full-time contract work with a large nonprofit. I absolutely love my job, the team I work with, the girls I sit near. I’m making more than enough money to get me through the pregnancy. I no longer break into a cold sweat and cry at the thought of ‘going to work’. There is truly no better place for me right now, which is how I know there is a God. But God has a sense of humor, so all of this amazing awesomeness is located in the regional headquarters of the Catholic Church.
Having been raised in the Bible Belt, I totally appreciate Catholics. Mostly for the comic value their dogmas provide, but lately because nuns look so cool standing outside the building chain-smoking butt after butt with several of the blind patrons that attend classes on the 6th floor. I mean, in the South, we love us some Jesus but ‘church’ is a budget rendition of “Gossip Girl”: a regularly scheduled weekly meeting where other people’s dramas are played and replayed for a live audience wearing their best clothes. Only truly crazy people make the church their career ( I should know- both of my grandfathers were just that crazy). The thought of having to wade through a maze of nuns and priests every day made me ask myself: would this workplace be a good ‘fit’ for me?
Turns out the answer is yes. Working in this building has defied my expectations. My first week, I kept waiting for lightning to strike me. Then, when my engagement and wedding rings were being resized, I expected people in the elevator to stare at my big belly and bare fingers with disapproving glares before pushing the button for the 7th floor (7th floor: Catholic Adoption Services. I work on the 18th floor). Instead, people look at my stomach with ear-to-ear grins and ask the good questions (see my post on this topic). They offer to carry my bags. They save me the last bottle of orange juice in the cafeteria each morning. These thoughtful gestures are truly humbling, not just because this sort of kindness is so rare in New York City but because it’s rare in general.
That said, this building is only part of my day. Every morning I struggle through nausea, “Memento”-style packing while I struggle to remember that day’s schedule, holding my breath through 6 dog-poo-infested blocks before I inevitably vomit on the sidewalk next to the trashpile at the bus stop, wait 20 minutes for an express bus to guide me through rush hour traffic down Second Avenue, then try to rehydrate while sweating through a cardio workout routine I discarded years ago for not being challenging enough (it’s challenging now!). By the time I get to work, I need to be sedated. I appreciate kind gestures that much more because they neutralize the hormones in my blood and fumes coming out of my ears.
Sometimes, those gestures just don’t come soon enough.
Last Thursday, I was tired. The type of to-the-bones-fatigue I’d never experienced before I got pregnant. Getting out of bed was beyond difficult, and traffic worse than usual. I ended up having to walk most of the 50 blocks to my office. So I was anything but Merry Sunshine when my manager tells me that she’s decided to hold a 4-hour ‘let’s get on the same page’ meeting with each of her contract workers, and I had 40 minutes to prepare.
Let me break here to tell you that I adore my OB-GYN. She is totally realistic. When I asked her what sort of modifications I would need to make, she looked at me, laughed, and said, “I’m not going to talk you out of anything, because your body is smarter than you and will make you listen. Don’t run too fast, drink more than one cup of coffee per day and one glass of wine per week. That’s it.” That’s it? Well, that’s actually a LOT to ask when you’re this tired and have no other way to perk up.
As luck would have it, the coffee machine on our floor was broken, so I snuck downstairs to the vending machines. I’m have never been a fan of sodas, but I was desperate for caffeine. Bleary-eyed, I bought a Diet Coke, gently rolled the can between my hands then tapped the top to keep it from spewing all over my white dress. Out of nowhere I hear, “No no no! Not for YOU-HOO!” in a sing-song voice and watch a ghostly hand attached to an emaciated wrist snatch my salvation out of my hands. At that moment, something inside me snapped. I whirled around and snarled.
“I’m pregnant and exhausted but still have enough energy to kick your ass. Hormones are flooding my brain and clouding my judgment so no court of law will ever deem me stable enough for a trial. My husband is out of town 4 days per week, so I don’t have an outlet for my totally irrational anger, so if you really want to stand in front of me and hold a bulls-eye, go for it! Let’s see if you’re as close to Jesus as you think you are!”
Sister Mary Francis chuckled, said a Hail Mary over my belly, crossed herself with my Diet Coke and handed it back to me. God has a sense of humor, and thankfully so do the Sisters.
Webster’s defines an overachiever as: “one who achieves success over and above the standard or expected level especially at an early age “. What Webster’s doesn’t tell you is what happens to those kids when they get pregnant. They go crazy.
I went to one of those fancy ivy-league universities for grad school, and was surrounded by self-described “overachievers” and “Type-A personalities”. Though we will never admit to ourselves much less our therapists that this is the case, overachievers are fiercely insecure. Hence, herd mentality ruled. We all wanted to be special in the same way. Everyone wanted what everyone else wanted. Everyone was scared of the people who stood out or pursued independent interests. You don’t really want to be more special, or terribly different, from the person next to you.
This directly conflicts with everything most overachievers have ever been told: you’re different. You’re special. You have superpowers and everyone loves you. Rules don’t apply to you. You are destined for greatness. Overachievers who need to believe this or need to return to an environment where this mantra pervades, attend ivy league business schools[i].
The final piece of this puzzle is the overachiever’s deeply-seeded NEED to believe that she is in control. Of her body. Of her career. Of her future. Everyone needs to be an expert or to have ‘the answer’ all the time. What belies this is a need is to believe that they can control the world around them; that shit doesn’t just happen – people make mistakes that cause shit to happen. Overachievers don’t make mistakes, so they are protected.
So when my smug lunch companion says, “when I get pregnant, I won’t gain a pound more than I have to! I’m going to exercise EVERY DAY, just like I do now!”, she’s trying to mask her fear by asserting control over the unknown. She’s not actually criticizing me for taking a 4-hour nap after eating an entire bag of Gummy Life Savers. I know this, I know this, I know this. But the criticism still stings and motivates me to order a salad instead of the burger my baby has been screaming for all day (I’ll pick that up on my way back to the office).
Pregnancy is dangerous territory for overachievers. When you’re pregnant, you have zero control over your body and it can be maddening. The mental strain on our already fragile egos, fueled by hormones and compounded by the fact that we’ve been ideal students and employees so we’re not used to dealing with criticism, can cause us to snap at any time.
Your alarm goes off at 6am because you are DETERMINED to make it to spin class that morning, but you’re too queasy to stand up so you stare at the ceiling until 8am. You throw clothes on and joggle out the door, mad at yourself for failing to reach your goal. Then ‘mommy brain’ kicks in and you can’t remember why you’re frustrated. Then people who have never blown their vaginas out by pulling a baby through it decide to tell you what you’re doing wrong. That’s when the hormones in your body that wiped the reason for your frustration from your brain find a new target, and you go postal on that stranger who is fondling your belly in the elevator while threatening to beat you with your can of diet coke because you’re “killing your baby”.
Much as I hate to admit it, I’m totally one of those overachievers. In some ways, Pregnancy is teaching me to be far more laid back than I ever thought possible. I am bone-achingly tired most days, and no longer beat myself up for taking a nap instead of going to the gym. I don’t have enough room in my torso for my lungs to expand and get a good deep breath, so rather than push for one ‘good’ 7 minute mile, I’m pleased with myself just for showing up at the track on Saturdays. Yet deep inside me, abnormally high levels of hormones are racing through my veins, I still don’t handle criticism as well as I could, and I realize that I know absolutely nothin’ about birthin’ no babies. Take that into consideration with all the boneheaded comments people are comfortable making to pregnant women, and the perfect storm is waiting to erupt. If “Road Rage” is a defense that can hold up in court, then I will need this blog to establish “Mommy Madness” as well as my perfectly sane and rational responses to the world around me for the next 5 months.
Comment at your own risk.
[i] I am not shy about saying that I went to XXXX to get my self-esteem back. The degree was a bonus.