Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is pregnant with our first child, and complete strangers keep coming up to rub her belly. She seems pretty okay with iit, but it’s driving me nuts. What can I do?
A: As intensely private as pregnancy is, it is also inescapably public. And your partner’s growing belly can bring out the best—and the worst—in people. Perfect strangers will open doors for her, offer to help her carry things, give up their seats in crowded subway cars and buses. In some ways, people’s interest in pregnant women and in the process of creating life is heartwarming. But it’s possible to go overboard.
When my wife was pregnant with our first, People would often come up to her when she was standing in the check-out line at the grocery store and start chatting. Sometimes they’d ask simple questions like, “So, when are you due?” or make pronouncements about the baby’s sex. But some would break out the horror stories—tales of debilitating morning sickness, ten-month pregnancies, thirty-hour labors, emergency C-sections, anesthesia that didn’t work.
And then there were the people who would, without even asking, start rubbing her belly as if she was a Buddha statue or a magic lantern. I kept waiting for her to bite some belly-rubber’s hand off, but she never did. Plenty aren’t as tolerant, though. I’ve heard stories of women reacting to being groped by strangers by screaming, wearing “keep your paws off my belly” t-shirts, slapping their hand, or fondling their belly in return. I always thought she should have told tell them that she had a highly contagious disease that’s transmitted by touch.
Why anyone tolerates this is a mystery to me. Can you imagine how you’d react if someone did the same thing when your partner wasn’t pregnant? Or if you decided to touch some woman’s breasts because they looked so inviting?
For men, this touching business can bring out feelings of anger and protectiveness: “Nobody touches my woman!” If this happens to you, it’s best to take your cues from your partner. If she doesn’t mind, try to relax. But prepare yourself. You’ll be dealing with very similar situations after she gives birth, when complete strangers come up and start fondling your baby—without even washing their hands.