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I "popped" six months into my pregnancy, and I was thrilled to finally see my burgeoning belly jutting out under my bountiful breasts. After struggling with infertility for several years, I was ecstatic to be expecting.
Being radiant with child, however, came with unexpected side effects: I was made fair game for inappropriate comments, unwanted advice and marauding palms.
"You're carrying so well; must be a girl," my normally reserved co-worker, a father of five, said as his hand reached out and patted my bump.
"Um, thanks. Yes, I am," I hesitantly responded, unsure of how to handle this delicate situation.
A few days later the palm of my hard-driving boss snaked toward me, as she declared she was going to touch my "belly baby" and make a wish.
"Maybe now I'll meet a great guy, settle down and have a baby, too," she half-whispered as if I were some kind of life-size lucky charm.
The following week I came home from work and ran into my next-door neighbour. We were engaging in our usual light chitchat when I started feeling tired.
"I'm going to grab a nap," I told her.
"Well, get all the rest you can now, 'cause you'll get no sleep when the baby comes," she volunteered.
"Will do," I said.
"And make sure you rub oil on your stomach to avoid stretch marks," she advised, pressing her hand right smack on my stomach as if to emphasise her point.
"Oh. Okay. I'll look into it. Thanks for the tip," I said as I beat a hasty retreat to my apartment.
I'd always thought of myself as an empowered woman with strong personal boundaries, but as a pregnant woman I simply registered as someone anyone could just reach out and touch.
The entitlement of others toward my body was hard to take.
I fervently believe that we house our energy in our core - or our stomachs. That's what grounds us, and it's also where we can hold other people's energy. In fact, the stomach is such a spiritually sensitive area that massage therapists are trained to ask permission before they lay their hands on it.
All this "flash belly rubbing," as I liked to call it, was wearing on me. It made me feel targeted, vulnerable and grumpy.
I was fed up, but I was also too nervous to tell people to back off. (What if they thought I was a hormonal witch?)
So I subtly started to protect myself. When someone looked as if they were moving toward me, I'd very quickly step back while placing one hand on my belly.
But still the comments (and flash belly rub attempts) continued.
"Look, you're doing the pregnancy waddle - like a Weeble Wobble, it's so cute," exclaimed a work colleague.
"Ha ha, I think you told me that last week," I replied, doing a practiced step and slide away.
"Make sure you drink enough water so you don't faint," said my mother's friend, her errant hand already poised to strike. Thinking quickly, I coughed and sniffled, as if dealing with the onslaught of a bad cold, and she backed off.
"What is your cup size now? You're probably a G," said the waitress at my favourite diner, checking out my mountainous bosom.
It was the last straw. I put my hand on my belly just as she extended her hand out. It landed on top of mine.
"I don't know my cup size, but I love being pregnant. Please don't touch my stomach. I don't like it," I said in a calm manner that belied the turmoil within.
I was surprised to see her smile.
"I get it," she murmured. I felt her briefly squeeze my hand as if we were co-conspirators, before she lifted it away. "I used to hate it when people tried to touch my tummy, too."
"Thank you for understanding," I told her, rubbing my belly in soothing circles.
Then, despite the baby weight I'd gained, I felt lighter, as I finally expelled the breath I didn't realise I'd been holding in since I'd started showing.