No Kidding: I Didn't Know You Didn't Know I'm Not Pregnant

Brittany Shoot
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On Saturday night, my partner and I were walking out of a local grocer when he decided to buy one of the newspapers being sold by the homeless couple on the corner. I was holding our grocery bag as Andreas paid for the paper, and as the woman handed it to him, she asked him something, then reached over and patted my stomach before he steered me away. I chuckled as we turned towards home. "Why did she poke me? That was funny," I said, because I hadn't caught what they said and didn't understand what I did hear. He looked at me, stricken, and began to shake his head. Then it hit me. She wanted to know when I'm due.

By now, most people reading this know that pregnancy is impossible for me. I'm intentionally sterile after having my tubes tied last year. I don't want to have kids; never have and (it should go without saying) don't believe I ever will. It should also be noted that, by any reasonable standard, I'm not fat. I do, however, have a very specific body type. I have ginormous boobs, skinny arms and legs, and when I gain weight, it goes straight to my belly. In the winter—which is very much what it is now in Denmark—I wear several layers under a puffy coat and can look a bit tent-like if I'm not careful. I shouldn't have to explain away why I'm a bit puffed up this time of year—if for no other reason than I'm just buying into society's fat hatred by apologizing for my body, my existence in public—but apparently, I do if I want to avoid the most awkward exchanges imaginable.

I'm not the only person who has recently written about being mistaken for pregnant in public. The difference is that for me, being questioned about my maternal status, possible pregnancy, or even having to defend against assumptions about my relationship and family goes to something much deeper. It's one more intrusive comment in a lifetime of insensitive remarks from strangers. Most of us know all too well how this applies to so many of the most simple, basic things that we do, including something as obvious as leaving the house.

Horrified for a variety of reasons by the exchange outside of the market—and really quite devastated, truth be told—I asked several friends what to make of this sort of tactless exchange. At brunch on Sunday, two gay male friends confided that they're often mistaken for father and son rather than spouses. One is also regularly referred to as "ma'am" in public, which he finds laughable on the days it doesn't hurt his feelings. Another friend, a lesbian woman in her early thirties, told me via email yesterday that because of her short hair and gender-neutral apparel, she is regularly mistaken for a teenage boy. "The same thing is happening to you, in a sense," she said. "The newspaper woman saw a young straight couple in love and immediately assumed you were trying to have kids. This stuff is about other people's assumptions, their need to see the world from their own skewed vantage point. It simply isn't about you."

Unfortunately, it can feel that way when strangers question your most basic life choices, and we all know that this doesn't happen just to people who have chosen to be childfree who are trying to avoid prying questions. Infertile women face these sorts of thoughtless remarks all the time. All sorts of adoptive families have to answer prying questions from strangers about everything from race and ethnicity to biological relationship—as if your family should be subjected to the judgments of how others assume you must be related, based on skin color, sibling resemblance, or age. Even women who have children can be subjected to the same line of questioning as infertile or childfree women: When is number two on the way? This not only assumes that everyone wants more than one child, that one is not enough; it assumes that the first child arrived without complication, that a second is possible. That's not always true.

I'm not sure why all of this isn't painfully obvious by now: Strangers need to stop making assumptions about other peoples' lives based on their myopic ideas about the world. Very few of us actually conform to stereotypes.

Also? It's pretty much never a good idea to speculate about whether or not a woman is pregnant, especially to her face. No matter what she looks like.

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22 Comments Have Been Posted


Yeah speculating on whether someone is pregnant is a permanent no, even if it's obvious (to me) that they are. It is their body, and you never know what nerves you're hitting. Ever. Plus, there's always the awkward" no, I am not pregnant". For me it's when people make comments (good or bad) about my weight. Do not want! Triggers all sorts of icky stuff. People only think of that, though, if someone is already thin.

If you're fat, it's an automatic compliment. Plus there is no concept of fat people with eating disorders, so of course no one thinks of how a well intentioned" you look like you've lost weight" could spiral someone into a bad relapse. I cut and dyed my hair recently, and complete strangers are always feeling the need to inform me of a. How bad it looks. B. The fact that my hair doesn't match my eyebrows. C. The fact that fat people look fat when they have short hair. My body is private property. trespassing like this is not allowed.

My rule is that even if I

My rule is that even if I know for a fact someone is pregnant that I don't comment on it, since IT'S NONE OF MY BUSINESS what is happening to their body. If a friend or someone brings it up themselves, I'll talk about it, I have nothing against the topic, but I have too many friends who have commented on how uncomfortable they are when people ask them personal questions just because they are pregnant that I try to respect that with everyone.

Though I have to say, I've known a few girls who easily looked 5 or 6 months pregnant, just due to their body shapes, and have been asked when they were due, and it's just as awkward to have someone coming up to you offended because someone thought they were pregnant and them not understanding why someone would think that. There's no polite way to get out of that situation without lying.

Totally agree

When I first started my job at a newspaper, several male colleagues and I were being considered for a promotion. One of the male reporters looked hard at me one day and asked in a very loud voice in the cube farm, "Are you pregnant?!" I think he was interested because it might have affected my chances of getting the job. I looked at him and said in a louder voice, "No a**hole, I guess I just got fat! And I'm never wearing this top again!" One of our older editors poked his head over the cube wall and said, "You never ask a woman that question, son." Truer words were never spoken.

As someone who works in newspapers, I can never make assumptions about people because it could lead to embarrassing mistakes in the paper. I never assume that a woman has the same last name as her husband. I never assume that children with different ethnicites from their parents are adopted. I don't assume the kids have the same last name as their parents. I don't assume parents are married. The list is endless. So I ask a lot of questions.

From all this, I've learned it's best not to assume anything and it's safer to just use neutral language if you feel the need to talk to strangers.

Further, I've never understood the urge for strangers to interact with pregnant women, to congratulate them or touch their bellies (creepy!).

My first reaction

<i>Further, I've never understood the urge for strangers to interact with pregnant women, to congratulate them or touch their bellies (creepy!).</i>

Yes! My first reaction was, "Even if you had been pregnant, why would she think she had the right to just touch you?" Both pregnancy and childlessness, it seems, reveal others' tendencies to believe women's bodies are not really their own.



Glad I'm not the only one

I have the same type of body. Big boobs, pot belly, skinny everything else. Even when I was a kid I looked that way (minus the boobs).

I am 5'6" and currently weigh 155 on a good day, but even when I was 140-145 I occasionally got asked if I was pregnant. I am able to laugh it off, but really, I can't believe the nerve of the people who asked me. And they were women!! The main thing to remember is that they're the assholes. And once you respond, they know it too.

Hell yeah skinny-limbed,

Hell yeah skinny-limbed, big-boobed girls with fat-attracting bellies! We should form a club. I can't say I've ever been mistaken for being pregnant, though my (cis, male) boyfriend is commonly mistaken for a woman due to his long hair and relatively small stature--we get called "ladies" in public a lot.

There are times when I can't tell if a woman is pregnant or not, and in those situations I've found it best to not say anything. I also tend not to comment on strangers' pregnancies because, well, I don't know them and it's weird. If I don't know someone, I don't know the circumstance of their pregnancy, and so I can't be sure if it's appropriate to congratulate them.

Assumptions can be hurtful.

Assumptions can be hurtful. I think as our language grows we'll have more ways to communicate with each other without having to squeeze ourselves and others into a few categories.

I have a half-sister who is 14 years younger than me, I was mistaken for her mother from the day she came home from the hospital, even when my step mother and I were standing side by side. It didn't bother me at all, although my step-mom might have felt differently. I still view encounters like these as complete reflections of those who are making the assumptions. What someone perceives to be true is a mirror into their world and has nothing to do with me.

I know that situation. When

I know that situation. When my brother was born I was 12, our mom 40. I was totally in love with him and carried him around a lot, so people regularly asked if he were "mine". I mean, I did look a tad older but what were they thinking?

When I got married, I made

When I got married, I made the decision to keep my last name. My husband is completely supportive of this choice (if he wasn't, I wouldn't have married him). Everyone else, however, is horrified at how I haven't "changed my name, yet." Even though my husband couldn't care less, often he's "defended" by our families and friends. "Don't you love him?" they say, as if my decision to keep my name the same is somehow a personal attack on him and his family. When I go to a doctor's office and fill out paperwork, I write my name in the slot that says PATIENT NAME and the name of my husband in the slot that says NAME OF SPOUSE. 9 out of 10 times the person receiving the papers calls me "Mrs. Hurley" when I've just written down that my name is Ms. Carr.

Aside from the world telling me that I'm a horrible, heartless person for not wanting to change the name that was given to me at birth and has since become a thread in the very fabric of my identity as a human being, I'm also expected to be pregnant or trying to get pregnant - ALL...THE...TIME. When I attempt to explain that #1 the idea of being pregnant frightens and disturbs me to the core, and #2 I simply don't want children, I hear, "Oh, you're young, yet. You'll have them." Whenever someone says this to me, whether my grandmother or my dad or the lady ringing up my groceries, I want to reach over and choke them until unconscious! How DARE anyone make assumptions about the solidity of my decisions! I don't desire to know the feeling of pregnancy. I don't enjoy the company of children. I have not one maternal bone in my body. I've made the choice to remain child free. The fact that I'm in my 20's doesn't make that decision any less concrete, nor would it if I were any other age, gender, or ethnicity. END OF FUCKING STORY.

Pregnancy comments

I have a big belly, and once I did actually get asked if I was pregnant by a pretty clueless but well-meaning person. Unpleasant, but no biggie. If I ever get asked again, I'm just gonna say: "No, I just have a fat tummy!" and let them feel embarrassed.


This happened to me, for the first time, when I was 11 years old! Yes, I said 11 YEARS OLD. An old woman came up to my mom in Sears and bawled her out for allowing such a young child to get pregnant... in front of me, the clerks, other customers... I was born with weak stomach muscles and my tummy pooched a bit. I needed surgery to correct it but that wasn't "done" for children back in 1977. That was 33 years ago and I'm still not over it.

What a horrible, horrible

What a horrible, horrible person. I can't believe someone could be so cruel to strangers and especially a child, in public. I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

What a terrible thing to

What a terrible thing to happen! I'm so sorry.

One thing that always

One thing that always bothered me and offended me was having my bosses ask me if I am pregnant. It's happened more than once at more than one place of employment. I have thyroid problems, so I often feel fatigued and have an irritated stomach. Whenever i would bring this up at my last place of employment, my boss would ask if I was pregnant. This happened a few times. At my new job, at a meeting, at the end I said that I had an announcement. The first thing my boss said is "You're pregnant!". It was awkward. My announcement was that I got married (that day, in fact, at the county clerk's office). I just hate how when, as a woman, I don't feel well, so it must be morning sickness, and if I have an announcement, it's that I'm pregnant. Or people ask when I want kids now that I'm married. or before I got married. And when I wasn't married, when I was going to get married.

Regarding asking a woman if she is pregnant: I read a story about an employee of Disneyland who was a ride operator. He was required to ask women whom he thought might be pregnant if they are. It was an unfortunate requirement of his job, and after getting embarrassed and offending women, he came up with a solution: Ask everyone in line, male and female, if they were pregnant. And women weren't offended because he was asking everyone.

There was a nurse in my high

There was a nurse in my high school that would automatically ask any and all female students who walked into the office if they were pregnant. It became something of a joke, and we would describe scenarios where a girl would walk in with her arm torn off and be asked if her pain was due to pregnancy. It was irritating, though, when you knew exactly what was wrong and your word was not taken until pregnancy was ruled out. "Hi, I've burned my fingers in the chem lab. Can I have some cream?" "Is there any chance you could be pregnant?" It was like, just give me the damn burn cream.

Ugh. The "Are you pregnant?," question.

I had been experiencing a lot of stress-related GI issues and had gotten pretty sick. The light sheen of sweat on my face, the vomiting, the cramps;I wouldn't know, because I've never been pregnant, but I guess to other women it looked like morning sickness.
I had stopped at the office to pick up some files a colleague required and there were several female employees hanging out in the lobby, including the managing partner. They were standing around chatting, doing a post-lunch schmooze when I walked in the door. The MP asked about how I was feeling and I told her I felt sick, she asked me the dreaded, "Are you pregnant?"
I stopped, looked at all of them and deadpanned, "If I am, it isn't anything a wire hanger couldn't take care of," and walked out of the lobby toward the filing room.
Yes, I still had a job. :D

Ugh, a comment like that

Ugh, a comment like that would have gotten me fired because I worked in a small town and my bosses were both Christians. Same with my new place of work. They would have been HORRIFIED, to say the least.

I know the feeling!

I think people just say this stuff because they think they are being friendly and "social" I guess it does not occur to them that sometimes it's best to keep your mouth closed. I used to cut my hair short as a kid and people mistook me for a boy on many occasions. I am debating the idea of not having children as I am now married, my husband and I feel we have other priorities and don't see ourselves as parents. Almost anytime the topic of having children comes up, people tell me "it's gonna happen".....don't worry the biological urge will happen any day now!! It goes without saying, there are always going to be these comments. I think it is perfectly fine, and even necessary to call people on what they say. I mean, let's face it, how are these people going to know if someone doesn't teach them? I wish I had the nerve at ten to respond, I am not a young man! Get some glasses!

Thank you for your posting

When I was about five, I remember doing this to one of my mom's friends, and it was because I had been recently introduced to a pregnant woman. I have always felt bad since, because I genuinely didn't mean to make the woman upset. I know it shouldn't bother me now, because hey, I was just a little girl, but it was still my first lesson in sensitivity. And in retrospect, I really wish other people would get such lessons early in life as well.

As an adult, I am on the receiving end of a different type of judgment: When we'll have a baby. >:( My husband and I have been together for fifteen years, and I have a now adult son from before we met. My mom used to say it, but she at least got the hint. His mom - not so much. Every time she sees me, she just *has* to ask when we're going to have a baby. It's partly because of that I become anxious whenever I know she'll be around. She even asked that out loud at our son's going away party last summer, as he was joining the Army. I couldn't believe it!

"It's so sad you two never had a baby." I spun around from the grill so fast, I'm surprised no one got knocked upside the head with something hot and melty.

"What's wrong with the kid we have? You know, the one whose party it is?" I didn't mean to put our son on the spot like that, but damnit I was pissed! Of all the days for her to bring up the baby thing, it was *that* day.

"Well, you know what I mean. You don't have any between you. I've always felt bad." I had nothing to say to that. Absolutely nothing. It was painfully obvious to me I was now a failure, because I wasn't producing her a *blood* grandchild. It also said to me she didn't see DS as a /genuine/ grandchild, even though DH and I have been together since he was a toddler. And too, DH has all but said she's a "quantity over quality" type when it comes to kids - the more the merrier. While we wouldn't mind another, babies cost A LOT of money, and we're not exactly swimming in it, so we're content with getting, not barely scraping, by.

Skinny limb pot belly club

I want to join the skinny limbed, big boobs, pot belly club! I didn't know there were more like me out there! I was asked if I was pregnant through my entire 20's. At 5'5' and 120 lbs then, I guess my pot belly really stuck out. Oddly enough, now that I'm in my 30's, 160 lbs and pregnant, no one asks! It's funny. My other favorite question is "are those real" about my breasts. Asked by many, but my favorite was by a co-worker in the lunchroom. (I told her that if they were fake I wouldn't have opted for the optional tummy package that came along with them because it jiggles when I run and I hate that feeling). All of these unusually begun conversations have led to learning about the other person's view and sharing my own. I guess I'm an anthropologist at heart, because as long as someone shares the reasons for their point of view, I'm not bothered by whatever it is. It just gets us to a point of greater understanding.

I'm not intending to sound glib, I've experienced pretty much everything mentioned in the article, including a current difficult pregnancy that will be followed by permanent sterilzation and already the questions about when the next baby will come. People can't always help projecting themselves on others, be glad when they are projecting their own happiest moments on you.

In highschool I was kinda

In highschool I was kinda fat. One day I was walking through the halls to the library when a kid in one of the classrooms literally YELLED at me, "Hey are you pregnant?"

I immediately went into that room and confronted him. The weird thing is that his class was ongoing at the time and everybody including his teacher thought I was weird for confronting him. It was apparently perfectly normal to interrupt class by yelling a personal question at an unknown girl in the hall, but if the girl is offended by that, THAT'S WEIRD.

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