Today, at a full 9 months pregnant, I waddled around our neighborhood running errands in my frumpy maternity clothes. I passed men in designer shades and shoes, women in dresses with cinched belts and high heeled boots, cars with six-figure stickers. And just like every other outing I’ve made over the last few months, I got more stares than the slick cars and chic women.
My husband and I live next to a huge college campus and some pretty swanky LA neighborhoods. Here, young, beautiful people and expensive toys abound. In this particular area, it’s the pregnant lady who sticks out (particularly one traveling on foot). Sometimes I feel like an exotic, awkward species let loose from the zoo. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Strangers strike up friendly conversations with me now when I’m out and about. They ask me: boy or girl? Or, when’s your due date? People have offered me their seats in waiting areas and a bus once made an extra stop for me when I would otherwise have missed it. I’ve had cashiers, bus drivers, and a homeless man bless my child. I’ve also had strangers touch my stomach, which is a little odd but usually also kind of endearing.
What I find most interesting about walking around these days is how people look at me. In particular, I notice the reactions of college girls that crowd our neighborhood sidewalks. These girls are all young, mostly quite thin and lovely and often fashionably dressed. They tend to roam around in packs, their heels clattering on the concrete. They laugh too loud and flash their still-white teeth and know that they’ve got years to go before getting pregnant and having kids, if in fact they ever do.
Many of these girls ignore me or do a double take and then look away. Nothing special. But sometimes one of them will gaze at my oddly shaped body with a look of open revulsion. Others will catch my eye and flash me a dreamy smile, as if we are sharing a secret or a promise of some sort. Why do the most striking reactions always come from college women? It’s possible that they haven’t yet learned the art of masking their emotions in public, but I don’t think that’s it. I’ve realized that they aren’t reacting to me, but rather to what I represent. For these young women, I illustrate a future that either frightens or delights them. Months of being comically tubby and uncomfortable. Going through the pain and excitement of labor. Experiencing the joys and responsibilities of motherhood. These girls see all of that in me.
It’s a strange and fascinating intimacy that I have never experienced before. I am more than a pregnant woman waddling down the block. For these girls, I am a reminder. A warning. A mirror. And for a single moment on the street, their expressions reveal everything. I am privy to something personal and private about these strangers’ hopes and fears, about how they see their futures and themselves.