My personal ‘Jennifer Aniston’ pregnancy experience

Jennifer Aniston’s recent comments about the public’s intrusion into women’s private lives made me recall my own brush with a thoughtless commenter.

Jennifer Aniston arrives at the Open Roads World Premiere Of "Mother's Day" on April 2016 in Hollywood. Gregg DeGuire | WireImage

When I was pregnant with our second child, we lived in the Washington, DC area and one of my favorite sources of maternity wear was in the Pentagon City Mall, conveniently located close to the very swank Nordstrom ladies’ room.

One morning as I searched a circular rack for shorts that might accommodate my growing girth, a woman almost crashed into me and stopped. The look on her face can only be described as abject horror.

“Please tell me,” she said. “please tell me that you’re almost due.”

I was discomfited by her wide eyes and gaping mouth. “Why?” I responded.

She put her hand on her still-flat abdomen. “Because I’m two months pregnant, and you’re SO BIG. Is that what I’m going to look like in my last trimester?”

Okay, so I happen to be a very short woman with an even shorter waist. When I am pregnant, there is nowhere for the baby to go but out—and when pregnant for a second time, as many of us know, the baby juts out earlier than ever. As it happened, at the time of this incident, I was six months pregnant and seeking shorts because it was August in DC.

It’s important for you to know it was August in DC because it explains just how cranky I was, hugely pregnant, living in a house with poor air conditioning, and trying to while away a few hours in comfort before picking my five-year-old up from Montessori school. So cranky that when this woman questioned my size, I responded: “Oh, no, not close to my due date at all! This is four months.” I chuckled. “Gosh, I guess we’re both going to get MUCH bigger!”

A woman who is visibly pregnant, whether cranky or joyful, elicits feelings from other people.

I thought of that exchange this week when actress Jennifer Aniston took to the media via an article in the Huffington Post, in an attempt to have her say about women, pregnancy, motherhood, and body image. Let me first say that I agree with many things Aniston has to say in her op-ed, including her thoughts on how our society and culture objectifies women and her statement on how we are complete without marriage or motherhood. Women are not objects; we’re people. People do not have to choose something simply because other people do. Brava, Ms. Aniston.

However, while I also understand how frustrated she must be when paparazzi stalk her due to rumors she is pregnant, I’d like to take my anecdote and use it to explain what is different about pregnancy—specifically visible pregnancy. Yes, our parents taught us not to comment on whether or not a woman is pregnant unless we’ve heard it from her, first; but let’s face it. People do comment.

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston seen on the streets of Manhattan on June 21, 2016 in New York City. James Devaney | GC Images

The woman who gasped and gaped at my pregnancy can be forgiven to the extent that she and I were shopping for maternity clothes. She wasn’t accosting me at an athletic shop or a restaurant. And I know my cranky answer to her wasn’t the most compassionate one I could have given.

Yet a woman who is visibly pregnant, whether cranky or joyful, elicits feelings from other people. She doesn’t mean to, and it isn’t fair or correct. All of us elicit feelings from other people, all the time. You might be a person with great style, someone confined to a wheelchair, or dressed in some kind of uniform. Appearances bring up emotions.

Pregnancy brings up many emotions, too. I don’t want to ignore the negative ones, like my gasper’s horror, or sadness from a woman who has not been able to bear the children she desperately wants. But we must remember that a pregnant woman has, for centuries, been a harbinger of hope and change. (It will not escape most of us that a pregnant woman is at the heart of the Christian Gospels.)

If someone says something, good or bad, you can choose how you respond. You can’t change anyone else’s reactions to your state, but your best friends are the words “no” and “thank you.”

People will comment and react to your pregnant self. You can’t help that. What you can do? Have boundaries. For example, no one should be touching your belly for any reason unless you invite them to do so. If someone says something, good or bad, you can choose how you respond. You can’t change anyone else’s reactions to your state, but your best friends are the words “no” and “thank you.”

Let me put it another way: during this same pregnancy of mine, my obstetrician cautioned me to hydrate constantly. “You have to remember that you’re not really one person right now, and you’re not really two people, yet” he said. “A pregnant woman is sort of a hybrid creature.”

A hybrid creature. No wonder women are so often associated with unicorns! That’s probably how Jennifer Aniston feels when she’s being stalked—like some kind of bizarre being, when she really just wants to get on with her day and grab a smoothie. Jen, don’t forget to make sure it’s full of papaya, just in case. You can never have too many folates, pregnant or not. Here’s hoping you get the outcome you want without the objectification you don’t.

Bethanne Patrick
Bethanne Patrick
Bethanne Patrick is a writer and author whose latest book is an anthology: "The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections from 100 Authors, Artists, Musicians, and Other Remarkable People" (Regan Arts, 2016). Patrick tweets @TheBookMaven, where she has over 215,000 followers, and is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle. She lives with her husband and their daughters in the DC metro area, where she can often be found on her porch—reading.

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