(Article six of the "On Being Pregnant Series")
The reaction people had to my baby belly seemed to divide along age groups, kids, teens, adults, parents, grandparents. I'm not a person that's used to bringing about a reaction from other people, quite the opposite actually as I tend to blend in with the wallpaper; not so with a baby belly.
Kids are the most fun, although toddlers didn't really seem to notice. I think it's because they're still developing a baseline for what's normal. Many a parent said, "Look honey, there's a baby in her tummy!" The toddler would usually look for moment then squirm away and run off. After all, everything is a miracle to a two year old. Open the door to the big box in the kitchen and cold air rushes out and lights turn on. Pull the handle and water shoots out. Push the lever and G.I. Joe disappears in a whirlpool. Baby in her tummy?? Big deal!
Add just another year or two of sophistication and suddenly the baby-in-her-tummy idea is a lot more interesting. These kids loved putting their hands on my belly and some would even run up to me and pull up my shirt for a better look and give the baby a shout out. Their stream of questions almost always started with, "How does the baby get in there?" Being a biology buff I had no trouble answering this question for my daughter, but in attempt to be sensitive to other people's beliefs and boundaries I would answer, "You should probably ask your mom about that, kiddo." What did I tell my daughter? Excellent question. It went something like this: "Mommies have organs inside their bodies called ovaries. Once a month, these ovaries release an egg. If the daddies fertilize the egg within a few days then a baby will start to grow. That's why babies look a little like their moms and a little like their dads. The baby starts out very, very tiny and gets bigger every day. Then one day, a long time later, the baby will be ready to come out." I was pretty proud of my simple yet accurate description of human reproduction, until I figured out that my daughter assumed the fertilizer was "rubbed on the mommy's tummy." I think I mumbled out an "ummm hummm". I guess my frank honesty only goes so far.
With regards to teenagers, some of the girls would show some enthusiasm but most teenagers would deftly avoid any eye contact. It was like I was a drop of oil in a saucer with pepper flakes. Firstly, they're wise enough to know how you got yourself in this predicament, (tee-hee-hee) but really the idea of pregnancy to a teenager is painted with a thick coat of scandal and over a primer coat of fear. There was nothing more scary that the idea of being a "teen mom" when I was a teen and no scandal bigger than one of us turning up with a baby bump. So their reaction was predictable but also lacking in perspective. I've seen teenage parents do an amazing job and lead a great life.
Among adults it was immediately obvious who was and wasn't a parent. The non-parent types would treat you with mostly indifference, (nothing wrong with that) but fellow parents are quick to light up with excitement and run through the typical script of questions while peppering your responses with their experiences. Dads were generally not so forthcoming but occasionally I'd catch a tough looking, rough-around-the-edges-type with a big sappy grin at the sight of my engorged belly and I'd think, "Yep he's got a little princess at home too."
Some of my favorite reactions came from people who were older. They come from a place of such experience, wisdom, and best of all, perspective on how fleeting these moments are. They'd show unabashed happiness at the gift I'm about to receive and know firsthand that the discomforts and trials are not what I'll remember, nor what really matters. Even from a casual exchange I'd feel uplifted, as though I just had a nice visit with doting grandparents.
I've never been a person to elicit much of a reaction from people, particularly strangers. There's just something special about a pregnant woman. She holds the magic of creation and the hope for our kind in one neat, adorable, little bump. Which is what I think people really meant when Id get the usual, "You look great!" I'd think these people were crazy or lying for my benefit. My internal dialog would shout, "What do you mean, I'm huge, my face is fat, I'm tired, and I haven't seen my toes in ages!" But now that I'm normal again, (well a new normal anyway) when I see a pregnant friend the words fly right out of my mouth, "You look great!"