No matter what you think about society’s perceptions of pregnancy, riding public transportation is guaranteed to change them. Perhaps you think that society will celebrate the tiny life growing inside of you, only to encounter people who bluntly inform you that you got yourself into that mess so you can deal with the consequences.
Or maybe you have been having a bit of a rough pregnancy and you figure that the world is filled with miserable jerks who only care about themselves, when you step onto the crowded subway and have someone offer you his seat so you can rest your feet. It is kind of amazing that you can meet such a different group of people even if you ride the subway at the same time every day, but you will, and here is how they will change your opinion about how society views pregnancy.
6 Everyone Loves Pregnant Women
This one might be the most jarring when you encounter it. You hop, or whatever counts for a hop when you are visibly pregnant, onto the bus after work and it is almost overflowing. You gently cradle your belly when you squish past the people standing at the front as you make your way to where the seats are.
Every seat is taken: some with elderly men and women, some with teens on their phones, a couple with women your age reading books. Some of them seat dwellers glance up at you as you bump into them while you waddle past. No one moves.
“Can I sit down?” You ask the nearest crowd. They pretend not to hear you. “I’m eight months pregnant.” You say slightly louder, your frustration and exhaustion are evident in your voice.
The young women in front of you, roll their eyes. “It’s not my fault you’re pregnant. It’s not like you broke your leg or something.” And then they turn back to each other and talk about how they can’t believe how entitled some people are, before presumably texting that exact sentiment to their friends who are not on the bus with them.
5 Why Can’t They Just Let Me Sit Down?
Not all individuals who do not surrender their seats are as downright cruel as the young women in my illustration. While some might feel like it was your decision to get pregnant in the first place, and therefore you should not complain about the hardships, others might have a better reason to stay firmly planted in their seats. For instance, they might not have noticed.
They could be engrossed in whatever is on their phone or in their book, they could be intently watching for their stop so they don’t miss it.
I know when I’m going to a new location for the first time my eyes are always looking outside of the bus trying to read the street signs as they go by—my buses only recently started announcing stops, and most often the drivers do not have speakers to amplify their voices, or they could be daydreaming or trying to figure out what to have for supper and completely oblivious to the world around them.
Ken Gallinger, a columnist for the Toronto Star pointed out his problems with offering pregnant women his place stem from the reactions he has received when offering a woman his seat. For example, he once offered his spot to a pregnant woman who responded by telling him off because she wasn’t injured.
So before you get all offended that no one offers you a place to sit down, you might want to consider that maybe they are concerned that you will get mad because you also are not injured or disabled.
In her article, “Pregnancy and Public Transportation: What It's Really Like,” Lisa Horten gives another reason why people might not have jumped up instantly to offer you their place. As she explains, part of the problem is “the golden rule that everyone from 20-somethings to grandparents knows (or should know): never assume that a woman is pregnant.
This is particularly true in Winter; when your frame is hidden under a bulky coat and gear, it's not easy to differentiate the expectant woman from the one who's just added an extra layer.”
So the next time you climb onto whatever form of public transportation you use, and no one offers you a spot to sit down, try to think about it from their perspective. Perhaps they are worried you will snap at them for treating you like you are injured or maybe they are worried you will be offended because you are not actually pregnant, or there is a chance that they simply did not notice you get on.
So do not be afraid to ask someone to surrender a spot for you, chances are they will and your faith in humanity can be restored.
4 The Sisterhood Is Strong
As the subway approaches, you run through a few scenarios in your mind. They all seem to end with your standing, but you assure yourself that will not happen. If the bus is full, chances are there are other women on it with you. Women who have been there before, women who want to be there now and so have read about what pregnancy is like.
Surely one of those women will graciously offer you a seat in memory of a time someone offered her one, or in hopes that someone would do the same for her in the future. You step onto the subway, and look around. The women in the car either pointedly ignore you, stare at you and then turn away, or tell you to be careful. They all remain seated.
Chances are, if you are offered a seat on public transportation, it was not from another woman. I do not know why this is. However, the closest thing I got to help from a woman when I had to use the bus at eight months pregnant, was when one lady yelled at the teen boy sitting in front of her to get up so I could sit.
He had been oblivious to the world until she spoke, but then he leapt out of his seat like it burned him. The poor guy was so embarrassed if his bright red cheeks were any indication. She nodded smugly to herself and went back to whatever she was doing. In case you were wondering, yes, she was also sitting down, so she did not need to embarrass the kid like that.
3 What Happened To Solidarity?
Antonia Hoyle wrote an article for The Daily Mail titled “Why won't women give me a seat on the bus?” In her article, she thinks about a few reasons why other women can be so cruel (and the examples in her article are cruel) to pregnant women. For starters, Hoyle wonders if “our own experience of pregnancy and motherhood robs us of empathy” or if we experience “compassion fatigue” after having been there ourselves.
People tend to remember negative events better than positive ones. So instead of remembering a time when someone offered her a seat, the woman in front of you can only remember the times no one offered her a place to sit and she figures that since she had to suffer through it, why shouldn’t you?
Hoyle also thinks there might be some elements of jealousy involved. After all, the woman who turned back to her book after staring at your belly might wish she was in your place and able to carry a child of her own.
I suspect it also has something to do with the notion of chivalry. Growing up as a young girl, I heard all about chivalry and what it was supposed to do for me: guys were supposed to open car doors for me, pull out chairs at restaurants, buy me drinks and meals, and surrender their seats on crowded subways.
There was never any indication of what I should do. I was never told to hold open doors for people—side note, I do hold doors—maybe the woman in front of you internalized that message and assumes that she does not need to give up her seat because some man on the subway should.
2 The World Is Full Of Jerks
You walk up to the bus, trying to protect your growing belly from the push of the people around you. It’s been a long day at work, you’re tired, you’re sore, your feet are swollen, and you just want to be home. You feel very defeated, and are bracing yourself to stand up the entire ride home.
Unless you are fortunate and the person who is sitting in front of you leaves so you are able to snag a vacated seat before someone else snatches it.
Then, once you climb on the bus, no less than three people stand up and offer you their seat (and you see out of the corner of your eyes, a few more who started to get up but stopped when someone else did). Before they change their minds, you slide into the nearest offered seat and offer up your profound thanks.
1 Or Is It?
Elizabeth Carey Smith decided to keep track of how frequently she was offered seats during the last four months of her pregnancy. On her daily commute to and from Manhattan, she was offered a seat around 80 percent of the time.
That was pretty similar to my experiences as well. I can’t actually recall a time when I didn’t get to sit down on the bus during my third trimester. The closest time I had to be denied a chair was that time when the lady stepped in and asked (albeit rudely) the teenager to surrender his place to me.
In case you were wondering, Smith was offered a seat by a woman almost as frequently as she was offered one by a man. While I can’t say the same about my experiences, and apparently other women can’t either, that could be because we didn’t actually record the different times we were offered seats and thus don’t remember the situations correctly.
So don’t give up hope, when you walk on a bus and the individuals who look like the best candidates to ask to surrender their places are all women. There is a chance they will move for you.
If you are worried about your commute to and from work when you are feeling huge and clumsy, relax knowing that chances are you will be offered a place to sit down. However, if you are not offered a seat right when you walk onto the subway or bus, don’t be afraid to ask for a place to sit down.
After all, they might not have noticed you walk on, or they aren’t sure if you are pregnant and don’t want to offend you by offering you a place to sit that you don’t actually need. Regardless of what happens when you walk onto the bus or subway, your ideas about how society views pregnancy are bound to change.
Days when you think the world is full of cruel people who just don’t understand might be the days when you are offered a seat every time you need to ride. Whereas days when you are anticipating having the chance to sit down and rest your sore back, could be the days when no one budges.