I was at a Rite-Aid drugstore today in search of some vitamins. It is a chore for me to remember to take them and my husband has tried for years to get me on a daily vitamin to no avail. In my "get healthy" efforts I decided that I probably ought to actually pay attention and take something, considering I don't eat as much in the way of vegetables as I should. When I was younger I ate only potatoes, corn and raw carrots. I have greatly expanded this list in my "old age" but still I figured a supplement couldn't hurt me.
When I got there, I was a little overwhelmed. There were dozens of choices. I actually had some multivitamins at home I was finishing (read: starting), so this was more of a fact finding mission, and also a quest to find a Vitamin C chewable that didn't taste like oranges. I really don't like orange flavored things and I have several fruit allergies so my fruit-less diet was yet another reason to look for vitamins. I was picking things up and reading them right and left wondering what black cherry was good for and if ginko biloba would really improve my memory. As I was reading a bottle of Vitamin D that had the word Paleo on it I heard someone behind me speak.
I turned, because I don't have great hearing when people are directly behind me and a kind looking woman said "are you actively trying? It's good to start early". I was confused and must've looked so. She then said "I mean the folic acid is great even if you're not sure."
I froze. To me, folic acid means one thing - you're pregnant. I looked down at my jacket and workout pants. I was just coming from a walk around my neighborhood in hopes of being a little more active and healthy. I almost started to cry. Clearly this woman thought I was pregnant because I am currently the size of a whale. I felt a little ill.
"It's perfectly natural - you don't have to be embarrassed!" She said cheerily. My mouth was hanging open in a small o and I simply didn't know how to respond. I managed to squeak out a "why do you think..." and then my voice caught.
She was there, grinning at me when she looked down at the vitamins more closely. It was her turn to freeze. The corners of her mouth dropped a little and she squinched up her eyes. Then she said very quietly "oh no."
I was trying to be calm. I was trying not to cry and I was trying very hard to stifle the feeling that I should punch her right in the mouth. For a split second I had images flash in my mind where I was Ronda Rousey and she was Misha Tate. I just stared and tried to speak again.
"Why did you think that?" I asked and blinked a whole lot because my eyes felt hot and threatened to flood onto my cheeks.
She looked at me and said "I've been trying to have another child and my doctor said I should start prenatals now so that - y'know." Then she sighed and smiled again. She pointed at the bottle in my hand and said "I thought that said "prenatal" and I was trying to lend you some advice."
I felt a tiny bit better. I thought back to what I had heard earlier about the folic acid and it all matched up. I was relieved. I wasn't quite ready to laugh it off but I wasn't going to burst into tears right then either.
Then she said "I'm sorry - you probably thought I was saying it because of you being fat but I..." and then she swallowed hard. I'm convinced it was because of the narrowing of my eyes and the renewed desire to put her in an arm bar that I was feeling.
"I didn't mean that either. I'm not.... I mean... What I meant to say was I didn't think you were fat or pregnant or... Well I did but, not becau..."
I looked at her and said "please stop."
She laughed nervously and threw out a quiet "trying to be a help... I just thought..."
"I know" I said. But at the same time I willed her into silence with every fiber of my being.
I've come to know this woman. Not this particular one, but this person in general. I have seen "her" before. When I worked at Target and people would ask my advice about car seats or formula while I was resetting the baby section I would smile and say "I'm sorry, I'm not sure. I have no children and have never used that". I got a wide range of responses and they were often accompanied by a pitying look.
Here are some of the gems I've heard too often:
"That's okay, you still have time!"
"You're young - it will happen".
"Why? Is there something wrong with you?"
"Oh! I thought you were married because you're older".
"Do you not like kids?"
"You better get a move on!"
"Lots of women wait now, movie stars are having babies at 40".
"Really? That's odd".
"What good are you then? Ha ha!"
"Who will take care of you when you get old?"
I've found it was best to just nod or smile or laugh and remind myself that it was not a big deal. Still, it always feels like a big deal. It is insensitive at the least to ask a perfect stranger these questions, but people do it all the time. When I meet a new group of people the very first question is often "do you have kids?" I understand that this is a way to get to know people, and that parents often like to talk about their children. I get that. I just truly wish that my answer of "no" wasn't met with a well meaning "well you mean not yet!".
I've heard lots of comments like that one too:
"Oh really - that's such a shame!"
"Huh - I'm sure you'll be a good mom when the time comes".
"I waited to have my first too".
"You can always adopt kids if you can't have any of your own".
"Well don't wait too long".
"You're so lucky - I wish I could relax and have free time".
"Well I know what you'll be doing when you get home!"
The list goes on and on. I hate comments like these. I do wish I had a child, or children. It would be great, but it isn't in the cards. I miscarried well into my second trimester several years ago. I was emotionally devastated, and I still haven't quite recovered from the loss.
No one could give me an explanation at the time as to why it happened. The doctor said "Lots of women have miscarriages. You might have several more - you're likely to since you carried this long. It will happen if it's supposed to happen. Try again", but I honestly don't think I could handle losing another baby. Having my body fail me in this way and losing someone I had waited my whole life for felt like the cruelest joke. If I felt that loss again I would fall apart. I have a difficult time holding babies, and I feel the same tears threaten to fall when I'm around the tiniest of little ones that I do when a random stranger wrecks me with an disheartening comment on my lack of children.
The aftermath and grief I experienced at the loss unraveled my first marriage, although it was admittedly not in the best shape prior to that. I have heard a range of responses to this as well, one more painful than the next and they don't bear repeating. My husband Andy can't have children any longer either and there are plenty of mixed emotions that come along with that. It is something that I think about but it isn't something that defines me anymore. It would take an incredible miracle for us to have a child at this point, and I just don't see it happening. It's also not worth the time it would take to explain the situation to a perfect stranger, nor is it a priority of mine to correct their misguided assumptions. I think that the insensitivity they display is unkind and unfortunately somewhat expected.
People can be dicks sometimes even if they are dicks with good intentions.
As I walked away from the lady I said "I hope you have another baby, good luck." I really meant it too. I am pretty certain she was an employee because she made her way up to the front as I was leaving and tried to apologize again. I'm sure she felt bad about sticking her foot in her mouth. It happens. I've said stupid insensitive things before. Maybe she will go home and relate the story to her husband or boyfriend or mother or child. I really don't know anything about her other than the fact that she wants another kid. If I see her again I probably won't speak to her but I will secretly wonder if she's pregnant yet and if she isn't what the heck is taking her so long. And then I'll smile.