Monthly Archives: February 2017

Ignore stranger’s baby bump

A woman I know has a condition called diastasis recti, a post-pregnancy muscle separation that leaves her with what looks for all the world like a baby bump. She has gamely tried to shrug off congratulations from well-meaning strangers, but recently reached the end of her rope and announced that, “No one should ask a woman if they are pregnant. Ever. Period.”

As a society, we tend to view pregnancy as a happy state of affairs, so it’s not unusual for people to want to participate. But if you have to ask someone if they’re pregnant before congratulating them, you should probably think twice.

Many years ago, I was in Las Vegas for a tradeshow, sitting at a bar with my much older boss, when the bartender asked, “When are you due?” I was not, in point of fact, pregnant. I was, however, wearing a billowy sundress that might have led him to that conclusion. I was thrown by his question, less because he thought I was pregnant than that he obviously thought my boss and I were a couple. That was truly horrifying.

So, I would have to agree with my frustrated friend, you should neither ask if someone is pregnant, nor when they are due. Now you are thinking, but if I’m 99% sure that person is pregnant, can I say congratulations? If the person is a stranger, my answer is no. What if the pregnancy is not a cause for celebration? You wouldn’t say to someone, “Congratulations on breaking your leg.”

Here’s what you can do. If you are a woman, cis, trans, or other, you can smile at a pregnant stranger in the name of sisterhood. You may or may not get a smile in return. It’s even possible that you will get a scowl. Some pregnant women may be offended if they think you are smiling because they are pregnant. They may not want you presuming on their pregnancy. (I know whereof I speak. I was one of them. In hindsight, I should have smiled back. Because really, why not? Must we all go around ignoring each other all the time?)

If you are male, smile at your own risk. But only speak to say, “Please take my seat,” or “Let me get the door for you.”

Is indignation worth the risk?

We don’t typically answer the phone unless we recognize the number, but this particular time Andrew picked it up. Then he said, “Microsoft Operating System Service Center? You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” and hung up.

I was surprised. Speaking his mind when what he has to say is less than charitable is completely out of character for him. But that was only the first surprise.

A moment later, the phone rang again. Caller ID displayed the same number. Andrew picked up the handset and replaced it to end the call without engaging. Within moments, it rang again, so he picked up the handset and replaced it, again.

At first, I was amused that the bogus telemarketer had the nerve to call back. By the third or fourth call, I was getting nervous, wondering when he would give up. After half a dozen calls, Andrew unplugged the land line. That stopped the phone from ringing, but it didn’t stop the answering machine from picking up. This is what it captured.

“Hey you motherfucker, are you afraid of me? You son of bitch.”

My answer to that question was decidedly yes. Despite the fact that the background noise and his accent indicated that the caller was in an overseas call center, I was scared. (I could be wrong about the call coming from overseas, but you’ll note that “son of bitch” is not a typo. He did not say “son of a bitch,” as I would have.)

After that, Andrew unplugged the answering machine, too, effectively disconnecting us from the repeated assault on my nerves. When we plugged everything back in, about an hour later, the phone was quiet.

Andrew clearly scolded the caller (for which I lovingly applaud him), but the response was more than excessive.

I had a similar situation in the bank the other day when I suggested to an employee that he shouldn’t be discussing politics with a customer in front of other, potentially not-like-minded, customers. I was chastised in turn by another customer for not respecting the employee’s freedom of speech. (If we’re friended on Facebook you can read all about that.)

Fortunately, my public admission of discomfort (okay, annoyance) did not result in a threat to my well-being, as it clearly did in the case of the bogus telemarketer. But I did feel uncomfortably exposed.

It has become painfully clear how easy it can be to silence dissent.

For now, we will go back to our policy of not answering the phone if Caller ID leaves any question as to who is calling. So if you want to discuss this with me, you’re probably better off writing.