It happened when I was about seven months pregnant: I was standing in the checkout line at the grocery store with a cart full of I don’t know, ice cream probably, when a nice white-haired older lady wearing hot pink lipstick walked over to me, smiled, and placed her hand on my very pregnant belly.
“Oh, you must be due any day now!” she exclaimed, not removing her hand from me, for what felt like forever.
I kind of left my body a little bit. While I had grown accustomed to being a walking science experiment -- I mean, I had A Being growing inside my body, using my calcium and vitamins and whatnot with no work on my part -- this was my first experience with a complete stranger touching my pregnant belly without provocation or permission.
I have what you might describe as a large-ish personal space bubble, under normal circumstances. And when I was pregnant I felt very protective of my body and the life it was hosting -- to the point where I even developed a (sort of) irrational fear of being trampled in crowded areas, and therefore refused to go to Disneyland, or attend concerts or any other event where there might be large numbers of fellow humans.
I had been warned that unprovoked touching would happen at some point, but I kind of didn’t believe it until it actually did happen to me. I politely told the woman that I still had a few months to go, and she removed her hand and I tried not to be too skeeved out about a well-intentioned stranger putting her hands on me without my permission.
But this was not the last time this would happen. The next time it did, I stepped away from the person’s hands before they could actually make contact with me. The time after that, it was one of my regular customers at the beauty supply store, who was not a stranger, but who still touched me without an invitation.
This customer was also an older lady, one who I’d helped pick out shampoo and lip liner and other such personal products. She placed her hands over my enormous belly, closed her eyes, and blessed it. I appreciated the sentiment, but whole thing was uninvited, and I couldn’t wait for her to remove her hands from my person.
I told my boss at the time, and she didn’t see what the big deal was. I mean, people were happy for me! They wanted to make contact with the new person inside of me! What could possibly be wrong with that? What’s wrong with that these people did not ask before they touched me; they just did it.
It was as if the moment I became pregnant, my body became public property, unbound by society’s rules about touching strangers without their permission.
We talk a lot about consent in sexual situations, but what about in non-sexual situations? What about these instances where a stranger’s touch is non-sexual, but all the same, unwanted? And since when is it OK to touch a stranger in such an intimate way as placing your hands on their unborn child?
In my mind, it is never OK for anyone to touch me without my permission. Permission is implied in a hug between friends, but there is no such unspoken contract between complete strangers. And if I’m seven months pregnant but look like I'm 10 months pregnant, and standing in line at the grocery store with a basket full of Moose Tracks ice cream, there is no reason anyone should assume it’s okay to put their hands on me.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that to someone else, unless I knew them really well, and I know from experience that I don’t feel comfortable having it done to me.
So when I saw these photos of pregnant Fergie being mobbed by fans in Brazil, I had this sense memory of having my own space invaded many years ago. The linked article mentions that Fergie “was very sweet, posing with fans and even letting strangers touch her baby bump!”
Can we pause here and talk about how cute Fergie’s “baby bump” is? (Gods of writing and all that is decent, this is the first and last time I will use the term “baby bump,” or strike me dead.)
Anyway, looking at the photo of a bunch of people laying their hands all over her unborn child’s home -- I can’t tell if that’s a look on her face that says “Oh this is so wonderful to be touched by all these people!” or if it’s a look that says, “Oh my god what is happening please someone help me where are my bodyguards.”
If it were me, I would be thinking the latter. But I’m not Fergie, in case that isn’t completely obvious.
Somer is on Twitter: @somersherwood