IT HAPPENED TO ME: A Stranger Wouldn’t Stop Telling Me What to Do With My Unborn Son’s Penis

Stranger: "So, have you thought about circumcision?" Me: "I really don't think that my son's penis is any of your business."
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Publish date:
March 4, 2015
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Tags:
parenting, health, children, circumcision, newborn babies

I am reaching for the bananas hanging above the table, when something hard and round falls down by my feet and starts to roll. My belly, now the size and shape of a watermelon, has knocked over the apple display. Again.

I swing my basket to the left and look down, but all I see is the watermelon belly. I lean to the side, as the front view is no longer reliable. I spot the apple. I bend down awkwardly to retrieve it. I continue through the produce section, holding the basket behind me because it no longer fits in front.

After 41 weeks of constant growth, I can’t pinpoint where my belly ends and where the protruding corners and tabletops begin.

Watermelon baby has also blurred the lines between my personal space and the world’s opinions. For the past several months, strangers have been informing me that, by the look of things, the baby should arrive any day now.

On the day that the baby should have arrived, I went down to the public pool. The Internet assures me that there is nothing like a feeling of weightlessness to take your mind off the wait. I may have felt light, but the other swimmers reminded me that I didn't look it.

"Mommy, look at her belly!"

"Yes honey, there's a baby in there. There might be TWO babies in there!"

After many conversations like this, I am not surprised when the friendly man behind me in the checkout line starts talking. Does he want to predict the baby’s weight? Perhaps he wants to put his mouth near my navel and start singing a lullaby. This has happened before. Maybe he’d like to predict my weight?

He looks vaguely familiar. Tall-ish. Skinny-ish. Freckled. I will never guess his weight or sing to his navel. That’s not normal behavior.

Stranger: "So, are you having a boy or a girl?"

This is a favorite pregnancy icebreaker. From another mother, it might come with a knowing smile, like saying, I've been there too, I know how it is to wait and wonder and dream of dark round eyes and soft skin.

Alternatively, it is an easy and awkward admission that the entry of a new little life has left you speechless. Me, too, strange man.

But no, perhaps you are speechless for another reason. Perhaps you just can't stop staring at my belly button, which has popped out like a turkey timer at the front of the watermelon. Like an awkward third nipple on my belly. Guess I should answer.

Me: "It's a boy. Maybe."

Stranger: "Oh, that was my guess. I knew because your belly button is sticking out."

Me (in my mind): Like a turkey timer or a third nipple?

I try to think of something to say about his belly button, because that kind of compliment deserves a witty reply. Nothing comes to mind. I don't spend much time thinking about other people's navels.

Me: "You’re very observant. Thank you."

I turn away and step forward in line. He bounces behind me, moving into my line of sight while also forcing people in the neighboring lines to move aside to accommodate our respective personal bubbles. They don’t need to be so polite, because he doesn't seem to have a personal bubble. Mine has apparently been popped by the watermelon.

Stranger: "So, have you thought about circumcision?"

Me: "Excuse me?"

I would take another step forward, but my belly is already about to ram the person in front of me. There’s no escape.

Stranger: "Oh, you know, are you going to mutilate your child without his consent?"

He actually said that.

Me: "I think I forgot something back in the meat department. Uh, have a nice day."

Leaving my position at the front of the line, I head for the safety of the refrigerators. I remember the many discussions I have had with my husband on this very topic. It is a fraught one, at the intersection of religion, culture, freedom, privacy, identity, and physical self-determination. It is not something I am remotely interested in reviewing with a stranger in the grocery store checkout line. Or anywhere else.

I also wonder at what age it becomes inappropriate to talk about a child's genitals. With strangers. In public.

I’m flustered. My pregnant belly draws more attention than I ever anticipated. It has been offered a seat on a crowded bus. It has been adored by my immigrant neighbors in a language I don’t understand, but in a tone that’s unmistakable.

For many months, I’ve been sharing my physical body with a tiny human, a feeling that is both extraordinary and surreal. This does not mean that other, full-size humans have leave to touch my stomach or make loud, public comments about my body. I am not sharing it with the world, just the tiny soul that I am bringing into the world, and only for the few brief months when that soul cannot survive on his own.

I loop around the refrigerated section into the bakery, so intent to escape the store that I almost overlook the same gentleman standing by the display of organic dark chocolates and pomegranate juice. He is waiting for me. I join the back of the line at another register. He follows me.

Stranger: "So, have you thought about circumcision?"

Me: "I really don't think that my son's penis is any of your business."

And yet, somehow it has become his business, just like my protruding belly button. The corner of a clipboard peeks out from his shoulder bag, and suddenly I recognize him.

I have passed him before, outside of this very same store, where he has tried to catch my eye. Do I know what happens in the slaughterhouses? Have I heard of Proposition 8? Don't I agree that the city budget should be reformed? Would I like to sign the clipboard, to send a petition for redress?

Most recently, it is a referendum to criminalize circumcision in neighboring San Francisco.* Holding the clipboard and talking with him about the policy implications of such a ban had felt like a logical exercise. We could discuss the issues and weigh the importance of religious traditions against the rights of a minor to physical self-determination, debating the role that government should play in this kind of decision. Confronted in the cashier’s line, talking about a real live child — my child — felt like a personal affront, not an abstract policy concern.

There is a line between talking in abstract about the surgical status of the foreskins of all male children in the city, and talking about the foreskin of the child that is currently residing in my uterus.

It is the same line that stops the cashier from asking what I plan on doing with all those condoms, and keeps a stranger from commenting that I must be fat because of all the ice cream he just watched me eat. The line marks the place where my personal space begins and where your public interest ends.

Large as it is, my pregnant belly does not push me into the realm of public comment.

*And for those of you concerned generally about the foreskins of all the boys in San Francisco, the referendum was dropped from the ballot because it was decided that city governments cannot pass independent regulations on medical procedures.