I was at a friend's birthday party when it happened again. Word had got out that I was pregnant, and it didn't take long for one of the guests, a woman I had only met twice in my life, to come barreling across the room, eyes shining with the unwavering focus of someone about to cut a line of cocaine.
I have seen this look a lot lately. It is the same expression that forms in one pair of crazy eyes after another whenever someone -- usually a woman -- catches wind of my baby bump.
"Here's what they don't tell you," she said by way of congratulations. "You will be split apart from your vagina to your anus." Then she began a delightful discourse on hemorrhoids.
Over the past six months or so, I've been told all sorts of things "they don't tell you." Like what will happen to my boobs, which will either disappear entirely, or shapeshift into two deflated bread bags. Or how, according to one friend, "they don't let you leave the hospital until you poop." And don't forget the ripped stitches that will inevitably happen on that maiden bathroom voyage.
When I'm not hearing about the wreckage about to befall my body, I'm listening to delivery stories that rival the gore fest of Alien. "I still can't get over the image of seeing blood on my doctor's eyeglasses," whispered one friend in that voice normally heard only in tents, with a flashlight under the chin, in front of a troop of Girl Scouts.
Why, I wonder, do people, do friends, feel so compelled to tell me such horror stories? At 13 weeks I heard all the miscarriage stories (having suffered one myself in the past, I already know that brand of agony firsthand) and now, at 25 weeks, I'm treated to stories that are even more heartbreaking. Who knew I had so many friends within Six-Degrees-of-Stillborn Separation?
"I want to tell you my amnio story," says the mother of a little boy. It's how most of these stories begin.
"Please don't tell me anything bad," I say. Which is how most of my responses begin. "I will get up and leave the room."
But she tells me anyway -- even with my hand held up like a stop sign the entire time.
As a born-and-bred worrywart, I've already invented and told all these stories to myself. I'm sure most pregnant women do, at one point or another. There's a lot that can go wrong during those nine months. And in all the months that accompany a child into adulthood.
And I do understand the need to boast a bit by sharing their delivery room war stories. I must be a strong woman, they are trying to say, to survive something like this. Perhaps people think they are doing me a favor by preparing me for what's to come, like it's some sort of duty to tell me about gestational diabetes and premature labor. Maybe this is akin to initiation into a club, the Masonic Lodge of Mommies.
Whatever the underlying reason is, please, keep your harrowing baby stories on the shelf. If you see me and my belly coming down the street, stick to more accepted forms of communication, like a hug or sincere displays of joy. Words like "How wonderful," work well, too.
Of course I realize as soon as I give birth, I'll have to steel myself for a whole new batch of terror. My mother-in-law is already lining up her story about breastfeeding.