From your baby joining you in the bathroom to strangers asking you crazy questions, nothing is off-limits—but you'll learn to love it.
Whenever any of my girlfriends are expecting, I try to be there to commiserate about discomforts, crack up about cravings, and ponder the endless mysteries of maternity: What’s with suddenly having a basset hound’s sense of smell? What should you do when you’re trying to speak at a work meeting and your baby-to-be’s performing advanced gymnastics inside of you? But the advice I should give them is this: “Enjoy being in the bathroom all by yourself. Because it will never happen again.”
Okay, “never” might be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s certainly going to be a long, long time.
Somehow, with everything I read about having a baby, I still didn’t realize my privacy would go out the window the moment my child arrived. No one tells you—though perhaps it should be obvious—that this tiny human who requires all your support will be your constant companion for years to come.
Of course, I probably should have known this would happen when, as soon as I announced I was expecting, I was launched into a world where everyone from close relatives to total strangers on public transportation seemed to think they could go from chatting with me about the weather one minute to questioning me about my cervix the next. There was, naturally, all the belly patting and groping and, often without warning, someone just dropping her ear onto my midsection to hear firsthand what was going on in there. There were the frequent doctor visits, the resigning oneself to ever-increasing exam indignities, like oozing ultrasound jelly and the prodding of, well, everything. And then childbirth itself, where a cast of sitcom characters—worried husband, confident doctor, alternately joking then frazzled nurses—had a very 3-D look at my insides.
Maybe all of that is just nature’s way of initiating a woman into the no-holds-barred openness to follow. Becoming a parent means that your home, your emerging baby-care skills, and pretty much everything else about you are now on permanent display.
Once those early, bleary-eyed days were over (well, the bleary eyes certainly continued), the magnitude of our togetherness sunk in. It would hit me at night, because for a very long while he slept in our bedroom with us, nursing every few hours. In those rare moments during those first months when he wasn’t attached to me somehow—for, say, a half-hour at Target!—I felt strange and out of sorts, preoccupied with covering up swollen breasts and preventing milk stains from seeping into my shirt.
Naturally, when he was with me out in public, all the belly-touchers were back to ask questions about my milk supply and review his neck-holding-up skills. People in checkout lines and on park benches would offer assessments of local school districts or baby-food recipes. And then there were the many grandmas who told me intimate details about the childbirth experiences of their daughters and daughters-in-law, making me acutely aware that my own mother and mother-in-law were likely out in the world sharing the same information about me.
Coming to Terms
But here’s the thing. After all of that—the pregnancy, the delivery, the prying strangers—my lack of privacy (mostly) ceased to bother me. Maybe it was so gradual that I didn’t notice I no longer had much space of my own, but I also enjoyed feeling like a newcomer being welcomed into a community. I didn’t mind people asking about my son or telling me their stories. (Though I could have done without a few bits.) Conversations about everything from surprising poop color to sore nipples helped me feel like I wasn’t so alone in the craziness of new motherhood. They even led to some friendships. And by the time my second son came along two years later, I barely noticed how open my life had become.
Privacy continued to be a fleeting thing in their toddler years, and even now that they’re in school, they continue to tug on my leg during conversations, look at every photo on my phone, and go through my drawers and closets at will. Meanwhile, I’ve turned into that person who’s cooing and asking questions every time I see a mother out with her newborn.
Maybe it would have helped me when I was first pregnant to realize what I was giving up by having a baby. It’s hard to know. But if I could go back and talk to my new-mom self, I think I’d say something like this: Savor your time with your new companion. Yes, it’s a less buttoned-up, less quiet life now. But if you have to share all your time and space with someone, how wonderful that it gets to be him.