the pregnancy police

Watch out! Even total strangers will tell you what to eat and how high your heels should be.

I know what you want,” declared the terminally cool coffee clerk. “You want a decaf.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because you’re pregnant.”

“Well, you’re wrong about the coffee,” I hissed, as I big-bellied up to the bar. “I want it caffeinated.”

Well into the pup tent–dressing stage of my second pregnancy, my womb has become public domain. Suddenly, I am advised on how high my heels should be, how much caffeine I should imbibe, what fish to avoid and which exercise is permissable. Never mind that my obstetrician has signed off on one cup of leaded java a day and that I consult her endlessly about what might inflict fetal harm.

Pregnancy police, however, assume Mom-to-Be is less than competent. Their aim is to protect babies from women whose estrogen-flooded brains malfunction. Not even the hair-trigger temper of the Mother Superior of Mood Swings, or caffeine withdrawal (“gimme it or prepare to die”), can slow their mission.

When a friend learned I was running three miles a day, she threatened: “Hey, I’m thinking about doing an intervention. I mean, it’s not like you’re just a little pregnant and running, you’re really sticking out there. [Translation: You are a whale.] Should you really be doing that? It can’t be good for the baby.” Saying nothing, I silently thought, “Well, my OB says it’s OK, Dr. Busybody.” Even my efforts at controlling my Jabba the Hut profile get sabotaged. Ordering a nonfat peanut butter frozen yogurt from a clerk, I noticed he smiled knowingly at my colossal bloatatiousness. “I am trying to watch it,” I said, in my standard Catholic schoolgirl confessional style. “Oh, no, no, no, no,” he opined. “You have to eat for the baby. You don’t want to cut back. You don’t want the baby to be hungry.”

“Trust me,” I wanted to reply, “if I didn’t eat another morsel for the remaining two months of my pregnancy, this child would not go hungry.” My lard-packed butt alone could feed a family of six.

I have been warned about the evils of wearing my beloved chunky heels (“That messes up circulation and blood flow to the baby,” said a friend). Men have pushed me away from the reach of microwaves. Even my husband has joined in the protect-the-baby-from-that-madwoman fray. When I reached for his microbrewed beer after a particularly stressful day, he handily swept it beyond reach as if I were a 3-year-old. “You can’t have that,” he scoffed. “That’s my baby in there.” (“How do you know,” I wanted to snipe.)

What this modern moralizing makes clear is that I am viewed simply as a vessel in which the baby’s rights supersede my own. One gets the sense that the world would feel better if pregnant women were relegated to a couch somewhere with an ample supply of carob-covered ice cream bars. (Remember: Chocolate is a sly, evil caffeine carrier.) Then, of course, I’d be criticized for my lethargy, which in turn would deprive the baby of nutrient-rich blood and oxygen. Judging by how my first child came out, this one ought to be just fine.