Being pregnant in the U.S. compared to being pregnant in Austria so far has been the biggest culture shock since our arrival just 5 days ago. Maybe it’s because I’m much more obviously pregnant than I was while I was in Austria, or maybe it’s simply because of the culture. Maybe a little of both. But whatever the reason, it has been a wild, amusing and occasionally very awkward difference.
In Austria, no one aside from my friends and doctor talked to me about being pregnant. I’d see people on the subway kind of glance down at my stomach in order to decide if I was indeed pregnant or just gaining weight in a strangely shaped fashion, and every now and again someone would see that I was in fact pregnant and gave up their seat for me. But no one talked to me about it because that’s not really what people there do. Everyone has their personal bubble, and you don’t really go outside that bubble, and you especially don’t go into someone else’s. The same, in my experience, also occurred in public places like restaurants or stores.
Enter the U.S. of A – where everyone appears to know everyone even though there’s a 99% chance “everyone” is a complete stranger. Just within these brief 7 days, I’ve been asked an overwhelming amount of questions about my pregnancy (some of which were, you know, a little personal) as well as blatantly stared at, or I’ve been given special attention that I would otherwise probably not receive if I weren’t toting around this little guy. I’ve been given advice by observing and weary parents, as well as just been told stuff by people who have never been parents in their lives but still want to pass on any wisdom they feel I might find useful.
Like the older lady in the New York City subway. Will, our Austrian friend Thomas, and I were riding the subway at a pretty packed hour of the day so there were tons of people smushed together with us. I’d managed to score a seat next to the door while the guys stood in front of me. At some point during our ride, a lady in her late 50s/early 60s squeezed into the train and stood next to me. I assume due to the late hour and crammed car, no one was talking, but this lady soon broke the silence.
“OH so you’re PREGNANT! How pregnant are you?!”
I felt a lot of things at this moment – embarrassed, awkward, kinda-sorta touched by her interest but not really sure what to do with it… I didn’t leave her hanging though and told her I was 22 weeks along, to which she responded with a big smile and a very loud “OH how EXCITING!” in her high New Yorker accent. She directed her attention to Will and Thomas, whom she assumed I was with but couldn’t decide which one of them was the daddy. Her eyes darted from Will to Thomas and back again as she went on to tell us about how our lives were going to soon change forever and we’d better be ready. While part of me wanted to let her keep talking to both Will and Thomas about soon-to-be fatherhood, I helped her out by grabbing Will’s hand. She talked at us for the rest of the ride.
“OOOH ya know ya’ just gonna get so BIG! And ya’ scared for the birth ’cause ya know it hurts like CRAZY but ya just keep gettin’ bigga and bigga and then ya’ so big ya’ just like ‘Get this baby OUTTA me!’ Oh but it’s gonna hurt…”
I felt uncomfortable.
“Ya know I’ve got two 4 pound teacup yorkies. And sometimes I just put those two dogs on my stomach and I think to myself, “How do women DO this?” It’s just crazy. I dunno how women do it.”
By this point, Thomas was about to lose it. He’d never seen strangers talk this way to each other in Austria and for him this was both a culture shock and absolutely hilarious. Will felt just as uncomfortable as me and was ready for all the people in the train to stop being so silent and start talking. Or yelling. Or making noise in general. The girl next to me who specifically stopped reading her book to listen in on this one-sided conversation attempted to deflate the awkward tension by starting up a much quieter conversation with me for which I think the whole train was thankful.
The lady’s stop finally arrived. She shouted good luck to Will and me, and disappeared. Thomas was finally able to express his thoughts about the entire seemingly bizarre event, Will was able to breathe again and I was able to de-redden my very, very red face.
So… shout out to the lady who helped me understand just how painful childbirth is going to be come September. May your 4 pound teacup yorkies continue to inspire you to publicly freak out pregnant women everywhere.