Updated: Sep 13
Adina’s eyes darted around my office, then closed and watered with unsuccessfully repressed shame. She was trying to explain the freshly sliced argument she’d had with her sister-in-law, Riva.
Riva’s sister had gotten engaged that week, and Adina had been invited to the vort. She got dressed up on a weeknight(!), circled 20 minutes for parking, politely nibbled some sushi, and then made sure to wish mazal tov to all the main players. But Riva was angry that Adina had left within half an hour of her arrival, and made it clear that she and her family felt slighted.
Adina had tried to explain- it was a school night, she had work the next day, and a few other valid, if tepid, explanations. But in my office, she spat out the real reason for her swift departure.
“When I wished Riva’s mom mazal tov, she looked me up and down, and then said: ‘Oh, thank you! And B’shaah tova to you- when are you due?’ I’m sure she was just being friendly, it’s just…well, I’m not pregnant! I felt so humiliated; I didn’t know what to say- or where to bury myself. I was going to burst into tears, so I just excused myself and left to avoid making a scene. I don’t want to share this with Riva; it’s too embarrassing. And I don’t want to see her mom ever again, although I know that’s not realistic. I know I’m not in the best shape, but I really thought I looked okay that night..”
On top of all that, I knew Adina and her husband had actually been trying to conceive for a while, which just added some seasoned salt to the wound.
My heart went out to Adina; the mortifying awkwardness of that moment and then the exacerbating frustration of being blamed for just wanting to slip out before the tears erupted.
It’s not the first, second, or third time I’ve heard someone bemoan this common, unintentional but hurtful social blunder. I sympathized, but honestly, also I empathized. As a fellow woman who spent about a decade childbearing and avoiding the gym, sporting a variety of shapes and sizes, I too had been on the receiving end of that mistakenly-timed bracha too, as have many of my friends and clients. (And yes, I realize that the words just technically mean “all in good time” and can be applied to anything at any time. But seriously, folks, when directed at a woman’s midsection, we all know what it means.)
It’s not even an offense one really has the logical right to be angry about- after all, it’s an honest and even friendly error. I was actually schooled in this sensitivity earlier on in life. Back when I was expecting my first, I had a good friend who was too. But she had a miscarriage in her 6th or 7th month, and the sort of body type that indicated she was clearly pregnant. For some reason, her doctor felt she needed to carry to term. So she spent the rest of the trimester bursting into tears every time someone innocently commented on her pregnancy.
Ever since then, even if someone looks like she is carrying triplets and their minivan, I don’t reference it until the mom does. It’s just not worth the risk. I’ve also learned from painful experiences of others, not to ask someone who had recently been pregnant, when they gave birth or what they had. You just never know what happened. There could be any one of a number of reasons why a well-meant comment could inflict pain, but the bottom line is: a pregnancy is not a simcha until a baby is born.
On the subject of prenatal protocol: I’ve also heard of women being on the receiving end of anger or resentment, on the part of friends and family, for not telling them that she was pregnant. I understand the desire to be kept in the loop of important happenings in the lives of our loved ones.
But once again, a pregnancy is a very personal, private and often loaded experience. As curious as we may be, what’s going on in anyone else’s uterus is simply none of my beeswax. It is up to the expectant couple to decide if and when to inform others about it. (Of course, if you choose not to inform in advance, don’t expect everyone to definitely be available to fly in for your bris!)
There are some communities where it’s considered inappropriate to comment on others’ bodies, pregnant or otherwise, and I’m thinking maybe we could take a page out of their book. Fertility, health, weight, and children are among the most sensitive subjects in our culture. It’s worthwhile to try and be more mindful to respect the dignity and privacy of others in that regard- when there is something concrete to know, word gets around fast, and then there is plenty of time for mazal tovs!