A Stranger’s Comment Can Reduce Me to Mush

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by Lisa Goodman-Helfand |

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Having lived with scleroderma since I was 10 years old, I’ve grown accustomed to being asked intrusive questions about my appearance by random strangers. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin (pun intended) over the years, but there are still four seemingly innocuous words that continue to hurl me into a frenzy of despair.

“When are you due?”

Whether I was newly pregnant and not yet sharing, a few months post-partum, or the mother of a teen and tween with no intention of having more kids, this question always brings me to the proverbial brink. When will people learn that unless a baby is falling out of a woman it’s best to curtail any pregnancy-related chatter? I know the vast majority of people who comment on someone’s “pregnancy” are well-meaning, but I’ve been on the receiving end of all the scenarios below and — I promise you — none of them end well.

Scenario #1:  Some random relative exclaims, “Congratulations,” while pointing to your belly. You’re married, in your mid-twenties and not pregnant. You’re in a position of no escape. When I was in these horribly awkward moments (yep, this happened to me fairly frequently) I would bravely smile and say, “Oh, I’m actually not pregnant. I think this shirt bunches around my stomach in a weird way.” Most offenders would run away as fast as they could muttering some semblance of an embarrassed apology. Believe it or not, I actually had the parent of a student once say, “No, I don’t think it’s your shirt because the last time I saw you, I also thought you were pregnant.”

No good can come from scenario #1. Such comments will either:

  1. Make some poor woman feel fat.
  2. Make some poor woman feel fat and sad because she is currently trying to get pregnant and not having any luck.

Scenario #2:  A fellow parent approaches you in the hall after daycare drop off and says, “Are you going to find out what you’re having this time around?” You are newly pregnant with your second child, but haven’t even told your own mother the news yet. Hell, you just peed on the stick three days ago! You can lie and endure the mortifying circumstances outlined in Scenario #1. Or, you could tell the truth and suffer the guilt of having this relative stranger learn your exciting news before the baby’s grandma. Because I dealt with this often, I tried out both options. They both sucked! More than once when I chose to lie, I actually had people argue with me. Some had the nerve to say, “Oh come on, you’ve got to be lying, it’s so obvious that you’re pregnant!”

Scenario #3:  “How many weeks are you?” asks the well-meaning lady who’s waiting in line at the deli counter. You are not pregnant. You are 41 years old and tired of being asked these questions. In your fantasy, you turn to this offender and say,

“Actually, I’m not pregnant. I’ve had scleroderma since I was 10 years old. It’s a rare autoimmune disease that causes my arms and legs to be super skinny while accentuating my large distended tummy. It used to not be so bad, but then I had severe complications after my daughter was born and I required eight major abdominal surgeries. I lost my colon and have a permanent ostomy bag — that’s a big bag of poop attached to my belly, in case you’re unfamiliar. So between all the scar tissue, the ostomy bag, and the fact that I really like cake, people think I’m pregnant. Don’t feel bad, you’re not the first person to make this mistake.”

In reality, I say, “Oh, I’m not pregnant.” This leads me right back where I started in scenario #1. Only now, I am older and maybe a bit wiser. I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have given birth to two healthy children and still be on this earth to raise them, so I try to let these humiliating encounters roll off my back.

Personal gratitude aside though, please heed my advice: If a woman is pregnant and wants to talk about it with you, she’ll bring it up. Whether or not a woman has decided to procreate doesn’t warrant a comment from the random shopper in the frozen food section. So trust me, unless you enjoy spreading awkwardness like wildfire, just keep your random thoughts to yourself.

To learn more about my journey with scleroderma, visit https://comfortableinmythickskin.com/

Click here to learn more about my memoir.

Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.


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