Dr. Claire McCarthy is a primary care physician and the Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Along with her blogs here on Thriving, you can find her at the Huffington Post and Boston.com. Follow her on Twitter @drClaire.
In Pennsylvania, if you touch a pregnant woman’s belly without asking, you can be charged with harassment.
If there had been a law like that in Massachusetts during my pregnancies, I could have charged a whole lot of people.
It caught me off guard when I was pregnant with my eldest. The only touching I had ever had before from acquaintances or strangers was a handshake, a touch on the arm, an occasional barely-touching hug or an air-peck on the cheek. All of a sudden hands were solidly on my belly, often without warning, let alone permission. It was like all social norms of personal space were thrown out the window.
It caught me so off guard that I didn’t know what to say or do. The people were saying nice things, so it felt like it would be curmudgeonly to tell people to keep their hands off me (as much as I wanted to say that). And once I started letting it happen, well, it was hard to stop. After a while, and certainly by the time my sixth was born, I didn’t even notice. People touched, commented, guessed gender (and were oddly often right), everywhere I went. It was like my belly had become public property.
Which, actually, is how I came to understand it.
It’s the same with babies, after all. When my babies were born people still came up and, without asking, got right into their faces (and mine), touching them and talking to them. This was less surprising to me; after all, that’s how people are about babies. This gave me a different perspective on all that belly-touching during pregnancy: people thought of my belly as the baby. The fact that my skin and muscle were in the way was irrelevant.
And as annoying as all that personal space invasion was, it was undeniably celebratory. People were genuinely happy for me, and genuinely cared about my well-being and the well-being of my child.
It made me think about my favorite quote from Mother Theresa: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We do belong to each other. We are connected; our well-being affects everyone else, in small and sometimes big ways. And while the phrase “our children are our future” is overused and corny, it’s true. In a very real way, our children do belong to everyone.
We should celebrate and support pregnancy. Yeah, sure, it might be better to do it in a way that didn’t make anyone feel invaded or harassed. I absolutely think that at a minimum, folks should ask before touching another person’s body in any non-emergency situation.
But, honestly, I’d rather live in a world where people forget to ask and reach out than in one where everyone keeps their hands to themselves. I’d rather we show our belonging to each other every chance we get.