As a part of my severance package, Wizards of the Coast provided me with some lovely job counseling sessions to help me find my way back into the job market. Granted, I decided to skirt the market, but going to these meetings was instrumental in my decision that I really ought to go for the gold, and try doing what I wanted to do. My job counseler has been wonderful. Even though I haven’t necessarily been her toughest client, she did help polish my resume, and helped me figure out what i needed to make sure my decision to go it alone was right for me. She’s really been invaluable (and I hope if she ever sees this, she understands…).
Yesterday was my last meeting with her. We talked a little about the future, and the things I’d done in the last week to secure it.
“Are you having any anxiety?” she asked. “Any second thoughts?”
Since I’d been gripped by self-doubt and a backache the last three days and I have a marginal filter on my mouth when I’m at my best, I said, “Yes.”
Immediately I remember that that’s not what I’m supposed to say. She doesn’t mean “ever”! She means “significantly”! She means “normal people version of anxiety!” Not “Well, lately I’m feeling blue and stressed and…”
So I backpedaled a little. “Well, I mean…just lately…I haven’t been as productive the last few days…I worked a lot yesterday…I…It’s just a temporary thing. A personal thing. I’ll be okay. It’s temporary.”
Her face took on an expression I am far, far too familiar with. The eyebrows raise. The eyes widen. A certain smile curls the lips, starting out subtle but rapidly approaching utter glee.
“Ah!” she says. “I think I know what it is.”
“No,” I say, missing the expression for a split-second. Because if she did, she wouldn’t be smiling. You don’t smile about this unless the person’s twelve and you’re being cute…
And then it all clicks together. A choir of voices resounds in my head: She’s giving you the “YOU’RE PREGNANT, AREN’T YOU?!” face! FIX IT! FIX IT! FIX IT!
And the only fix in that situation is to be honest.
“It’s…Um…” I start, trying to figure out the most professional way to broach the subject. There isn’t one. “Yeah, so I have PMS. Pretty bad. It makes me gloomy.” I nod outside. “Also it’s cloudy.”
“The Face” retreats. “Oh,” she says. “Well…that happens.”
When you are a woman of a certain age–starting around mid-twenties, in my experience, but your mileage may vary–who has entered into a long-term and serious relationship such as marriage, people immediately start taking coyness as a symptom of pregnancy.
The normal reasons for coyness–Digestive upset? Embarrassing doctor’s appointment? Politeness in the face of annoying people?–are suddenly moot, and everything you don’t say sounds exactly like not-saying you are pregnant. And the only way to make that person stop thinking you’re pregnant is to tell them you have diarrhea and are seeing the doctor about a weird rash and you’re not drinking that wine because it tastes like the back of a shoe and you don’t know why anyone paid for it. (…Or, you know, whatever.) And then you’re Not Pregnant, but you are That Guy Who Overshares.
(I know what you’re thinking: Who cares? Let them think you’re pregnant. Better than saying the word “diarrhea.” I have thought the same. But in the heat of the moment, this isn’t something you can lie about. Trust me.)
It’s bizarre–BIZARRE–but this expression is practically universal, at least among Americans who like babies (There’s a corollary “YOU AREN’T PREGNANT, ARE YOU?!” face for the ones who don’t). The eyebrows lift, then the eyes widen slightly–something between surprise and knowing, akin to the expression you get when you figure out a mystery novel–then the smile starts and proceeds almost exponentially from sly amusement to utter, utter glee. And when you’re of a baby-making age and situation, everything seems to trigger it:
I went to my high school reunion last fall, when a former classmate asked me in hushed tones, her “YOU’RE PREGNANT, AREN’T YOU?!” face in full expression, before I could cut her off. Her reason for asking? I’d put my hand over my stomach when I sat down. To keep my skirt from catching on the table. (In my other hand? A giant gin and tonic.)
I went to a wedding the night before the Husband and I were taking a much delayed and much desired vacation to Mexico. We hadn’t had a vacation in almost two years, and our friends were very enthusiastic for us (and perhaps, a smidge jealous, because they, too, wanted a vacation). At the end of the night when we got up to leave, one of the older couples who had been seated with us called me over.
“Congratulations!” she said.
“Thank you,” I said, thinking this was a weird way to be happy about a vacation. Then again, Mexico is awesome. “We’re really excited.”
“When are you due?”
“Due?” That definitely didn’t mean “departing.” I looked at her again–the raised eyebrows, the widened eyes, the smile about to crack her jaw. “Oh. Oh no. No. I’m not pregnant.” I scrambled for an explanation. “This dress just makes me look fat.” (What? Why did I say that?)
The Face collapsed, and she turned to her husband, “YOU said she was pregnant! He thought you said you were pregnant.”
“No,” I said. “Mexico.”
“But you weren’t drinking any wine!”
“I have to take Xanax to get on planes,” I said, knowing full well this is no one’s business and slowly realizing she’s actually insinuating I must be wrong. “And I’m too paranoid to mix that with alcohol even a little.”
When on vacation, the people who don’t assume we’re honeymooning (or who we tell outright we’re not) get the Face. Apparently there’s a trend now of going on “baby moons.” So if I’m in Hawai’i and not freshly married, but with my Husband, reason (apparently) stands that I must have a bun in the oven that I’m marinating with all of these mai tais! That’s going to be one pineapply baby!
I used to get really angry about it. I used to assume it meant people thought I looked like I was about to physically give birth. But now, I realize it’s just that people want to be in on the momentous occasions of your life, even if they’re strangers. And being in on the almost-secret of a woman’s early pregnancy must seem like the Holy Grail–beating out elopement and “I’m going to propose” by a hair.
And someday, who knows, maybe they’ll be right. Maybe I’ll be avoiding people because I’m broody not because I have a migraine, or throwing up because I ‘m full of hormones not the after-effects of a delicious round of Belgian Ale, and maybe I will be seeing the doctor because I need…whatever doctors do for pregnant ladies and not using it as a euphemism for going to my therapist.
If that happens, I am sure a lot of people I don’t know will be VERY excited.