On August 25th, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl (one month early). The journey of bringing life into this world really put things into perspective for me mentally and physically. Last year I was able to experience that feeling for nearly 30 weeks before I lost the baby. This time I made it 35 weeks (out of a typical 40 week pregnancy). In both pregnancies, I became emotionally connected to someone I never met. With every little wiggle, kick, or ultrasound picture from the doctor, I literally watched life grow before my eyes. Speaking to other mothers and reading various blogs, what I was feeling and experiencing was common for most mothers to be.
What I did not expect, however, was the effect that both of my unborn children had on complete strangers. Pregnancy allowed me to experience sincere human connections with people I otherwise would not have had any contact with. Living in the Northeast United States, we have a terrible reputation for being brash and self-contained. “Hello’s” are rarely exchanged with those we pass on the street. Seats on the trains or buses are not given up for women, and doors are often slammed in your face. However, as my belly grew bigger, I witnessed a change in the way people reacted towards me.
During both pregnancies, I worked right up to the day I delivered. That meant walking to and from the bus/train station in the snow (Baby Sophia) and heat (Baby A) as well as walking up and down the steps in the train station and through long corridors. Just a few weeks prior to Baby A making her grand debut into the world, we had a heat wave. As I prepared to disembark from the subway, a woman looked at my stomach and told me to be careful out there. I kindly thanked her and said I would. It was extremely hot and I was not feeling 100% that day. Perhaps it showed on my face or my slowed gait prompted this woman to address me. I was both surprised and grateful that this woman took the time to address me. Prior to a growing belly, no one bothered to acknowledge my existence.
During this time, I also had an interesting debate with a client. It was sparked by her belief that it was unsafe for her to catch the train in Washington, DC because she was pregnant and there were a lot of homeless and poor people there. I’m sure my higher-ups would have preferred that I simply shrugged her comment off and said nothing. However I couldn’t let her get away with those comments; she had no right to falsely criminalize and stereotype the homeless or the poor. I told her I too was pregnant and utilize public transportation every day. I also let her know that Philadelphia has similar issues with homelessness, poverty, and crime. While I do tend to feel unsafe living in this city from time to time, I actually felt safer while pregnant.
I explained to her that the homeless people, whom I saw daily, were extremely warm and engaging towards my growing belly. Before the baby bump, the homeless men and women never said anything to me except to ask for money. The baby prompted a shift in attitude as many of these same people tickled themselves trying to guess if I was having a boy or girl, and comment on how big my belly was (more so the last pregnancy than this one as I gained very little weight with Baby A). I was an easy target for anyone looking for a victim. However, I felt that the baby was my shield of protection.
The harshest looking folks I passed stopped to offer congratulations, asked me when I was due, or if I knew what I was having. My neighbor, whom I only spoke to casually in my 5-unit apartment building, gave me a gift. Prior to her giving me a gift, I didn’t know her name and she didn’t know mine. As I was greeted with continual kindness, I thought to myself, “why is this type of benevolence and connection between strangers short-lived and how can it be sustained?”
In addition to the kindness exhibited by complete strangers, the interactions with my inner circle strengthened. One friend sent me a fetal doppler monitor knowing my first baby died. Another friend, while undergoing extensive dialysis and a kidney transplant made sure to stay in touch, and another friend from childhood, whom I have not seen much since high school, made a beautiful blanket for my baby girl.
In the moments leading up to Baby A’s birth, I realized how fortunate I am. Now that my precious baby is here, I have become invisible to the passersby on the street unless she is with me. On two separate occasions I went to the grocery store – once with her and once without. Needless to say, when I went without her, no one spoke to me. When I had her with me, everyone was trying to peek through the tightly wrapped blanket to catch a glimpse of the baby and a passerby outside stopped his car to ask how old the baby was. It’s amazing the effect that babies have on us. They have a way of putting a smile on the faces of many and softening the hardest of hearts. Just look at this face, how could you not fall in love!