[Never Say Diet] The Case of the Mistaken Pregnancy

Nope. Simmer down, this isn’t any kind of an announcement. Today’s Never Say Diet is all about what to do when someone assumes you’re pregnant but you’re totally not — plus why that even bothers us so much in the first place.

As you can probably guess, this post is inspired by a true story because being mistaken-as-pregnant Keeps. Happening. To. Me.

As previously discussed, I do not have a waist. I also have a thing for empire waist dresses and flowy cardigans. And that is my journey — though I think this mini-trend in my life says just as much about how much we’ve lost the plot on women and the shape of their stomachs, as I explain over on NSD. 

What I didn’t have space to get into over there is how I’ve actually handled these encounters.

In a word: Awkwardly.

So very awkwardly.

I usually laugh and try very hard not to seem offended — because I want to get the message across that I’m comfortable with my body and anyway, I don’t think “looking pregnant” is the crime against humanity/fashion faux pas that we make it out to be.

But at the same time, I am offended. There’s that initial moment — before all the body positivity training kicks in — where the tiny part of my brain that still unequivocally buys into the Beauty Myth thinks, “good f*ck, I’m fat.”  I’m not proud of this, but it happens and I want to be honest with you guys.

Then I remember all the stuff about being comfortable with my body, blah, blah, and we’re good again. Me and my body, that is. I’m still offended by the person calling me pregnant, not because it’s so terrible to look pregnant but because it’s so terrible for total strangers to think they can say this stuff to women they’ve known all of twelve seconds. My body is not available as your conversational ice breaker.

Also, and this is just a fact: There is no way anyone has ever mistaken me for more than three or four months pregnant. I’m just not that big! And we all know that the first trimester falls under the Pregnancy Cone of Silence where you only tell family members and such. So then I try to combine my “Whatevs, I love my body!” laugh-and-shrug with a stern “I don’t even have to disclose this fake pregnancy to my employer yet, why would I tell you?” eyebrow raise to let them know they’re being horribly inappropriate and I’m not letting them off the hook that easily.

And that’s a weird set of reactions to combine in the space of a few seconds, and ergo, awkward.

I went through that whole dance again last week with a nurse in my dermatologist’s office who mistook my flowy cardigan as an invitation to discuss the status of my uterus (at a skin cancer screening? Not relevant!). That’s when I decided that this is what it is, it’s going to keep happening, and I really need to sort out some better responses for myself. Which I have now done, and you can check them out over on Never Say Diet.

And please, if you have a story about being mistaken for pregnant, do share. My NSD editor had it happen to her at a wedding — the groom’s father swooped over to grab a glass of champagne out of her hand with a lecture about expecting mothers and booze! Which is pretty great. One of my best friends had a bus driver shout “any day now, right?” when she ran on wearing a big coat. (She explained that unless he saw a baby crowning, he should stop assuming things about the bodies of the women boarding his bus.) And so, we can agree this is one of those universally awkward moments that women aren’t talking enough about. I’d love to know how you felt about it and how you handled it — let’s add to my list of useful responses so I’m never stuck doing the awkward laugh + shrug + eyebrow raise thing again…

PS. No picture today because my CaptureMe  software has decided to start only taking really, really dark pictures of everything it captures. If any tech gurus know the fix (or a better screen-grabbing app to use!) I’m all ears!

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53 Comments

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53 responses to “[Never Say Diet] The Case of the Mistaken Pregnancy

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I just had someone tell me that I look exhausted, and that actually, I’ve looked exhausted every time she’s seen me lately. Which is sort of the equivalent of saying that I look awful. Nice way to start the day!

  2. QuiteLight

    I’ve gotten this twice, and I’m not particularly large; it happens to ladies of all sizes. My better story was a comment from our custodian at work. That lady was awesome, a Soviet emigre, working at the university as a custodian while she took night courses to re-qualify as an engineer here. (Her former employer, KGB, wouldn’t release her records, for some mysterious reason! 😉

    So, not a stupid lady.

    Wearing my favourite black wrap sweater over a chocolate brown tulip skirt. I seldom girled-it-up like that then, so I thought I looked great. Very hour-glassy.

    Then she asked if I was pregnant, clearly very excited.

    I was kind of stunned, said “no” & left the room to process. I looked at what I was wearing, adn realized that a) no matter how I loved it, that sweater did not fit & stretching it longer every few minutes (I’m tall) did not magically make it fit. & b) That question was absolutely none of her business.

    The next time I saw her, she was full of apologies. I politely cut them off, and said that this was not a question I felt should ever be asked. If I WAS pregnant, it would be up to me to decide who to tell, & if I’d wanted her to know, I would have said something. And if I wasn’t pregnant, she’d basically just told me she was judging my body. (I’m paraphrasing a bit, it was years ago.)

    What did make this very odd is she went on to tell a rambling story about how one time, a friend looked pregnant, when she really had a huge tumour which killed her horribly, so that’s why she’d asked me. In case I had a massive stomach tumour. Wow, she must have been flustered to manage to make things worse in mid-apology.

    Like I said, good thing I liked her.

  3. I have never been told that I am pregnant, but since I am young and always walk around with my younger brother people assume I am a teen mom, and it is awkward when people are so quick to make a judgment or assume something without knowing you.

    • Beata

      Ah, I get that ALL the time! I’m 23, and I have 2 brothers, one is 21 and the other is 2. When we are out together people assume we are our younger brother’s parents, awkward!!!

    • @pined108: My brother is 13 years younger than me, so yes, have SO been there. It is so awkward… and makes you realize how much time people spend needlessly thinking about other people!

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  5. I used to get shiatsu-style massages at this place in the mall from these nice Chinese dudes who were still perfecting their English. I was sitting awkwardly in one of the chairs waiting my turn, when the guy who would be working on me came to get me. He must have thought I looked pregnant, and, as a responsible massage-person, he needed to know to be careful with the pressure, but his English wasn’t great, so it came out, “You have baby?”
    I was shocked for a moment, but being that he was just doing his job, I responded cheerfully, “No baby, just fat!”
    He tried to apologize, again a bit brokenly, which was even more awkward, so I just smiled and waved it off.

    • @dustwindbun: A cheerful “No baby, just fat!” is one of the best responses I’ve heard. Love it. It’s also interesting that a lot of these faux pregnancy encounters happen across language/cultural barriers… as if that wasn’t challenging enough to navigate. I’m not sure what it means, but seems to be a definite trend here.

  6. Mila

    I didn’t like comments on my pregnant looking body when I was ACTUALLY pregnant. I know it is probably not true, but you like to think you go through life without decent people examining and evaluating your body (obviously, there are plenty of construction workers and such who ignore these rules of decorum). But when you are pregnant (or when people think you are pregnant) somehow everyone stops pretending to mind their own business, and thinks your body is public property for comments, and worse, touching (BLECH!). No one should EVER comment someone else’s body without being invited to.

    If you were feeling gracious, I think a good response would be “I am not pregnant, but I will assume you are referring to my lovely glow.” (and if you were feeling less gracious add “because I cannot imagine that you would ill-mannered enough to comment on a stranger’s body”).

    • Yes. A thousand times yes. The way a pregnant woman’s body becomes public property is completely horrible and inappropriate to my mind. It’s like people don’t realize just because they can see something (a bigger belly), they don’t have to SAY something about it. Or touch it. ARGH.

  7. Genevieve

    Well, to little kids I try to just remind them that bodies come in all shapes, colours and sizes, and that no, a big stomach doesn’t mean I’m pregnant. To adults, depending on who, I might say something like “No, I’m not pregnant yet, but the night is young!” with a wink and a smile. Turns those dynamics right around.

  8. Krysta

    Once someone was asking me something like that as she was trying to make conversation while waiting when I was working as a receptionist… It was made even worse by the fact that she spoke VERY broken english and I could hardly understand what she was asking! (I couldn’t tell if she was asking me if I was pregnant, or how old my baby was… Considering that I was not pregnant and I have no babies other than my cats… Awkward.)

  9. Grace

    Two times in my life I was asked whether I was expecting; first with a high waisted dress, second in a low waisted dress. I trashed both dresses as sois as I heard that. When I got really pregnant no one notices, or at least gave me a benefit of doubt( if that can be benefit), no on notices until 32weeks, I finally gave notice toy cillegues.

  10. My sister works at DSW and a woman was buying some shoes when she asked, “Is that a baby in there?” My sister didn’t understand at first, said, “what?!” and the woman repeated the question the same way. Seriously?!

    • That is maybe the rudest way to PHRASE that question that I have ever heard. Because if it isn’t a baby, what is it? (See earlier comment in this thread re: horrible deadly tumor theory…GAH.) What is wrong with everybody?! Or more specifically, that woman?

  11. b.

    I, too, have no waistline, and as a bonafide apple-shaped gal, have a tummy that easily looks 9 months preggers when I’m naked. Clothes help a bit, but I do fairly regularly get asked about the nonexistent baby-to-be. My response depends on my mood. Sometimes it really bothers me. Other times I just laugh it off.

    Although I know we’ve come so far as a culture in improving our body-shaming attitudes, I think the wide waistline is still taboo. You can get away with a lot of weird fashion and we now appreciate many more body shapes…but anybody who has or appears to have a thick middle? No way.

    • Yup. Us wide-waisted women are on the final frontier of body acceptance. I have to believe there’s a world where this gets better… but some days (like reading all these comments and seeing just how often this faux pregnancy thing happens!) it’s really hard to see how/when.

  12. Tanya

    Well! This definitely strikes a chord for me – I’ve been mistaken for pregnant on a semi-regular basis for almost all my adult life…so, I started a blog about it: perpetually–pregnant.blogspot.com. I haven’t written in a while – life got in the way – but I’ll be resuming my faux pregnancy, amongst other, stories shortly. Thanks for this post, and the comments! It’s nice, if weird, to know I’m not alone!

  13. Jill

    This happened to me last week…I should explain that my husband and I have produced six awesome kids in the last twelve years. My youngest is five months old. I know that the sweet older lady wasn’t trying to be mean, or judgmental.

    We had three of the kids with us, and she commented that we have our hands full. In the slight pause, where I considered if I wanted the longer conversation that we had three more in school, she blurted out,”And another one on the way!”

    After an awkward pause, she said. “Well, I guess it takes nine months to put it on, and nine months to take it off.” Um, thank you? And yes, it does. But it still made me crazy for about three days. Then I realized, why am I upset because someone else has a moment of tactlessness?

  14. Meg

    When I was a student, I worked in an isolated computer lab at my uni. One day at the end of exams, a woman wandered into the lab and asked if I could help her locate a professor’s office. I started to walk her towards the office area, when she turned and asked me, with some urgency, “Are you pregnant?”

    “Oh! Uh, no, I’m not pregnant…”

    “You don’t LOOK pregnant,” she assured my size-10 self, “But with that dress, I was wondering ‘Is she just starting to be pregnant?'”

    I looked down at my empire-waisted dress and wondered if it qualified as maternity wear. I decided this lady was wacky.

    “Well, no, no pregnancy here,” I say.

    “Alright. I was asking because there’s some gasses down that hallway… I could smell something earlier.”

    I wasn’t so much bothered as I was weirded out. After she left, I laughed my butt off.

  15. Oh my goodness – this has happened to me a few times – and it was always WOMEN who asked me? Shouldn’t women know better?

    And I’ve handled it awkwardly every time. Even though I want to handle it with aplomb and use it as a “teachable moment” for the snoopy stranger. I think, the last time, I just said “ummmm, no.” and walked away. Way to enlighten!

    • Right there with you, Rebecca. I am really hoping writing this post AND having all these conversations is gearing me up to be more eloquent the next time it happens. But we’ll see… I mean, it’s hard to walk around all day prepared IN CASE someone says something stupid to you. I’d like to think that wasn’t necessary!

  16. lacyuu

    Hehe, I was once mistaken for pregnant by my 7 year old niece. I have a nice round belly and she asked me if I’m going to have a baby. But to her defense she’s exited because she’s excited because she’s about to have a brother and she thought if I am going to have a girl she would get a sister. When I told her my daughter would be her cousin she seemed less exited.
    Anyway I love my round belly. I would rather be proud and tell someone if they mistook me for pregnant.

    • Rock on @lacyuu! And kids totally get a pass on this one — a lot of the time, they don’t even realize they’re asking a question with any kind of connotations anyway. They’re just curious about the human body, as they should be!

  17. Em

    The one time someone thought I was pregnant was so awkward… I was wearing this empire waist dress with pleating that I knew made me look like I have a bump if I don’t stand up perfectly straight. I was on the train I took home everyday, and standing with my shoulders leaning against a wall and my stomach sticking out a bit… and suddenly these two women, probably in their 50s, probably moms themselves, sitting near me started *insisting* that I take their seat… I finally just sat down, and was so confused until I realized it was because they thought I was pregnant. And pregnant enough that I should be sitting down! The worst part was this occurred in front of all the people I commute with every day (including them!) and I knew the next day, when I wore jeans or something, it would be very clear I wasn’t pregnant to everyone who had witnessed this. If I had figured out right away why they were insisting I sit, I’m not sure I would have even said anything since it was in the presence of so many people… not easy to say in front of 50 people “I’m not pregnant, just fat and wearing a tummy enhancing dress.”

    Oh, and I like that dress but I’ve found it hard to wear it again!

  18. This happened to me a couple times..the most notable being at 10pm IN A BAR. An acquaintance was all “congratulations!” and I was just a bit confused…then he asked when I was due. He must have seen my face because he quickly covered it up with “oh, I heard it thru the grapevine, must not be true.” I’m undecided on having kids, so I damn well know that was a lie. I had a similar reaction to you (1. Shame at “looking fat” 2. Offense that he felt it appropriate to comment on my body). Plus an extra: 3. You idiot, I’m IN A BAR.

  19. dianestarkey

    Last time I got a pedicure, the girl asked if I was pregnant. It was all I could do to not kick her in the face.

    • @dianestarkey — Now, now. Let’s not resort to violence! Remember: There’s nothing WRONG with looking pregnant, except what society has told us is wrong with it. And your pedicurist may have been asking because some spa services aren’t safe for pregnant women — though she’s in a tough catch-22 because from an etiquette and perhaps even legal standpoint, she shouldn’t have asked.

  20. Mary Alice

    This has happened to me several times recently, because I’ve gained weight recently and have a bigger tummy.. (but no, there’s nooo baby.) The most memorable time this happened was when having to do with people from an old church I served. (I’m a ministry student.) I saw some of the people from this church at an event and it somehow got back to others that I was pregnant. (None of them asked me to my face if I was pregnant, but must have ASSUMED I was.) About a month later I received a letter from a woman at the church congratulating me. What was I going to do? I ignored it. Then, she called me and I had to explain that I didn’t know where she’d heard it but that she was misinformed. Obviously, she was too embarrassed to tell anyone because since then I have had 3 others from the same church congratulate me on my baby! The other thing that makes this all the more difficult is that I really want to have a baby, but am waiting until I finish school. That is my choice, but it still stings a bit more because I really want kids now. How much more must this hurt a woman who cannot have kids or is having trouble conceiving when a stranger or someone she knows says something?!

    • Oh gosh, you are so right — I hadn’t even thought about it from the perspective of wanting to be pregnant/have a baby and not having one… OUCH. Yet more proof people should rein in this urge to comment on other people’s bodies!

      Also, I feel like the woman you corrected really should have gone back and sorted everyone else out — it was the least she could do after such a gaffe!

      XOXO

  21. sarah

    Speaking as one with fertility trouble… trust me, lookin’ pregnant isn’t so bad. 🙂 Pregnant women are beautiful! I will say, though, that if people regularly mistook me for being pregnant, I would be upset, not because of my appearance so much but because it would consistently bring the pain of being unable to conceive to the surface. Another sad situation: Women who have miscarried or given birth to stillborn babies may look pregnant for a little while too. I had a friend who lost her baby and had to wait several weeks to deliver. She was visibly pregnant, but knew her baby was in heaven. Folks would ask her when she was due… ugh, ugh, ugh. It’s another reason people should keep these comments to themselves. Growing a family is a very beautiful, joyful event, but it’s also a pretty serious, loaded event too. I just don’t get why some feel like it’s great for casual conversation with strangers.

  22. after reading everyone else’s stories, I began to wonder if anyone else has this: in addition to the “omg I’m fat” feeling, does anyone else have a near-panic reaction, just for a second, of “OMG WHAT DO YOU KNOW THAT I DON’T?!”
    I don’t plan on having children, and I’m always afraid that somehow despite my careful condom use on the 5-6 times a year I actually get to see my boyfriend, that somehow free-floating sperm, or the Holy Spirit or something, have impregnated me and now I won’t know untill it’s too late! and I have to have a kid! and I don’t even *like* children! but I’m creeped out by the thought of giving a kid up for adoption because if there’s a little me out there I want to keep it where I can see it! and how do they know?!
    and then I remember that this is a really unlikely thing to have happen. But that second or two of blind fear is hard on the ol’ ticker, right? anyone? *crickets*
    dang it.

    • Ahahahahaha… OK, not QUITE the same blind fear as you. But I do often have that feeling of “how are all these people somehow so well informed on my body?” Especially when the nurse turned and looked directly at my stomach as she said, “Oh really? You’re not?”

      I admit, I totally thought, “wait — she IS a medical professional…” Until I remembered, “Oh yes, she is also being an idiot.”

  23. The most memorable time that this happened to me I was 19 and with my mom picking up baby furniture for my sister-in-law. The sales girl looked straight at my belly and said ‘When are you due?’. I gave her a pass, since we were picking up baby furniture, but my reply was ‘Not me, I’m just fat, this is for my sis-in-law’. I bet she never made that mistake again, because it was AWKWARD!

    Sixteen years later and I have to say I’ve pretty much stuck with that line, ‘not pregnant, just fat’. When you are so calm and matter of fact about it, it puts the other person into a super shame spiral.

    • I like it. Classic, simple, and to the point. I would worry that some of the people I might say that too would think I was being apologetic because I used the word “Fat,” — it so invites the “you’re not fat!” knee-jerk response and then you have to explain why that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a fact that you’re stating for the record, etc, etc. But it sounds like your tone and calm demeanor communicate that in spades, so it’s not a problem.

      And I’m all for sending the other person into a super shame spiral. That, actually, may be the whole point of saying anything at all!

  24. W.

    I absolutely agree with the calm, in control demeanor. I believe very strongly that people have positive intent — just terrible manners. When I’m asked, I smile and ask, politely, “No, I’m not pregnant. Are you?”

    Usually, they seem perplexed, and then very embarrassed. Stuttered apologies and half thought out explanations are met with a vague, equally polite smile from me, then I tell them goodbye, or to have a nice day.

    Being treated as if you have made a very bad social faux pas is, I’m hopeful, something that will prevent asking again.

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  26. Sara

    This recently happened to me. I am a size 8/10, 5-foot-6 apple-shaped woman, and my husband and I ran into one of his former supervisors when we were out shopping (at a bookstore). Just as we were about to leave, the man came around to me, put his hand on my stomach and asked how far along I was. I looked at him, shame staining my cheeks, and said flatly, “I am not pregnant. I am just fat.” I know he was mortified, but at that moment, his feelings were the least of my concern. When I went home, I seriously considered taking a pair of scissors to my stomach. It happened three weeks ago and I’m still not over it.

  27. Anna

    I, as someone who is 15 (but looks 19, unfortunately) and used to weight 31 lbs more last December, was told (I assume the sweater-dress my friend gave me for my birthmas* present wasn’t very flattering) hand a 20-something lady walk up to me in the local aquarium and put her hand on my stomach and say ‘What’s in there, a boy or a girl?’ My response? ‘It’s Chinese chicken soup, actually.’ I’ve never seen anyone run off that fast in my LIFE. I look back at pictures of myself and understand that mistake, but, seriously, I’m young. Why was that the first thing she jumped to? Now when I wear that sweater, I am always afraid of still getting comments like that one (even after the weight loss caused by a subsequent jaw surgery that caused a lack of interest in food.)

    *Birthmas: The combination of Christmas and a within five days Birthday for poor college and high school friends who can’t even afford the ramen their parents bought them, much less two presents.

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  29. This has never personally happened to me considering I’m only 18, but the fact still remains that no matter how comfortable you are with your body being called fat in any context hurts. Even if its just for a couple of minutes or a couple of days, having someone who doesn’t even really know who you are and then makes a comment like that is appalling to me. I get the fact that having a baby is a blessing and I hope to of course have children someday, but being mistakenly pregnant is something I don’t want to go through. I’m a big boned girl, and it took me a long time to feel comfortable with my looks, but having that fact come back to haunt me really sucks. I’ve tried to lose weight for as long as I can remember, but it always creeps its way back somehow. I am happy with how I look, I just don’t need a stranger telling me I’m fat. They simply just don’t have the right.

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