Personal Space

Jennifer Hatcher and her 6 children

by Jennifer Hatcher, photo courtesy Elisabeth Nixon

Personal space. It begins to vanish as soon as you announce your pregnancy. Your protruding belly becomes fair game for the uninvited touching of family, friends, even strangers.

When I was pregnant with my first child, this invasion of my personal space surprised me. As my belly grew, more and more people were rubbing me as if a genie might pop out of my round tummy and grant their wishes. During the greet your neighbor and shake their hand song in church, people bypassed my outstretched hand and patted my ever-growing midsection instead.

By my 38th week of pregnancy, my little 5-foot, 2-inch body was holding this giant, overinflated-beach-ball-size growth on the front of me. My waist was easily 43 inches around. Grandma-like ladies in the grocery store would reach out to touch my tummy while exclaiming, “Oh, honey! When were you due?” I suppose a belly sticking out THAT far does seem more like public property than personal space.

However an overstretched 38-week tummy is very different than a squishy, is she pregnant or just eating too many chocolate chip cookies? 11-week tummy. Soon after we announced my second pregnancy, I was wearing leggings and one of my husband’s button-down shirts. I was in that awkward stage of not really needing maternity clothes, but being uncomfortable in my jeans. While congratulating me on the new pregnancy, a man at church reached out as if to touch my soft belly. I managed to stick my hand out, as if I assumed he was going to shake my hand, while doing this little weave and bob move to protect my flab from being patted. That belly wasn’t protruding enough to be public property yet!

I wanted to be like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing – “This is your dance space. And this is our dance space.”

Some people were thoughtful enough to ask before touching my belly. Depending on how crazy my hormones were, that either seemed so sweet that I wanted to cry or made me feel like a circus freak, and I wanted to cry.

During my first pregnancy, one guy-friend had never felt a baby kick. I was very pregnant and my ninja-baby was showing her moves as we hung out, playing games with a group of friends. Everyone all around the room could see my shirt bouncing up and down as she kicked and elbowed all around her tiny space. This guy quietly asked if he could touch my belly. I still remember the look on his face as he felt her kicking. My eyes might even still water a bit at the memory. It really was one of those I have a miracle inside me! moments.

The lack of personal space continues after your baby is born. This probably surprised me even more than all the rubbing of my belly. Everyone wanted to touch my babies!

I would be grocery shopping with my little one safely snuggled in her infant car seat across the top of the shopping cart. Absolute strangers would approach, smiling and commenting on what a cute baby I had. Then, before I knew it, that stranger would have her hands on my baby’s hair, “Wow! I’ve never seen so much hair on a baby!” Or she’d touch my baby’s fingers, “Awww, what tiny fingers he has!” Or she’d actually touch my baby’s face, “Ooooh, she is soooo sweet!”

Once, during cold and flu season, I actually took out a baby wipe, right then and there, and cleaned the stranger-germs off my baby’s fingers. Seriously? What were people thinking? I wanted to be like Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing – “This is your dance space. And this is our dance space.” Only without the dancing part.

After a few babies, I did finally learn that wearing a baby in a sling cuts down on the touching-by-strangers. I suppose a baby cuddled up against his momma isn’t as much an easy target for public touching as a baby in an infant car seat in the wide-open aisles of a grocery store.

As my babies became toddlers, then preschoolers, it wasn’t strangers and friends invading my personal space. It was my children banging on the bathroom door, reaching under the bathroom door, walking in on me as I got out of the shower. It was my children climbing into my bed in the middle of the night, kicking my lower back, whacking me in the face mid-dream.

Even now, now that we’ve passed the preschool years, it is my children who touch me with messy hands during meals or poke me to get my attention, no matter how many times I’ve asked them not to. It is my children who lean against me and sit on me in church, wrinkling my skirt and sometimes accidentally pulling my long hair.

And though this invasion of my personal space sometimes drives me crazy. Mostly, I love it. Hands-down, it’s way better than old men in church rubbing my belly or total strangers pinching my babies’ cheeks.

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