By Pooja Pande
Because it is a truth universally acknowledged that behind every knocked-up woman is a queue of advisers offering precious unasked-for advice. In fact, they are often breaking the queue as is wont to our Indian-ness. And in fact, they are often in your face, not behind. As is, again, wont to our Indian-ness.
Don’t eat eggs. Must eat eggs. Have more milk. Have less milk. Never ever drink soy milk. Sleep on your back. Sleep on your side. Tomatoes are like poison. Have at least one raw tomato every day; the baby will have rosy-red cheeks. Exercise is fine, but don’t climb stairs. Climb stairs, but don’t bend down. Don’t walk too fast. Don’t stand in front of the microwave. Eat for two. Don’t eat for two. Don’t eat anything raw. Kiwis are basically poison. Decrease salt intake. Increase salt intake. Pilates is excellent for the third trimester. Pilates can cause early labour; stick with yoga. Have you tried Zumba? You must never do aerobics.
And so on.
It would be an infuriating time if it weren’t so damned ubiquitous—with everyone and their aunties offering advice for your pregnant mind, body, soul; it all becomes so commonplace, it simply ceases to matter. After all, another outlet of Starbucks popping up is no reason for rage, is it, no matter how dastardly you might think their coffee is.
I remember when a friend of mine in a difficult second trimester told me she would fantasize about how the advice given would play out if the person giving it would follow it him/ herself. She described, in worrying detail, how she would tune out during the exposition of yet another well-wisher offering well-meaning advice, and picture him or her doing what was being recommended—washing, cutting, chopping, grinding, blending spinach leaves and drinking it up, with a dash of lemon, for an ‘iron-proficient-as-opposed-to-iron-deficient’ child-to-be, is an image I haven’t been able to shake off. I remember filing people under separate folders in my head—there were ‘chief advisers’, ‘mini advisers’, ‘opportune advisers’, ‘sadomasochistic advisers’, ‘just-for-kicks advisers’, ‘half-hearted advisers’. (Needless to add, spinach woman was in the common vector space between ‘SMA’ and ‘JFK’, though my friend would probably have placed her in the former, quite firmly.)
But when it was my turn, it didn’t bother me that much. I felt there was a range of options available to me in the face of unasked-for advice. I could, depending on my mood, smile sweetly and thank the person. I could be my practical, sensible self and tell the person that I only followed my doctor’s advice. I could ask the person to get lost and maybe consider minding his or her own business. Or I could go all OTT on the person, gush effusively on and on, about the preciousness of what he/she had just passed on to me, and how would I ever repay this grand gesture of generosity on their part. This last one almost always threw him/her off—its beauty lies in its extravagant unexpectedness. So, the advice game, I could turn into a game—some days it wasn’t fun, and some days, it was a riot, but that’s how games are.
I had other peeves that got me hot and bothered. Or rather, one peculiar peeve. It made me want to drive down to that place that issued all those licences. You know the ones that gave complete strangers state-sanctified permission to touch pregnant bellies? Everyone had seemed to have applied for it, and everyone had seemed to have received these licences pat in their mails, just before meeting me. It didn’t seem to require any qualification— such as, you know, maybe do you even know the pregnant woman? Like, has it been more than 400 days since you last met? These pertinent questions only screamed in my head, even as yet another half-baked acquaintance would walk up to me, so excited on my account, place their palm on my belly, and ask as if they really cared, all twinkling eyes and anticipation, ‘Kitne mahine?’ It took all my nerve not to look them right back in the eye and answer, ‘It’s due tomorrow actually. Wanna swing by the hospital and help my doctor urge it out of me? Are you a Tarantino fan, by any chance? You’ll love the crowning moment then. Gore like he never understood.’
I recall considering trading my ‘Pregnant Is the New Skinny’ tee, for one that said ‘Warning! Do not touch my bump’. But of course, nobody made that T-shirt. Because imagine what kind of business that would do. Introducing a new line of casual, comfortable wear for all you mums-to-be who want to say these things out loud, but can’t or won’t. ‘Giver of Advice? Stay Away.’ Actually, it sounds like a good business idea. I could totally run the communications campaign for that brand. Just putting it out there, in case anybody’s listening—I can crush this.
(Excerpted with permission from Momspeak by Pooja Pande, published by Penguin Random House)
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