When I got married, I was shocked at how quickly people started asking me when I was going to have a baby. And when I did have a baby a few years later, I expected a fairly lengthy reprieve from all the pregnancy speculation. But I soon discovered that the window between giving birth to a baby and when people expect you to start on another is vanishingly short.
Almost worse than the embarrassingly direct, “When are you having another baby?” are the little nods and nudges. “Is that water you’re drinking [WINK WINK]?” If I had a dollar for every time someone has accused me of being pregnant in the year since my son was born, I could buy a lot of negative pregnancy tests—and not just the cheap ones, the really nice digital kind.
The thing is, though, I’ve still got nearly a decade of fertility ahead of me and I’m already sick of telling people when I’m not pregnant. And I’m guessing I’m not alone. So, for you budding fertility detectives out there, here’s a handy list of things that non-pregnant women of child-bearing age also do:
1. Throw up. I blame the media for this one. While it’s true that every time a woman on television or in the movies vomits it’s because she’s pregnant, in real life, this is not quite the reliable pregnancy indicator it’s cracked up to be. Just like men, children and post-menopausal women, non-pregnant women of child-bearing age sometimes get the stomach flu. This is especially true for those of us who already have a kid or two. When I take my son to the library for story time, I have to weigh the amount of fun we’ll have against the possibility that he’ll bring home some infectious disease that I thought had been eradicated in developed nations. In any case, the appropriate response to your friend saying, “I was up all night puking my guts out,” is “That sucks,” not “ZOMG! Are you pregnant????”
2. Drink water. Let’s say you’re out to dinner with a group of girlfriends. The drink menu makes the rounds and your waiter comes to take orders. Instead of a grapefruiterita or a cosmotonic, your pal says she’ll just have water. Before you jump to the conclusion that she’s gestating, consider these possible alternatives. Perhaps she’s driving home later and doesn’t want to risk being mildly tipsy. Maybe she hit the hooch a little too hard the previous weekend and is still in recovery. It’s possible that she wants a fruity drink later, but doesn’t think orange juice will mix well with the beef bourguignon she ordered. Or maybe she just feels like having a glass of water. In any case, this is probably not good evidence that your pal is pregnant. Sorry.
3. Pass on the sushi. Although this may seem like airtight evidence that your friend is knocked up, it’s probably best to keep that speculation to yourself for now. Some people just don’t like the taste, texture, or even the idea of raw fish. I was once the subject of a pregnancy investigation because I passed up a tray of warm tuna tartar that had been sitting around for more than an hour. Spoiler: I wasn’t pregnant, I just didn’t want to end up with Anisakiasis. Trust me, you don’t either.
4. Choose decaf. I know that steam coming off her decaf latte makes it seem like a smoking gun, but non-pregnant women of child-bearing age do sometimes choose decaf for reasons that don’t involve her uterus. She may be worried about getting to sleep later, or already be wired up from the three cups she had before you met. In any case, treating her decaf latte like it’s an ultrasound photo on Facebook is likely to leave you swallowing your words.
5. Gain weight. Science has proven that you don’t have to be pregnant in order to put on a few pounds. In fact, the burrito I had for lunch weighs more than a fetus at 22 weeks. Just because your friend’s jeans are fitting a little tighter than the last time you saw her doesn’t mean there’s a bundle of joy on the way. And here’s a pro tip from one lady to another: most people don’t like to have their little weight fluctuations pointed out to them. If you can stand the suspense, keep your pregnancy conjecture to yourself.
Of course, this doesn’t even touch on the reality that we can’t always know what’s going on in the lives of our friends. Maybe the woman in question actually is pregnant, but worries about spreading the news too soon. She might even have a very valid reason to worry that her pregnancy might not be viable. Or she could be experiencing infertility or have suffered a recent miscarriage. For many women, constant reminders that they aren’t pregnant aren’t just annoying—they can be downright cruel.
These family-building years are fun and exciting and I know that the inferences and guesses most often come from a good place. But that doesn’t mean they are a good idea. The next time your friend passes on the beer and has a soda instead, try to ignore it. Just enjoy your time together and feel confident that if she ever does have news of a pregnancy to share with you, when she’s ready to talk about it, she will!
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. Her work has appeared widely in print and online You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch
Illustration by Christine Juneau