New York City is not a bad place to be pregnant at age 50. But even though most New Yorkers have seen it all and make fewer assumptions, I was prepared for awkward situations, I thought. I knew strangers might look at me, especially on the subway, and wonder, "fat or pregnant?" I've done it myself! I will stand up and offer my seat (most of the time as long as I haven't had a horrible day) to older people (and that one is a potential landmine, too) and obviously pregnant women.
It has also been my experience that the only people who will offer a pregnant woman a seat are other women and Latino men. So, some time in the late winter of 2010, I was riding the subway home from work. It was one of the rare times that I didn't get a seat, so I found a corner of the car where I could wedge myself between the conductor's door and the exit door and hang onto the door handle. I noticed two young Mexican guys sitting across from me, and I slowly tuned in on their conversation. My Spanish is limited to some random phrases here and there, but I did pick up the words "encinta" and "gordita," and I realized that they were discussing whether I was pregnant or fat. I also know the word "vieja."( I would so rather be gorda than vieja. Gorda, I can diet about; vieja, not much I can do). Anyway, I totally understood their dilemma. The one fellow thought I might be pregnant and wanted to offer his seat. His friend thought I was just old and fat and thought offering the seat would only make it clear to me that they thought I was old and so fat that I looked pregnant. Eventually, good manners won the argument, and they did offer me a seat. I took it, and as I sat, I played up the pregnant belly so that they didn't feel foolish.
Then one morning I took the subway into work. I had not been commuting during the morning rush in a long time because my darling husband had been driving me to work, so I was oversensitive to the crowds. At 42nd Street, this otherwise normal-looking older business man type got on, and for some reason, decided that I was the one causing all his misery in life. He started shoving me, apparently because he thought I hadn't given him enough space. After a few shoves, which I tried to ignore, I decided to call him out. I said in a loud voice, "Excuse me sir, but no matter how many times you shove this pregnant woman, there isn't going to be any more room." Did that shame him? Not a bit. He decided to fight with me. I always so admire a man who will pick on a woman traveling alone in NYC, and I pointed that out loudly to him and everyone else near us on the car. I think I might have also speculated on whatever shortcomings he might have that would make him angry enough to shove an old, pregnant woman on the subway. Finally a younger (much bigger) man told him to shut up, and he finally did.
When I was about 7 months pregnant, I was walking on Broadway in mid-afternoon and stopped for a light on the corner of 76th Street. I was wearing an overcoat and maybe I'd like to think that I really didn't look obviously pregnant, but that could just be wishful thinking. As I waited for the go signal, I stepped down off the curb into a small hole, and I felt myself tipping over. I was wearing what I thought were sensible shoes, my clogs, but my foot slid in the clog and my ankle buckled, and the next thing you know, I'm down in the gutter rolling on my back like a turtle unable to right itself. The light changed and everyone waiting to cross the street from the other side came towards me. There were probably a dozen or so people, but to me it felt like everyone in Manhattan just saw me fall. And not a single one offered to help! In fact, one man actually walked by and made eye contact with me and made sure that I saw him shake his head in disgust. Everyone assumed I was drunk! I was so embarrassed. Finally, the last person to cross the street was a very young woman with a stroller. She stopped and asked me if I was OK. By this time, I was back on my feet and tearing up a bit. I wasn't hurt, I was just mortified.
What was really interesting to me was that when I repeated this story, almost every friend of Irish descent (including my mother who has never had a drink in her life) assumed that people thought I was drunk. Everyone else (non-Irish friends and my therapist) said they would have never assumed that a woman falling in the afternoon was drunk. In fact, my therapist who I had been seeing to help me deal with job stress during my pregnancy, really wanted to explore that further.
I wonder what she should make of this: I do know another Spanish word. Borracha!
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