In March, when I first realized how long it might be before my co-workers and I returned to the office, my immediate reaction was relief. I was ten weeks pregnant and bloated, tired, and nauseous. The possibility that I could end up spending most of my first pregnancy at home sounded good to me.
Being pregnant in public had always struck me as a little embarrassing. I generally don’t enjoy being the center of attention, and pregnancy seemed like a constant state of inadvertently drawing attention to yourself. It also just seemed like a drag, with all of its rules and restrictions and unflattering clothes. I thought of it as something to get through and then recover from — a detour on the way to what I really wanted, which was a baby.
In the early days of lockdown, as I watched my body start to balloon out, I was relieved to have nowhere to go, no one to see. Soon, sweatpants were the only thing that fit, but it didn’t matter. I sometimes fantasized about having a secret quarantine pregnancy: Maybe I wouldn’t tell anyone and would just emerge back into the world in a year with a baby.
I told a few co-workers early on, mainly because I felt the need to explain why I had so many doctor’s appointments when we were all supposed to be staying home. But as the weeks went on, I found I was too shy to make any bigger announcement. How do people usually do this? I wondered. A part of me wished that my body would make the announcement for me; if we were still going into the office, I wouldn’t have been able to hide it. On Zoom calls, I fixated on my own image, wondering if my co-workers could tell how much weight I’d gained from my face. My growing bump was easily concealed offscreen — but increasingly, keeping the fact that I was pregnant a secret made me feel even more isolated than I did already.
Friends and family asked me to send photos. I had never felt less photogenic, posing sheepishly for my husband with a hand placed on my belly. I found every picture of my swelling body vaguely humiliating, but it felt rude to ignore their requests, especially when I knew I probably wouldn’t see most of them until after I had the baby.
The nice thing about pregnancy, though, is that you have a lot of time to get used to it, especially if you’re not doing much else. Though the days at home were monotonous, I was aware of the passing time as never before, counting the weeks, Googling how big the fetus had grown. My stomach expanded slowly enough that, eventually, it was hard to remember what my body had been like before. At first, I ordered a bunch of tent-like dresses that at least gave me the illusion of camouflaging my bump when I went out for walks or to the grocery store. But eventually, I had no choice but to surrender to the fact that I was obviously, visibly pregnant.
I was about six months along the first time a stranger commented on my pregnancy. Standing in line outside the fish market, I noticed an older woman eyeing my belly. I had worked up the nerve to wear a tight-fitting maxi dress out of the house and was feeling immodest. “So, when is that baby due?” she asked, and I told her October. “You look good,” she said, and when I told her that I didn’t know the baby’s sex, guessed that I was having a boy. I recounted the entire interaction to my husband later, feeling giddy. Though I’d been cooped up at home for months, I hadn’t realized how good it would feel to connect, even briefly, with a stranger.
A few weeks later, we had to take our car to the repair shop. When I got out of the passenger seat, the man working there took one look at me and said, “Congratulations!” He told me his wife was also pregnant and also due in October.
I had assumed that having my bulging body embolden strangers to strike up a conversation would be one of my least favorite things about pregnancy. But, maybe because my encounters with other people had become so infrequent, I found I actually appreciated these brief moments of connection. In the early months of the pandemic, I heard people say that it felt like life was on hold — but my pregnancy felt like a constant reminder of the opposite. My life was changing, and I was desperate for some outside acknowledgement of what was happening. During a time when I was mostly cut off from other people, these exchanges reminded me that pregnancy was bigger than just me. They left me floating, high on the joy of shared human experience.
When family members asked if I wanted a virtual baby shower, my instinct was to say no. Being the center of attention made me uncomfortable enough in real life, and Zoom just seemed awkward. But I had the feeling I was being a bad sport, and eventually I gave in. The Zoom call with my friends and family was stilted but wrenchingly sweet. They voted on whether the baby would be a boy or a girl and gave me advice on how to be a mom.
When the time came to stand up and show off my bump, I found I was eager — almost as if after not seeing them for so many months, I wanted to prove that I actually was pregnant. By now, I had grown large enough that I was no longer self-conscious and more just in awe. My abdomen had taken on a life of its own. Increasingly, it felt like a strange novelty that had little to do with me.
Afterward, I sobbed with the same raw intensity that I did on my wedding day, overwhelmed with the sudden understanding that my life was about to change. For months I’d been at home with my husband, reading parenting books and researching strollers, and the knowledge that we were going to have a baby never felt far from the front of my mind. But there was something about seeing my experience reflected through other people that made it finally feel real.