The morning started like any other. My quickly expanding belly protruded from my winter jacket, which no longer obeyed my commands to button up. As I waddled past the crowds of similarly impatient travelers trying to get on the morning train, I ripped off my winter accessories one by one, intentionally making more and more visible my belly. Gratefully, I made it to the front car, which always gives me the hope that I will find an empty seat. However, today was not going to be my day, despite my not-so-obvious attempts to guilt people into offering me a seat.
When I was more able-bodied and less worried about fainting from morning sickness or falling from reduced balance, I hardly thought about this issue. I could carry my large work purse and ride the waves of the metro at the same time! Easy. Now, however, sitting is an imperative during my commute.
As with many other aspects of my pregnancy journey, I have become fixated on justice. While driving, I often get irrationally angry if someone cuts me off. On the sidewalk, I curse at millenials on scooters as they whiz past me on the way to their brunch dates. Once at the grocery store, I almost yelled at a group of tweens who nearly knocked over an elderly lady without a second glance. But this was different. Every time I asked someone for a seat, I felt as though I was advocating for some type of cultural renewal.
As a society we idealize women who run marathons during pregnancy, who operate their businesses up until contractions force them to the hospital, and those who give birth and parent all on their own. These are impressive things, but truly more the exception than the rule. For most women, pregnancy is a challenging and messy (though beautiful) situation that requires help. It comes with unexpected aches and pains; it leaves the once physically fit rejoicing that geriatrics water aerobics classes exist; and it can come with unpredictable bouts of depression and anxiety.
Pregnancy should not be an isolated experience. Men play not only a crucial role as fathers, but also as supporters of pregnant women. However, I think that many men, when it comes to offering assistance to women in general, are fearful that assistance will come across the wrong way. It might seem demeaning or underhanded.
Here is my assessment: sadly, men’s fears are valid. People will likely assume the worst in you, perhaps most often in the big cities of the U.S. However, your role in changing culture is incredibly needed. For some prayer inspiration, I would recommend praying with the Beatitudes as a reminder that we are often called as Catholics to treat people better than they treat us (Matthew 5:3-12). Here’s my list of motivating factors to help you get over your hesitation:
- Morning Sickness. Most first-time moms are not showing until nearly halfway through pregnancy. It is possible that the woman trying not to vomit on the train is pregnant and you just don’t know. If you conjure up that image, it might motivate you enough to offer your seat to every woman on the train.
- Sacredness of New Life. We live in a very pro-abortion culture. Being gracious with pregnant women, especially in notoriously pro-abortion states is a great way to acknowledge that something unique and special is going on in her life.
- Be a Witness of What Men Should Be. Even if she has a hard time appreciating the goodness of that. Men should be kind, sacrificial, and courageous. Even as a stranger, you might be the only example of a man who was kind to her. Sadly, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 1 in 6 women are abused for the first time during pregnancy.
- Don’t Be Distracted. Many of the people I noticed on the train were on their phones and never looked up. Being too distracted to do the right thing is never a good excuse. It takes discipline to stay aware of the world around you, especially when you have a long commute. The more you pay attention, the more opportunities you will likely see for offering help.
So the next time you are stuck in rush-hour traffic on the train, be aware of the people around you. Take a few seconds out of your day to be kind to someone, and try to be especially aware of those of us with big bellies.
After all, what you would your mom say?
Copyright 2020 Caroline Hoffmann
About the author: Caroline Hoffmann lives and works in Washington, DC as an events coordinator for a nonprofit addressing religious freedom issues. She is passionate about pro-life issues, having worked at an amazing pregnancy center in northern Indiana after college. She and her husband are excitedly expecting their first baby in March 2020.