Mirror, Mirror: Touch My Belly, Please

“Can I touch your belly?” my friend squealed, rushing towards it, hands outstretched.

Then she stopped in her tracks. “I mean,” she said, suddenly bashful, “only if it’s okay, of course! Are you letting people?”

I am five months pregnant. And I keep reading on the various boards and sites where all of the talk is pregnancy-related (it feels pretty trashy, honestly, but I’m a little addicted to babycenter.com) about how this is the time when everyone starts wanting to touch your belly. It’s true, this is definitely that time. BUT, boards and sites immediately clarify, you don’t have to let them.

This point is very important.

Actually, reading current pregnancy forums gives one the impression that for most of history, pregnant women’s bellies were just constantly being groped by grabby, entitled strangers on public transportation and in the grocery store, and then finally we got feminism, and then, thank god, AT LAST, we could say, with the deepest relief, “Get your hands off my pregnancy, jackass!”

And now that we can say that, it’s definitely encouraged. We are very clear on this point: no one should touch your body without your permission. Your body is not public property. I can almost hear one of those crackly, fuzzy subway announcements, blasting over the crowd of shoppers in Babies “R” Us, “A pregnancy is no excuse for unwanted physical contact…”

All that is definitely the case. If you don’t want people to touch you, they shouldn’t touch you. I agree wholeheartedly. But also, personally, I love it when people touch my belly.

Actually, and I am not sure how to put this without it sounding at least a little creepy, but I just like touching people and being touched by them. Not in some kinky, sexy, interesting fetish kind of way. I think more in, like, a bunch of naked mole rats sleeping in a heap kind of way. I don’t know why that was the first image that came to mind, but there it is.

There are so many tiny, unspoken rules about physical interaction in this society. Generally, it is pretty uncool to touch other people. We have moments when it’s OK. Hugging friends hello and goodbye and “oh my god, congratulations! You just got into grad school on full scholarship!!” and “oh my god, I’m so sorry that your grandma died…” Snuggling with the person we are romantically involved with. Dealing with our own children. Beyond that and maybe a couple more, things get weird when people get too physical.

But I like it when people touch each other casually, in a friendly way. Shoulder squeezes, quick touches to catch someone’s attention, a slap on the back, a half hug for any number of occasions. It’s nice. It’s, well, personable.

And I actually don’t mind it when I get pressed up against other people on the subway. When we’re all trying really hard not to press up against each other, it makes things so much more difficult. We’re all trying to find a spot on the ceiling to balance against, and swaying frantically like we’re surfing, to avoid brushing someone else’s shoulder. Once I was on the F train with a friend, standing and talking by the door, and unwittingly, I leaned back against another woman. The train was packed and it was easy to support myself against her without even applying much weight. It was so comfortable and normal-feeling that I didn’t notice I was doing it for a minute, and then I heard her say to her friend, “What the fuck is this chick doing, leaning on me?” And I jumped away like I’d been stung, suddenly mortified.

So I guess what I’m saying is, I am that creepy person who wants you to put your hands on my pregnant belly.

More than that, I like how pregnancy breaks down a lot of barriers that are normally hanging invisibly between us as we go through our days. Women smile at me on the street, just because I’m pregnant. It starts conversations that quickly become personal and fascinating.  I learn how people feel about parenthood, about their concerns and big goals. I went into a store yesterday and the woman behind the counter ended up telling me about how each of her pregnancies differed and how they were similar. For one, she craved baked potatoes with soy sauce and tartar sauce, but not for any of the others. We laughed at the ridiculousness of pregnancy.

I don’t always want to hear the intimate details of other people’s lives, and sometimes I’m just in a hurry, but I’ll be sappily honest here: most of the time I really like it. It’s fun to hear people’s unedited stories and I am one of those odd people who often likes talking with strangers. It’s probably my dad’s fault—he’s intensely friendly and has been known to bond compulsively with waiters.

There are a few exceptional life-phases or situations that seem to inspire people to start conversations with you on the elevator or in the dairy aisle, and this is the first time I’ve experienced any of them. Before my belly popped, I was just a young woman, and often the people I didn’t already know well who wanted to have intimate conversations with me were also guys who liked the way I looked. That is a totally different dynamic, obviously. The attention, physical and otherwise, I’ve received for having an abruptly round belly with a baby in it is usually from other women, and it’s overwhelmingly friendly without feeling intrusive.

So, yes! Touch my belly! Tell me your story. I don’t know the first thing about this whole becoming a mother gig. I want to learn. I want to hear every possible version. And I am also grateful for a few months in my life when we can break some of the random rules about how we’re supposed to interact, as people who aren’t already close friends.

And as for the people who are already my friends—I promise, you don’t even have to ask. Just touch my belly.

Fairest shmairest! Let’s get real about beauty and body image. Mirror, Mirror is a column running every other week on The Frisky. It is written by Brooklyn-based columnist, freelance writer, and bagel enthusiast, Kate Fridkis who also writes the blog Eat the Damn Cake. You can follow her on Twitter at @eatthedamncake.