Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I Didn't Know Other People Didn't Know I Wasn't Pregnant

Coming home on the subway last week, a strange thing happened. As I stood there sleepily gripping the bar, I saw out of the corner of my eye a young woman smiling and gesturing at me. I turned to her with my worker-drone eyes as she began to rise, butt half-lifted off the bench, and I realized she was gesturing for me to sit down. To take a load off. These old bones could use a rest, my animal brain thought, and I took a step toward her. She was about my age with a gentle, encouraging smile and a delicate butterfly tattoo on the side of one of her jugs. Who was this girl, I thought. A subway angel? But I didn’t sit down just yet.

As tempted as I was by the offer, my sleepy mind slowly whirred to life and I scanned for reasons that a random stranger would offer me, a young and seemingly able-bodied person, her seat on a packed downtown 2 train at rush hour. If I were her I’d have clung to that choice seat so hard, someone would have to roll in with an iron lung before I would consider getting up. And even then I’d be real pissy about it, rolling my eyes and such. Then again, I am a terrible person, and maybe this girl was not. Maybe she was being sweet because I looked exhausted? But so did everyone else on the train, given that it was quitting time. Maybe it was the gigantic computer bag I had hanging around my neck? But every other person there had suitcases, purses, and/or garbage bags they were cursing and lugging. I even wondered for a second (how not unlike a fool I was!), Was this girl hitting on me?

She was cute, about my age, and was clearly a preternaturally kind-hearted person. If lesbian courtship involves politely offering each other seats on the subway, then count me in! But I didn’t want to send her the wrong message or anything, by not accepting her seat on the subway, so I demurred with a smile. But this chick wasn’t going to let it drop that easily. “Please, I’m getting off at the next stop,” she said loudly, and jumped up as if to prove it. “No thanks!” I exclaimed, which made her move even farther away from the now-empty seat. I decided to end it by crab-walking toward the middle of the car, the whole time watching her with my frozen smiling eyes. God bless a person for offering, but no way was I getting involved in some stranger’s mind games, not before 6 p.m. on a Tuesday.

So it wasn’t until two minutes later when another person offered me her seat that it started to dawn on me what was going on. This time it was a grandma-type lady who took one look at me and sprang into action. "Please, sit down!" she said. What's going on? I wanted to scream. But I politely declined again and buried my face in my blush-stained copy of A Man In Full. “No, come on, come on,” the woman said jovially, “come sit down.” The conviction, the insistence in her voice, still horrifies me even now. I smiled and turned down her offer again, even more confused about why this woman was basically reversing subway etiquette to offer a younger person her seat. Oh, also, other people had started leaning over to watch our continuing back-and-forth. I mean, sure, I was carrying a heavy computer bag, but why would she think that was ... OH GOOD GOD NO. And that’s when I realized: this bitch thought I was pregnant.

Being the hypochondriac I am, my immediate thought was: oh my god, how does she know? I’ve seen I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant; I know how this shit turns out. There must be dozens, hundreds of women whose eyebrows kissed their foreheads over the course of nine months as stranger after stranger offered them open seats, knowing smiles, gently used bottle warmers. They just never put it together until they were crowning in a Barnes & Noble bathroom. MAYBE I WAS ONE OF THOSE WOMEN, and these ladies were angels sent to notify me before I was clinging to a handrail for dear life, my recently purchased items sprawled amid recently used paper towels and crumpled receipts. I didn’t want to end up like one of them!

But then I remembered that I could not possibly be secretly pregnant (I’ve been averaging one pregnancy test a month since IDKIWP first hit the air; I think of it as an investment). I was just … pregnant-esque. I know I’ve put on a few pounds recently. And early breast growth in fourth grade combined with the soft chalky bones of a white woman have given me posture that would make even Quasimodo say, “Girrrrrrrrrrrrrrl.” I was wearing an empire waist dress, and beneath it my tub had come to rest on the elastic of my holy Forever 21 leggings like a chubby pigeon on a ledge. But pregnant? My face burned as the kindly grandma struggled to her feet, her coup de grace in the argument that I had never planned on entering.

Which is when I did one of the most shameful things I’ve ever done in my life. As I verbally struggled to keep Memaw in her seat, god help me, I pushed out my stomach even more. No way in hell was I letting her or anyone else on that train suddenly realize, “Oh wait, no, that lady is just tubby. And she tricked that elderly woman out of her seat!” I wanted to curse at them, yelling “It’s just water weight,” but my dignity wouldn’t let me. As the train pulled up to my stop at 34th Street, I yelped a final “NO, THANK YOU” and sprinted toward the door, my protruding belly pushed out in front of me, leading the way.

My eyes watered with humiliation as I hurried down the stairs. I don’t mind the idea of someone thinking my abdomen was pulsating with life rather than sandwiches; I just don't want to be the punch line of a cultural joke. What sitcom/shitty rom-com/episode of Reba hasn’t featured the protagonist accidentally identifying some one-off lady character as being with child? The audience gets to share in the protagonist’s delicious embarrassment, their paralyzed smile about to shatter with laughter as the sullen faux-pregnant woman sits there silently, her bulldog face and her empty womb betraying her as The Butt Of The Joke. The asker gets a moment of terrified glee, a breach of adult etiquette so sweet and squirmy we can’t help but giggle in recognition. The replier has to go finish helping Reba buy a toilet.

Based on the information I gathered while staring at my abdomen in the mirror during the next week, I could definitely see how this could have happened. I’d just rather someone call me fat to my face than have to deal with the sweet, pleading kindness of people who honestly though they were being helpful and couldn't take no for an answer. Even if they were 99.9% sure, they should have stopped themselves. And if in four months I end up bearing down in a Barnes & Noble bathroom, I owe those women a huge, huge apology.

Halle Kiefer is a comedian and writer living in Brooklyn. Please visit her at mustanghalle.tumblr.com and give her work and treats.

48 Comments / Post A Comment


I've come to the conclusion that the subway is crawling with well-meaning pregnancy police who spend their whole commutes staring at everyone's guts. I've had to retire empire waists because of these kindly motherfuckers.


I fear ruining someone's day like this, so I look for other signs before I offer up my seat -- swollen ankles, Buy Buy Baby shopping bag, the woman resting a hand protectively on the stomach.
Standing for a little while is probably less harmful to the truly pregnant than being asked "when are you due?" when all you're gestating is a big lunch.


theory: the resurgence of empire waist garments was ushered in forcefully by the Priority Seat Manufacturing lobby.


A very pleasant woman once tried to give me her seat on the bus, while looking warmly at my belly. I was confused for a minute, thanked her and said no. She insisted and that was when it dawned on me. I gave her my biggest smile and said, "Sorry, I'm not pregnant, I'm just really fucking fat." She was probably more appalled than I was.


This is a great story! BRAVO HALLE


This is my favorite thing I have read today! Also, empire waists should basically go fuck themselves and die.

Sometimes I jam a book into my stomach on the subway, for reading stability, and feel like I am getting looks like "oh no, your baby is going to have a dent" and I viciously think "shut up I am only denting my chub", but I may be imagining that interchange entirely!


I had a carnie ask me if I was pregnant once, while getting on a ride. That didn't bug me as much as when I was actually pregnant and a woman said, "are you expecting twins? you're so big!"


Dinosaur Comics talked about this in todays comic!
I love when things match up.


One of the things I am especially thankful for is that my fatness has distributed itself over my body evenly, and that I have never run into this.


That's how I feel -much thinner friends than I have been mistaken for with child because their fat just all went to the belly whereas mine would only be a problem if we carried babies in our butts.


right. I could be pretty far along with a thighbaby, but those are far less common.


All the women in my family have the belly bias - when my mom was almost 60 someone told her to be careful about something or other "with that baby on the way". I told her she should take it as a compliment that someone thought she was still of child-bearing age.


Oh, wait, I have a story more important than my previous comment!

One time I was in a train in Austria (I speak/read no German), and I accidentally got into the train compartment reserved for nursing mothers. I got several odd looks from passersby before someone explained this to me.


Worse: when people at your place of employ ask you your due date when you are fetus-free. Congratulations! It's a cheese sandwich!


I might parlay that into maternity leave if I were you, it would serve them right.


I don't even volunteer comments on the pregnancy status of women who I know for a fact are pregnant. The whole interaction is just too fraught with peril!

forget it i quit

Men have of course been on the "Does this make me look fat?" training program for years. We know a tricky situation when we see one!


This and bed bugs=why I don't sit on the subway.


Empire waists and babydoll dresses don't even look good on a size zero. Why on earth would you want your waist to start where your boobs end? I will never understand it. This advice probably would have prevented this entire incident from happening. But I'm kind of selfishly glad it did happen, because this was a really good piece.


Some of us do not have clearly-defined waists. Also, "looking good" is not the only reason to wear clothing.


Fair point. I'm still not a fan of that particular silhouette.


I went to a party. I saw a lady I knew. "Hello!" I said. "Are you pregnant?" She was wearing what appeared to be maternity clothes.
"No," she said, "I am not."

(Donald Barthelme, "Departures")

Mary Shyne

Thank you, Halle, for making me laugh so hard at work that I had to do "deep breaths" to throw off my cubemate, who now thinks I am in labor, probably.

sorry your heinous

I just wanted to post here, because this was great (and terrible!) and I accidentally did all my posting on the other site. Couple things: 1) every time I see a pregnant lady my brain immediately starts going "don't mention pregnant, don't mention pregnant, don't mention pregnant..." because, wow, I would be mortified and I'm pretty sure, were I not a man with a beard, my various beer guttedness could at times look like early stage gestation. 2) thank you Edith and kitten for explaining dresses to me. That empire thing seems like it would be difficult to make flattering.


Empire-waists are pretty much only flattering in Jane Austen movies when the beautiful, skinny actress is wearing a custom-made, watered-silk gown and standing in the right light. (And even then, it's pushing it.)


Bittersweet--exactly! I have to say, Romola Garai's costuming in the new Emma was to die for, and I think it worked because of 1. the gauzy fabrics, 2. the layering, and 3. because it was period and did not have a contemporary silhouette. It probably helps to have the right boobs to carry it off as well.


Garge, I was thinking of Romola Garai's dresses in the new Emma as I typed the above. I'd add 4. the colors, which were perfect for her and (yes) 5. the varsity rack.


"I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant" is the scariest fucking show on the entire planet. I just... it's terrifying and mind-boggling and... just, WHAT.

Also, this was hilarious, thanks.


I fell asleep in front of the teevee once and woke up and it was on and I was convinced I was still having a nightmare.


That whole show, that whole show, I don't even KNOW. The camp-site-concrete-bathroom-floor-birth is possibly the worst one I ever saw and it has convinced me further that camping is a BAD IDEA, particularly if one is feeling cramp-y.


there's a really terrible one with college, and a dorm bathroom, too. Aaargh.


This happens to me a lot because I'm pretty thin everywhere except my lower stomach. So I pretty much look pregnant all the time. Ironically I look even more pregnant when i'm menstruating, due to all the bloating. Yay!
I was just telling my coworkers about a time when an older man asked me if I was pregnant and I said no, then just to be nice I said "It must be because I have a healthy glow" and he said "No, you look like you are". Needless to say I went home and took a pregnancy test (which I do every time this happens, because, of course, what if they know something I don't?!) and then when it came out negative I did a bazillion sit-ups. which didn't help.


This doesn't happen to me a lot - not because I am not chubby, but more because I am chubby in a different way. But one time a salesgirl at Banana Republic asked me if I was pregnant while I was rifling through the sale rack. (Yes, I was wearing an empire waist dress at the time!) Years later, I'm still trying to console myself with the fact that she must be really stupid. Why would I be shopping at BR if I were pregnant?


This kind of reminds me of the opposite of something that happened to my mom when she was nearly 7 months pregnant with my sister. When her car broke down, the tow-truck driver asked her if she was a nun, based on the fact that she was coming from an event at a convent. She said the look on his face when he realized his mistake was priceless.


Yes, eff empire waists, they are forever banished from my wardrobe! Especially after I wore an empire-waisted shirt/tunic to a BAR and a dude I sorta knew asked me the dreaded question while I had a drink in my hand.


I'm 7 months pregnant and clearly showing and I can't get anyone to give me their seat on the subway. Yesterday I was on the 6 train, and three very clearly pregnant women were standing holding onto a pole while all the seats were taken, everyone diverting their eyes. That's basically been my experience since I've started showing. It goes both ways. NYC rules.

Miss Violet

Years ago I was buying fabric in the garment district and the girl helping me said "You look so beautiful, you must be so excited." And I said "yes" because I thought she was talking about the fabric I was purchasing. Then she gestured to my stomach and asked me when I was due. I was wearing a vintage dress (but not in the dreaded empire style) and I had been feeling pretty good about the way I looked. To make matters worse, I've always known that I didn't want to have kids, so being mistaken for someone who did pissed me off even more. So I smiled brighter and said "Not pregnant - just fat!" Which is what I say to this day on the rare occasion someone offers me their subway seat - AFTER I sit down in it. People offering seats or asking about your due date are using bad manners in the guise of good manners so I will happily take that seat from you, you rude motherfucker.

Queen of Pickles

This happened to me at Union Hall. In my vintage dress, I guess I looked like a 1960's pregnant housewife? My stomach is really the only place that weight likes to go. Otherwise, I'm pretty thin-ish.

The girl who asked me was so drunk that when I corrected her, her mouth dropped and she stared at me for a few seconds.

Then she said, "Are you SURE?!"



And then I didn't punch her.

I think the next time someone's all, "Oooh, when's it due?" I'll just rub it blissfully and be all, "Three months," or something.


Jesus Christ this is funny.


"IDKIWP" has pretty much single-handedly ruined my sex life, bank account (p-tests are expensive, yo!), and sanity.


Testing regularly just for peace of mind? Let me help you out with that


@km1312 Dollar store pregnancy tests are supposed to be good.


Just stumbled upon this article. Super hilarious and well written. Or hilariously written. Whatever. Good job Halle Kiefer, you've got skillz.

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