“You can’t be pregnant,” a friend in Delhi said to me when I told her I was, “You’ve been travelling!”
It’s true, I have been travelling.
My doctor says it’s safe to travel, even long distances, for the first two trimesters as long as I am comfortable, which, touch wood, I have been.
In fact, it’s safe, and encouraged, to do everything as you normally would (unless you would normally be smoking or binge-drinking or guzzling soft cheeses by the kilo – all of that’s pretty universally frowned upon).
Even if yours is a high-risk pregnancy, most doctors now avoid recommending bed rest as far as possible because of the negative mental and emotional repercussions of being cooped up indoors all day.
And living life normally is what I’ve been trying to do. But being a visibly pregnant woman isn’t easy, especially in India.
Being a woman in India, even when not visibly pregnant, isn’t easy.
Unfortunately we learn early on that our bodies don’t belong only to us. We carry modesty scarves for our commutes and learn to hide the markers of our femininity and sexuality.
Certain cities are much worse than others – that is well documented – but in general, we’re unlikely to find many places where we can strut down the street in high heels with our shoulders thrown back and head held high.
(Allow me the clichéd, narrow definition of femininity here for argument’s sake but it’s the same, and possibly even worse, if you choose to wear sneakers and have short hair as a woman.)
Now add to that a baby bump – the ultimate visual announcement of your femininity and sexuality – and your body slips even further away from your own ownership.
Women offer advice, men offer stares, friends think you can’t be pregnant because you’ve been travelling.
I was out shopping yesterday evening and two of the saleswomen assumed I don’t speak Marathi (spoiler alert: I do, I’m half-Maharashtrian) and loudly discussed whether or not they thought I was pregnant.
“Can’t be, she’s wearing wedge heels,” one of them said.
“Go see from the front,” the other responded. “It’ll be clearer.”
I watched her try and circle around to get a better view and I equally stubbornly held a stack of kurtas against my stomach in order to not let her reach a conclusion.
(Those of you itching to comment that I shouldn’t be wearing heels when pregnant, restrain yourselves.)
This is all because we don’t see pregnancy out and about much on the urban streets and in our lives.
It’s no wonder many women of my generation see child-bearing as a choice that shuts out so much else because we’re told that our lives will be restricted from the very conception.
Of course we can’t have it all if it all begins with nine months of secrecy and no travel and no lunch dates and no walking to your favourite café for a cup of tea with a friend in the evening.
And that’s where Kareena Kapoor and the power of Bollywood come in.
Over the last six months, Kareena has paraded her bump out and about all over the country.
She has done it in tight dresses and heels and flowing kurtas and chappals. She has filmed for advertisements, been on stage at public events, and simply gone out for lunch with her girlfriends without hiding her pregnancy.
She has, in other words, lived her life normally – as normally as a big Bollywood star can – and made it just slightly easier for women like me to live our lives normally.
Her being photographed by the paparazzi outside a fancy restaurant is the visibility equivalent of a nonfamous pregnant woman confidently walking down the street to a café.
I’ve also adopted her trick of keeping a hand pressed against my lower abdomen to highlight the bump and make it clear that it’s pregnancy, not a very specific weight gain – why are we so afraid to allow others to mistakenly think we’ve gained weight?
Again, because we are constantly justifying and explaining our bodies.
What makes all of this particularly difficult to navigate is that we are a country obsessed with reproduction.
Not only are we clearly doing a lot of it, but we also talk about it (often with complicated euphemisms) constantly.
Every woman over the age of 22 is asked her plans for having children.
The minute you get married, older relatives call every month wondering if you might have any “good news”; and we get very excited when our celebrities have babies.
But for the most part, the nine months leading up to that are shrouded in secrecy and privacy.
And then we emerge as Mothers, with a capital M, our identities now defined by our relationship to someone else.
Not Kareena though and for that, I thank her.
According to today’s Page 3, she celebrated Christmas with her friends, looking radiant just a few days after giving birth.
I’ve actually never watched a Kareena Kapoor film but I have watched her public appearances closely over the past few months and now I vow to watch her next film as a sign of gratitude.
And in the meanwhile, I’ve got more work and travel to do, more friends to meet, and more of my life to live.
And what a lucky baby I’ve got, who already gets to live this very full life while still in the womb.
Contact Diksha Basu at Arundhati.Dahiyafirstname.lastname@example.org.
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