Tuesday, July 20, 2010

March of the Pregnants

There’s a certain Parisian fashion that hasn’t gone out of style in the five years I’ve been away: being pregnant. But it’s all about the timing. You don’t want to be hugely pregnant in the fall or winter. You want to become pregnant in those cold months, then try to forecast B-Day for sometime during the summer, which allows one to tack one’s maternity (and paternity) leave onto the head or tail of one’s annual vacation, turning four weeks into a leisurely eight or more (lots more, according to that NYT piece).

I thought it was a fluke when I first began noticing the armies of big-bellied moms-to-be marching the hot summery streets all those years ago, but I’ll never forget August 1, 2004: the day our apartment building suddenly erupted in a chorus of newborn infants’ cries blasting in from all directions. I began asking around and discovered that this is, indeed, a very deliberate family-planning strategy. They take baby making so seriously here that there’s even a dedicated lane at the Bastille Monoprix for pregnant women (though they’ve got to share with folks in wheelchairs). I wonder if anyone has jutted their stomach in a feigned pregnancy to try bypassing a long line?

For all the pregnant women walking around Paris (I easily cross paths with 10 or more a day), there is an equal number of anorexic men and women (yes, the manorexics are just as ubiquitous as those of the female persuasion) tipping the scales (or not, really) in the other direction. It’s startling at first; you want to just butt into their lives with a gentle “Honey, please: Eat before you die. Let’s go get you some smoked almonds.” But you don’t, because you don’t know their story. Maybe it’s not anorexia. Maybe it’s cancer. Maybe it’s a severe food allergy. Maybe they’re vegan and just returned from a month in Argentina. Whatever the case may be, it’s none of our business, and none of us should judge those proverbial books by their covers. I say this rather smugly and Aurelia-knows-best-y only because of a recent experience involving a new friend who happens to be very thin. She’s been on the receiving end of a lot of unsolicited commentary about her weight, and the harsh judgement has really worked a number on her spirit. I will not make that mistake again.

I wasn’t able to stealthily snap photos of either pregnant women or anorexics this week, so I’m posting some images of recent restaurant meals instead. Bon appetit!


  1. I like all of your insights here! It really is best not to judge books by their covers, or (if we are honest here) *when* we do, to keep our judgments to ourselves, and not assume. You know what they say "assume" spells... Thank you for these sincere and well-balanced comments about the physical appearance of others.

    I did not know that it was an actual French strategy to try to get pregnant in the late fall so as to pop one out the following July and August. It makes a lot of sense, but man, to spend those last few weeks of pregnancy in the heat of July and/or August?! NO FUN. And I oughta know -- one of mine was born on July 15! I will say that maternity clothing is easier to deal with in the summer, though. It's hard to shove swollen feet into winter boots and coats. Sundresses and flip flops are much easier. Maybe it is the most practical time, no matter where one lives.

    Those meals look yummy!

  2. There is a definite culture of pregnancy timing in the teaching world as well. If you get pregnant around September you will ideally be able to begin maternity leave just before summer. This bypasses a lot of end-of-the-year work, and the class is already well into their routine and good behavior for a long term substitute at the end. Basically the teacher gets spring break, then pretty soon maternity leave and a long summer. What I wouldn't give for that.
    As for seeing ten pregnant women a day - I go to great lengths to avoid that (and yet somehow it still happens). I wish everyone else would just put it on pause until I have my own, but that's a whole other blog entry...

  3. Sarah, your baby's a'comin' And I can't wait to be Auntie Aurelia (or whatever--"Second Cousin Aurelia" doesn't have the same je ne sais quoi, if you know what I mean!


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