For a few weeks this past summer, the cases of COVID were relatively low where I live. This meant that for a brief moment, we were able to connect with friends and family again – though mostly outdoors out of an abundance of caution. That didn’t matter though: the weather was balmy, the backyard barbecues were plentiful, and we were all relieved to breathe a (relatively) safe sigh of relief, if even for a moment?
We were all pulled back into a sense of normalcy, except of course, for our newfound social awkwardness after months of isolation. The natural flow of conversation was a bit choppier than I remembered, but it was such a welcome reminder of the importance of in-person human connection. Maybe it was me, but I was suddenly hyper-aware of all of the topics floating around the picnic table. We talked about COVID, of course, but also about all of the projects that people were working on. I was really excited about this because I had just hosted a successful writing workshop and was eager to share.
However, when the conversation eventually turned to me, it was clear that the only thing that people wanted to talk about was my pregnancy. It was the first time I had physically seen many of these people in a while, and I can appreciate that my newfound bump was a surprise to folks. After all, most Zoom calls only take place from the waist up so unless I mentioned it, no one would know. It was a hidden perk of being pregnant in a pandemic, that I could choose when and how I shared the news with others. Still, I was frustrated that this was the only conversation that anyone else was interested in having with me. I tried to steer the conversation to other topics, but to no avail. This was my identity at the party, and the only topic that others asked me about all evening.
This phenomenon was not new to me. I had experienced a similar thing back when I got engaged. The whole six months of planning a wedding were spent answering people’s questions about finding the dress and the wedding venue.
It was charming at first, but very quickly became the filler in all of my conversations with others. It became a shallow substitute to any real discussion, and I was relieved when someone didn’t ask me about it. I could not bear to smile through another question about color schemes. Sitting here at this party, my stomach began to sink in the realization that I might be looking at another six months of non-stop pregnancy talk.
Admittedly, I’m guilty of this too. It is considered polite to ask about these things with other women. It is the sort of small talk that we’ve been trained to use, akin to asking after the weather or holiday plans. It shows an interest in the other person and their general goings-on. I just resent that this is where the conversation usually stops – especially for women. Sure, ask me about my excitement for baby-to-be, but also ask me about how my career is going, what exciting project I’m working on, or what I think about the movement to defund the police. My personhood and my identity don’t begin and end with a baby or a partner. Me, my interests, my desires, and my identity are full and whole without these things.
Worst of all, this seems to be something that my cis-male husband didn’t have to worry about. Yes, people asked him politely about our pregnancy, but then they quickly switched to how his career was going and what he thought of the NBA bubble. He got all of the positive social halo of this life change without it impacting his identity in the world. I think this is what I resented the most – that no matter how great my achievements, or how many interests I had, that at the end of the day my identity would always be reduced socially to my relationships to other people. Wife, mother, sister, and friend are all badges I wear with pride, but they are not who I am.
Motherhood – the pursuit, the process, the journey – will always be a part of my identity. And while it will continue to be a big part of how I spend my time, my effort, and my thoughts, it is not my only contribution to this world. I know this has not been a privilege offered to the women in the generations before me, and I don’t want to take that for granted. I don’t want you to take that for granted either. So, the next time a friend or acquaintance of yours goes through a big life transition like marriage or having a baby, please remember to ask them about the other parts of their lives, too. It is so important that we all have a community of people that see us for our whole selves so we can see that, too.
Priyanka Saju is a Toronto-based writer, speaker, and follower of creative impulses. She embraces writing as a medium to give voice to her unresolved feelings as she navigates the middle places of cross-cultural upbringing, the pursuit of success, and the nature of womxnhood, self-acceptance, and resilience. Priyanka does this while approaching these topics with the type of humour and humility that can only be gained by tripping face-first into growth.