I broke a cardinal rule. And I am sorry. This is my confession.
This morning, on my walk with my dog, we crossed paths with a couple getting out of their car. Gena (pronounced Gee-nah) saw them and started her crazy nub-tail wag. People frequently stop us on walks to lavish attention on her. Gena, in return, whines and wiggles, which people think is adorable until she enthusiastically jumps all over them.
The woman, blonde, thirties, smiled and started walking directly toward us, hand outstretched. Her yoga pants and a tank top hugged her round, protruding belly.
Fumbling for treats, I explained, “She gets excited and jumps. Gena, sit, settle down. You can pet her now, if you want.”
Her smile faded. She held her palm out in a stop gesture in front of her abdomen. “I’m not going to touch you because of my baby,” she said to Gena, looking up at me at the end.
“Okay,” I said, flustered. Gena was antsy, starting to try to edge toward the woman. “C’mon,” I said, starting to walk away. “Don’t jump on the pregnant lady.”
Behind her, the man at the car, laughed. It was a hearty laugh. Too hearty.
The woman threw a quick dirty look over her shoulder including me in it as she swung her head back forward. Then she strode toward the house, spitting out, “I’m not pregnant.”
I froze, staring at her ponytail bobbing up and down. Just as she pulled her screen door open, I forced out a meek, “Sorry.”
I hope she heard me.
Years ago, I ran into a former coworker in Target. She was obviously about 8 months pregnant but I made polite chit-chat, purposefully keeping my gaze upward until finally she cupped her belly and said, “Well, soon I’ll be busy with the baby.”
“Ah,” I said. “Congratulations.”
On the rest of the walk home today, with hot shame flooding me, I vacillated between self-berating and evaluation. Why had I broken my rule? I never indicate that someone is pregnant unless they specifically declare themselves so. Never. Except I did.
I kept hearing the phrase in my head, cringing each time: Don’t jump on the pregnant lady. Don’t jump on the pregnant lady.
Then I realized: each time, I wanted to cry a little more. Pregnant lady. Pregnant lady.
My fertility journey has been long and painful. After my miscarriage earlier this year, I find myself robotic and awkward around pregnant women. I overcorrect to a false cheer. It emerges like a goat bleating: loud and startling. Mostly I attempt to disengage as quickly as possible.
In that moment, I soothed my dog, curbed her behavior, when I should have been addressing myself: Settle down. Breathe. Talk normally.
But I didn’t. I thought my dog jumping on her was the only harm to worry about.
This woman, whom I have not met before, lives across the alley and four houses down. What is the proper etiquette? Do I knock on her door and apologize again? Leave a note? Bake muffins? Or do I do what I feel inclined most to do: avoid walking down that block forever?