How can I maintain ownership of my body while I’m pregnant?

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Maternity Photoshoot I’m expecting my first child at the end of the fall. It will be the first grandchild on both sides of a very on-beat family. I’m blessed to be surrounded by the love of family and friends during this time and they are all VERY excited about our coming child.

However, I’m experiencing a bit of a problem — it seems like everyone wants to “own” my baby. What I mean by this is the off-hand, “Hey that’s my grandson in there, be careful,” when I walk down the stairs, or “My nephew should have an apple,” when I’m picking out my lunch. I know it is coming from a place of love but I’m struggling both with the immediate reaction of “What if I don’t want a freaking apple?” and the lingering feeling of flags getting staked on my belly from people claiming my child before he is even born.

How best can I deal with the already strong “ownership” (of the baby and as a result, my body) presenting itself from my mother-in-law, sister, and friends? — Kristin

Did you experience any loss of “body ownership” while you were pregnant (or in other situations)? How did you handle it?

Comments on How can I maintain ownership of my body while I’m pregnant?

  1. I am having the same issue! My mother-in-law is already calling dibs on giving my daughter her first bath and my grandmother keeps rubbing my belly and telling me to keep her first great grandbaby safe. My first daughter was stillborn in January, so their comments freak me out even more… like they are counting on me to keep this baby alive, or already assuming she will be fine.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss πŸ™ Also, anyone who tried to claim rights to my baby’s first *anything* would’ve been told to go to hell. However, I know that not everyone sees that as an option πŸ˜‰

  2. I feel like the only thing I can think of would be to give it back in kind – they are making offhand comments, so make them back. That’s easier said than done – my mother-in-law asks my son questions (he’s 11 months old) that are really directed at my husband and I (like “are you going to sleep in your own bed tonight?”) and it takes energy not to be nasty in response.

    But you could be funny.

    “Oh, he likes apples, but he REALLY likes chocolate cake. He told me.”

    “He’s a daredevil already – he loves it when I jostle him around!”

    Stuff like that. Make it seem like you have the inside scoop on what he really wants and substitute what you want for that. Play along.

    OR, if you can’t bring yourself to play along, come up with a sentence and just use that. Like, “I really appreciate that you are concerned, but we’re fine.” They persist. You say, “I really appreciate that you’re concerned, but we’re doing just fine.” Etc.

  3. Ahhhhgggg!!! I’m not even preggers YET and I’m getting this treatment a lil bit! I’m thiking it can only get worse?!?!! I’d be happy to hear any wise words. The inlaws are super onbeat and I’m about to start throwing punches!

  4. Relax have fun with it. If youre stressing now, it’ll only get worse when the baby comes out! Emily has stellar advice.

  5. It’s harder to do when you’re pregnant, but I try not to take it personally. I know my friends and family don’t ACTUALLY think they own my body, they’re just trying to be funny and/or express their love for me and the baby. So mostly I ignore it. And vent to my husband and on Facebook. πŸ˜‰

    If people do seem to actually think they own your body and baby, that’s different. If they’re actively trying to keep you from doing the things you want to do or eating the things you want to eat, that’s bullshit and needs to be stopped ASAP. I usually deal with this by pulling out research and/or my midwife. “Research actually says that fish is good for the baby’s brain.” “My midwife told me I need to climb stairs to strengthen my hips and back.” Basically I want my point to be “I know what I’m doing and I’m capable of making my own decisions, and you are not adding any useful information to my decision-making process.”

    Also I just bought the shirt that the woman in the photo is wearing. Awesome.

  6. Gosh, I would say very snidely, “I am a person, not an incubator,” but I’m known to be rudely direct.

  7. These people are just excited about the new baby and this is their way of expressing it; they’re not trying to “assert ownership” of your baby.

    You may be feeling defensive about your identity because you’ve been an individual–no more, no less–your whole life and very shortly you will be someone’s mom. That’s totally understandable, but it’s not fair to project that identity crisis onto other people’s small talk.

    • i couldn’t disagree more with this comment. the giveaway is in the kind of language she’s talking about (and that i get too) – it’s along the lines of “MY grandbaby” “MY niece” – relatives are trying to assert their rights over the child, and that’s really not cool. especially when that compromises the rights of the mum, i.e. to be an individual with needs, tastes, and desires that extend beyond the mother/incubator role.
      and i don’t think being a mum means you give up your individuality or compromise your identity. you expand it by becoming a parent, you don’t limit it.

      • Yeah I don’t agree with the first post either. Listening to the vocabulary someone is using can really pinpoint their motivation behind what the are saying. They are laying claim to the child as theirs. They are saying they have the same level of imput with the child as the parents do.

        And motherhood is just one role on top of being an individual. Its an important one but it doesn’t take away that person’s identity but adds to it.

        Its when other people try to treat the woman as if her existance is soley for her offspring is when that individuality is being stripped.

        • But the child IS their grandbaby or niece or whatever… What do you want people to say, “the grandbaby”? “the child of the child I birthed”? Avoiding possessive pronouns would be absurd.

          • It’s not a matter of avoiding pronouns; it’s a matter of avoiding comments which suggest that the person talking knows more about what the mother should be doing than the mother herself.

            “How is my grandbaby doing today?” is fine.

            “You should do X to keep my grandbaby safe” implies that the speaker believes that their opinion about what the mother should be doing is more valid than the mother’s.

            I don’t see why it’s so difficult to trust the mother as the primary authority on her baby, and that is the problem at hand.

            Edited to add: both my mother and my mother-in-law always ask me, “How is your/the little one doing?”. Not complicated.

  8. I’m due to have baby #2 in September and haven’t had nearly as many issues with in-laws as I did with my son born 5/2010. Both sides of our family think we are off for our natural choices in birthing and rearing that we have let be known. The negative comments stopped after a few well timed statements on my part. Telling them exactly your plans followed by an “I’m so glad that you guys are so open/mature and respect our choices as (soon to be) parents. Our family would be so disappointed if our loved ones pushed ideas on us that do not fit our lifestyle.” If they continue on with their agenda it negates the positive comments you’ve made about them and most people don’t want to lose face.
    Cheers!

  9. I agree with both Marina and Emily. My son was the first grandchild on both sides of the family and I dealt with this a lot, especially after he was born. One time, my MIL had a fit after my husband gave my son his pacifier after it had landed on the floor without immediately sterilizing it, and she yelled at him that she was going to be furious if my son got sick. I didn’t say anything at the time but later sent her a very clear, assertive email explaining the research on “Hygiene Hypothesis” (basically that being exposed to germs is a good thing and being too clean leaves kids vulnerable later). I assured her that all of our decisions about how to raise our child are well research and reasoned, even if they may not be the same decisions she would make. And I stated that I appreciated that she had his best interest at heart, and emphasized that we did also. She has been pretty good since that email about not trying to tell us how to raise our son. But every once in a while an assertive reminder is still necessary.

  10. I’m a little nervous of what things will be like once my baby is out. This will be my MIL’s first grandbaby and, although she is very sweet-hearted, she’s a bit on the I-have-several-answers/cures-for-everything side. Like if my DH sneezes, she’ll pull out the entire medicine cabinet and insist we don’t sleep in the same bed for a week. Stuff like that, you know?
    Well, I’ve witnessed my MIL interact with my sister and her new baby. We’re in a crowded restaurant, the baby has finished nursing on her own terms but starts fussing a little. “Oh, Mommy, you didn’t give me enough milk,” said my MIL in a baby voice. My sister chuckled it off politely, but my Mama instinct was like – Dude! How is that supposed to make a mom feel? Suddenly your baby has a voice and it’s criticizing your actions? I’m already imagining the uncomfortable scenarios that are bound to happen. It’s great to read these comebacks.

    • YES. My mother-in-law does this.

      Here is what I can say – she thinks that she is being funny and teasing me gently. She really thinks I’m a good mom – but she would never ever say that to my face. I had to explain to my husband over and over that no, I don’t know that she’s kidding and I can’t help but get defensive and no, I don’t know that she thinks I’m a good mom because she isn’t my mom. She doesn’t love me unconditionally like she does her son.

      And yes, it’s SO hard and SO uncomfortable. She’ll say that we spoil him and he has us wrapped around his little finger because I pick him up and cuddle him when he cries. I think it’s great that I know that he just needs a little snuggle and then he’ll be fine! I’m GLAD I can tell what’s wrong with him and I don’t think it’s spoiling.

      Argh, I’m getting all mad just thinking about it.

      Your spouse is your best ally here and he needs to step up and help you out – either by privately telling his mom to cut it out because you don’t like it, or by taking the opposite stance in person and being the one to tease back. He can, because he’s her kid, right?

      Anyway, my sympathies. It’s hard to deal with, especially when you’re a brand new mom and unsure of yourself and your decisions and if you’re doing it right. I hope it goes better than you fear it will.

    • “Suddenly your baby has a voice and it’s criticizing your actions?” This made me laugh. I know women are often told that no matter how hard they try, they will turn out like their mothers. I never conceived the horrible idea that my baby would be voiced by my mother (or mother-in-law). Nightmares!

    • I would say right back to the MIL, mimicking baby-voice, “Oh Grandma, I have a poopy diaper! I want Grandma to change it!”

      And see how THAT goes over!

  11. Ugh, I experienced this on my DH’s side of the family with my first pregnancy (am now pregnant with #2 and the comments have stopped). My MIL was with my DH shopping for a bday gift for me and I had requested a certain CD. She said, very snottily, “is this GOOD music? You better not play songs with bad words around the baby!” well, we do play songs with “bad words” around our son. Who cares. It’s not gangsta rap or death metal, but there may be a well-timed swear word here or there. *rolls eyes*.
    We did a good job of setting up clear boundaries and being clear about our parenting style with #1, so we don’t deal with this anymore with #2. I think they see that DS1 is a wonderful, vibrant, healthy, well-tempered little boy and now they even COMPLIMENT our parenting style. Crazy!

    • Okay, for the parental newbies around here, can we explain all the abbreviations? MIL is, of course, mother-in-law, but not sure what DH actually means — Daddy Husband? πŸ™‚ and DS1 apparently refers to your first son, but the D stands for ?

        • Is there any way to gently ask commenters to refrain from using acronyms too? This isn’t the first post I’ve seen with comments I couldn’t decipher.

          • “Is there any way to gently ask commenters to refrain from using acronyms too?” Stephanie’s comment is doing exactly that.

            We do our best to respond to most acronym comments, but if you catch one before we see it, feel free to post a comment yourself linking this post and asking the commenter to translate their acronyms.

          • Gah! I’m so sorry! I’ve been bouncing to-and-fro between Offbeat Mama and Mothering dot com and I lost track of my manners. πŸ™ I’m blaming it on my hormone soaked brain which can’t think and dictate as clearly as it used to. Again, I’m sorry, because I too despise these acronyms!

      • I could be totally wrong here, but the first time I ever saw “DH”/etc. was in the Dear Jane quilting newsletter (a terrifically difficult pattern off an 1863 quilt by Jane Stickle of Vermont, which has been around for about 20 years). Everyone referred to on-list is a “dear”-someone. Which made a lot of sense in context. *grin*
        It would be pretty awesome if the Dear Jane quilt spawned a whole internet worth of parenting acronyms.

    • What’s wrong with playing death metal to your kid? Death metal makes me happy πŸ™‚

  12. Dude, nip this in the butt. Sooner rather than later. I was very cut and dry about how things were going to happen after my son was born 8 months ago and now I run the show. At one point I had to tell my mom “You had your turn at YOUR babies and now it’s my turn with MY baby. I made him, I am going to give birth to him and I am his only mom.” Sounds harsh but she needed a reality check. She was upset for a couple days but later on you can blame it on your pregnancy hormones and say “I may have been harsh and I’m sorry for that but I still mean what I said”.
    On a related note-why do Mothers-in-law claim expertise on all subjects baby related? I’m not going to dissect how lacking my MIL parenting methods were (and they WERE lacking) but I have many times started a sentence with “NEW research has shown that….” or “The current info from my pediatrician is….”. Only one time did I have to tell her “My babys doctor is an expert on babies. I am an expert on THIS baby. Thanks for your input but I know what I’m doing.”…of course you have to back all of that up with confidence.

    • P.S. I had the same thing happen to me – first grandchild on both sides, very loved, very on-beat family. I lived under a microscope for a while. I feel your pain. πŸ™‚

      P.P.S. We now call our baby the Golden Child because everyone worships him.

      • I’m in the “Address it now” camp as well. I’ve known a few moms whose family (especially in-laws) used these kinds of ownership expressions while they were pregnant, and then went on to be big boundary-crossers once the baby was born, taking liberties the moms were not comfortable with because they saw their grandkid, niece, or what have you, as theirs. Of course this all depends on the relationship you see between your baby and other people. But if this is bothering you now, it is safe to assume you’re not going to be okay with these people stepping in to tell you your kid is dressed inappropriately or randomly try to potty train them or crossing other common parenting boundaries.

        I would try to make the point that you’re educating yourself, getting quality medical advice from your midwife or doctor, and that you are making decisions for your family based on your best judgments. It might come off as overkill when someone is making a half-lighthearted attempt to sway your meal, but to me it is better than letting your discomfort fester or grow.

    • “I am an expert on THIS baby.” – fantastic! i’m filing that one away for future use πŸ™‚

  13. Thanks for all of the advice! I know that I have to share him once he’s born – and I know I will need that help once he comes… I just need to remember that it’s all coming from a place of love and I will have a unique bond with him as his mother. It’s just remembering that while being bombarded….

  14. I actually refused to share “belly” photos with family or friends. They asked, I said “no”. I just didn’t want to fuel commentary about my body or size by friends or family.

  15. Granted, I’m not pregnant, and I would likely be much more tactful if I was in your situation, but reading the post, all I could think of to say was “Sod off. My baby/my body, not yours.” Or something equally charming like “next time you’re pregnant, you get to choose what you do. It’s my turn now.”

    It sounds a lot more snotty on here than it did in my head. Sorry. I have little patience today. And don’t even GET me started on the belly touching. Hell no.

  16. This is extremely interesting to me! My man’s mother…let’s just say she doesn’t have a leg to stand on, parenting wise. She also has no concept of boundaries, respect, community living – so I fear that anything I try to put in place will be walked all over.
    My biggest question, though, is over phyical touch – I am so not a touchy person outside of my intimate relationships, or people that I implicitly trust. How do you navigate the people that automatically just think they can come up to you and touch your stomach? “I’m still me – I’m just growing a kid” is my mentality, but what words can I use that will tell people “fuck off don’t touch me, but hi how is your day going?”

    • I actually told a stranger that I wasn’t pregnant, it was a tumor. But I was moody that day. Typically a straightforward “please don’t touch me” gets the point across.

      • You could embarrass the hell out of anybody by starting to scream hysterically while pointing at your belly and shouting “the bad lady/man touched me right here.”

        • My future sister in law wore a shirt every time she went to the grocery store that said “touch the belly, loose the hand.:)

    • Best response I ever heard was from Fiona (who will probably read this–hi Fiona!) who creepily touched the face of the person who creepily touched her stomach.

      • Hah! Face touching is better than I would do. I’ve decided that if in an alternate universe I’m ever pregnant and someone rubs my belly, I’ll grab their boob.

    • I think “fuck off don’t touch me, but how is your day going” is PERFECT. Gets the point across succinctly!

    • I have to admit I never actually did it, but when people asked if they could touch my belly, I always wanted to respond with “Sure, if I can touch yours!”
      I also tried to buy a maternity T-shirt on Etsy with a picture of MC Hammer that said “Can’t touch this” but the seller’s store went on hiatus and never returned. The idea was brilliant though!

      • i read this: “the last time somebody touched me like this THIS was made!”
        ..i never had the guts to say hat though…

      • I practised all my sassy lines but when it came down to the line and people asked if they could touch my belly I would just answer them honestly.
        “I’d prefer if you didn’t” or “Not right now”. With some family members they were a little put off but at a time when I was more relaxed and did feel okay with it I would offer them the opportunity.
        Once, and just once, one of my gaming friends approached me with a belly level outstretched hand and an enquiring look and I hissed at my “My precious!”. He laughed and backed off.

  17. This was one of my biggest fears during my pregnancy (I’m currently on Day 6 of post-due date waaaaiiiitiiinggg) but fortunately did not have to deal with this too much. Although it’s probably because only my folks are close enough to actually visit; everyone else is a plane ride away. There was only one person (at my work) who would just start touching me out of the blue, and I regret not being more firm with her about it but was so shocked at the time I was just kind of stunned. I handled it in a fairly passive aggressive way by saying on facebook (where I knew she’d see it) that I was so grateful that so many of my friends did NOT feel me up and how gracious *almost* everyone had been about that. She got the hint.

    Who knows what will happen once baby girl is actually here, but I agree with other posters that nipping it in the bud in a non-defensive manner is probably best. You get too defensive and they don’t take you seriously; you’re too nice and they miss the intent.One of my MILs (there’s mom and step-mom) has a history of being overbearing in her opinions on child-rearing, but that was years ago and hopefully she’s chilled out by now. But as someone else said, your partner is your best ally in this and you both need to have the united front ready.

    Good luck!

  18. Well, after reading this, I am so thankful for my mother-in-law. Closest she’s come to forcing her opinion was tentatively saying “do you plan to quit spmoking?” And getting me some pamphlets on ways to quit when I answered the affirmative.

    I think what you should do is be direct – tell them “I feel belittled an unappreciated when you phrase this in this particular way. I know you’re excited about this child, but I would like you to stop asserting food choices/start acknowledging me as more than just a vessel for your grandson when referring to him/start trusting that I do have some idea of what I’m doing.” And if that doesn’t work, threaten to not let them babysit.

  19. I’m really not good at the “my baby” thing, since it’s well….mine. I’ve had to tell both sets of grandparents that they will not call my child their “baby”. I guess I have to deal with them saying “my grandbaby” though. Still makes me twitchy. Sorry you’re going through something similar.

    • This! My mother in law is not super nosy, but we were explaining to her that we don’t want folks to have to spend a ton of money on clothes that the kid may only wear once, and encouraged her to buy some newish things second-hand. Her response: “I can’t imagine buying USED clothing for MY grandbaby.” And my thought was “Why the hell not? The kid isn’t going to know the difference, and it’ll be new to us!”

  20. I’ve never been pregnant, but I adore this video I think it really gets the point across about inappropriate touching.

  21. I’ve had serious problems with my in-laws in the past, especially since they are on-beat to the extreme and were quite critical of many of our parenting/childbirth choices and actually told me they felt they had a right to voice these opinions because it’s “their grandchild”. Thankfully, my husband was definitely my best ally, it got to the point where he had to tell them to back off or be left out entirely. Now, with baby #2 on the way they’ve kept quiet had to accept that this is our baby, not theirs.

  22. so a lot of the comments above deal with what you can do with the family and I just wanted to add this: in my yoga-birth-prparation-class we would do visualisations and meditations that left me feeling very connected to the baby.. I donΒ΄t really know how to describe it, but doing something just for the two of us really helped me to feel centered in my body and feeling closer to son…
    all the best for you!

  23. Just say, “Yes, baby does need an apple, baby also needs a Summer Infant 02000 BabyTouch Touch Screen Digital Video Monitor.” Or fill in the blank with any other such extravagant baby item everytime they “claim” your baby. If they’re gonna “own” baby, they can help pay for baby;-) and being asked for stuff gets old too, maybe they’ll get the point after you end up with cool stuff.

  24. I didn’t get a lot of this while pregnant… but I do now that he’s here and growing up. I get the odd “aimed at me” questions that are asked to him, mostly by my mother. I’ve totally gotten the one similar to other person’s above “Are you going to sleep in your own bed tonight?” and it’s like, we cosleep. Get over it. If you want him to sleep in his bed tonight, you come sleep over and get up at every feeding with him! Because otherwise, we are just fine! πŸ™‚
    I would just let them know you are just fine, and there is no need for their concern. I would say that only you know exactly what the baby wants, because you are the one carrying him/her.

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