She was about eight or nine months pregnant, belly hanging low, baby about to drop any day. The previous months had clearly taken a toll on her, as her face showed the exhaustion and fatigue required to make a human being. She was physically spent, yet there she stood.
Yes, she was standing. Standing on the 505 streetcar in downtown Toronto, as it abruptly stopped and started in morning rush hour traffic. Had she slept the night before? Unlikely, as anyone who has experienced the final months of pregnancy knows: a good night's sleep is an ephemeral and fleeting fantasy.
Yet there she stood, while all around her, young, fit and otherwise preoccupied citizens pretended not to see her by burying their heads in their smartphones of choice.
A 20-something man in a crisp suit, clearly headed to his job in the financial sector pretended to sleep, as his eyes closed immediately after viewing the pregnant woman's swollen belly.
A middle-aged woman played candy crush saga with an intensity and fervour that many of us thought only belonged to a younger generation of gamers, her eyes glued to her retina display screen.
Three teenage girls in private school uniforms giggled amongst themselves, giving nary an eye to the belly that not only protruded into the aisle in front of them, but turgidly languished on the very edges of their personal space. You see, her belly -- had it been acknowledged -- would have broken up the party, and that wouldn't have been cool. The latest gossip about that cute guy in class and recap of last night's TV show was much more important.
This had not been the first time that I had seen such appalling behaviour. Sadly, in my experience, purposely ignoring pregnant women while riding public transit has become the norm, not the exception. What has happened to humanity?
I've posted many rants and complaints about this on my personal Facebook page and talked to many friends who are mothers themselves. All of them have a similar story to recount about how they have been ignored while pregnant and riding public transit.
A personal anecdote: during my last and final pregnancy with my twin boys, I could barely walk. I was considered "high-risk" for a few medical reasons which relegated me to bed-rest for most of my pregnancy. On those off days before I was completely immobile, somewhere between my seventh and eighth month of gestation, I needed to use the public transit to get to my doctor's appointments. Now, let me say that having my third pregnancy and twins, no less, made me huge, much earlier than I would have been, had I been on my first pregnancy. In other words, there was no doubt that I was indeed pregnant.
Yet there I stood.
Their eyes averted, I was ignored, invisible and silently defeated as I struggled to balance so many times on the streetcar, hoping that some kindly person would give me a seat. My elephant-sized ankles continued to swell, my feet ached and my back painfully swayed with each lurch and jolt of the streetcar. Everything hurt, including my feelings.
As the mother of four, and one who has experienced three different pregnancies, I'm sad to say that this experience wasn't atypical. Sadly, it was the norm, not the exception for many of the woman that I know who have been pregnant. What on earth is going on?
While I don't profess to have all of the answers, I do believe that our culture of entitlement is a huge factor in this cultural shift. Once upon a time, there was chivalry, then socially accepted norms that included women, about "doing the right thing." Helping someone who was clearly in need was the norm, not the exception. With the increasing sense of entitlement, exemplified by the "Me Generation" and continuing onward, those in need haven't had a snowball's chance in hell of getting a fair shake. Whether they're seniors who are unstable on their feet, the disabled or the aforementioned pregnant woman just looking for a kind soul who will let her have a well-needed seat, the chances of these folks receiving this small kindness grows smaller every day. The lack of focus on others, supported by the technological tools to "zone out" or feign ignorance wherever and whenever possible makes this willful blindness not only possible but probable as well.
Yet, in spite of this trend towards selfishness, I do believe that change is possible. The change starts now with all of us who are raising children with the values that support kindness and compassion. And while we make efforts to effect our childrens' behaviours in future there are some adults who are in need of an etiquette refresher now.
I am starting a one-woman public awareness campaign as I feel that it needs to be done. As someone who has endured a very difficult twin pregnancy and was on the verge of begging someone to please give me a seat, the time for greater awareness for this reality is long overdue. Clearly, the assumption that everyone riding on the bus/subway/streetcar/[insert transportation mode here] understands that pregnant women should be given a seat is completely wrong. My assumptions -- based on the teachings of my parents (thank-you, Mom and Dad) underscored the importance of kindness, but more specifically the need for those of us who are more able, to extend said kindness -- and where appropriate, a seat -- to those in need. This includes the elderly, the disabled and, of course, pregnant women.
Whenever and wherever you can, please remind those riding the public transit who seem to have forgotten basic courtesy that pregnancy is challenging, difficult and just plain exhausting. If a pregnant woman is standing while able-bodied people are pretending not to see her, be her advocate and ask them to give her a seat. I've done it before and have never been told "no," probably because the shock of being called on their bad behaviour mixed with their embarrassment makes the culprits stand up quicker than one would imagine.
Perhaps making the subject one that is no longer ignored, one where pregnant women don't have to suffer in silence, will put an end to it once and for all. If anything, making those who are oblivious more aware of their choices and how these choices affect others will affect change, hopefully for the better.
I'll be tweeting and sharing the hashtag #StandUpForMom and #giveupyourseat on my social media channels to keep the topic top of mind and hope you're able to share it as well.
Let's do this.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
You might have read things about how morning sickness signifies a healthy level of pregnancy hormones – but not having morning sickness does not mean you're lacking! Although many women suffer with it (and 'suffer' really is the word), many other women do not. Some women have it one pregnancy, but not in another. Attend all your usual checks and count yourself as one of the lucky ones!
This happens to many, many expectant mums, and it's unlikely to be a cause for concern at all. Mention it to your GP/midwife, and just keep off the booze now, until you can enjoy a celebratory glass of fizz when your bundle arrives.
It's estimated about one in five pregnancies ends in early miscarriage, and it's thought most of those occur simply because the foetus wasn't developing properly. It does happen, but don't let it rule your thoughts because the vast majority of pregnancies do succeed. Try not to worry and remember that once you're into the second trimester, the chances of miscarriage is dramatically reduced.
It's estimated that one in 16 babies in the UK is born with a birth defect – but this figure refers to all birth defects, and many are mild and can be treated. So it's likely your baby won't have a birth defect, and even if they do, they will be perfect in their own way – remember support is available for every eventuality. Take your folic acid and attend your antenatal screening appointments.
You might have read terrifying stories about pregnant women giving birth in car parks and taxis – but these stories make it to the news because they are extraordinary, in the literal sense of the word! It very rarely happens, and most women get plenty of warning that labour is beginning. So plan well, and all is very likely to be fine.
If you do end up needing a c-section, you might feel disappointed – but believe us, in the moment the only thing you'll really care about is the safe delivery of your baby. It won't be the end of the world and you won't care a jot when your baby is in your arms.
There is just no telling how labour will be for you, so don't worry about it now. Make your birth plan, discuss it with your partner and midwife, and go with the flow on the day (it's okay to change your mind!). There will be lots and lots of help and support at your disposal. Not to mention drugs, should you need them.
You've heard about that then? It can happen, but the doctors and midwives have seen it all – they have experienced every possible scenario. They won't be worrying about things like that, so neither should you.
No-one does until they become one! Every new mum feels like they're winging it in the early days. As your baby grows and you get to know them, you'll learn. Trust in the fact that just about every mother has gone through it… and survived.
You will put on weight, yes – but it's normal and nothing to be afraid of! Much weight gain is actually down to the baby, the placenta, extra blood in your system and the retention of water. Pregnancy changes your body in myriad ways – just enjoy it, and let your body just do its thing at this special time. Remember, there's no need to 'eat for two'… but eat what you need and don't count calories.
Follow Samantha Kemp-Jackson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/samkj27