One of the great ironies of my second pregnancy is that the only times I’ve been offered a seat on the subway are when I genuinely don’t want one. Sometimes I’m only going a stop or two, others I’m coming off a day of desk work and need to stretch out a bit. And they come in rapid succession, forcing a cavalcade of “no thank yous” and allowing a car full of people to think that perhaps pregnant women don’t need seats after all.
But we do! And it always seems to be in the thick of rush hour, with my eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant belly jutting out in all its oppressive glory, that all eyes avert to cellphone screens and I’m left fuming as I try to keep my ever-more-tenuous balance and wait for someone, anyone, to offer reprieve.
But the problem isn’t them. It’s me.
Because, let’s be honest—we’ve all joked that men could never handle being pregnant, and forget about the pain and intensity of labour. But on one front, they’d surely have us beat: ask and you shall receive. I can’t imagine a man awkwardly avoiding eye contact with a row of seated commuters while secretly seething through his own discomfort. Because men ask for what they want, from the office to the bedroom, and this would definitely extend to public transportation.
Why are we so polite, so scared to speak up when we’re in need, so wary of taking up space? I mean, there’s no avoiding that one when you’re a few weeks away from giving birth—the space is taken! So why not take it one step further for your own well-being?
In Tokyo in 2017, there was even an app for that, matching pregnant women with nearby passengers willing to vacate their perches. That same year, New York’s transit system followed London’s lead by piloting Baby on Board pins (made famous by Kate Middleton, who wore one on the tube in 2013 while gestating Prince George).
But all apps and props aside, it's time expectant people be more assertive—this issue is one of a declining number of remaining problems we can’t solve with text or live chat. It wasn’t until I was literally 2 cm dilated, en route home from a 39-week checkup, that I thought I might be able to muster the courage to ask for a seat.
And this doesn’t mean being aggressive or rude. There are a few things to keep in mind before you waddle to the opposite end of the spectrum and light up a subway or bus full of people. A lot of them are checked out while commuting home from a long day of work. Not only that, but they’re also glued to their phones, so many won’t notice that budding bump under your non-maternity coat.
Even fewer will know the trials and tribulations of childbearing (extreme fatigue, swollen ankles, a couple dozen extra pounds to carry around—you know, growing a human being inside your body). And if you’ve ever awkwardly skirted around the fact that a woman you’re talking to is blatantly pregnant for fear of insulting her, assume that others worry in much the same way. We’re taught never to assume that anyone is expecting.
Speaking of assumptions, beyond your own needs, there are people with invisible disabilities who may only seem like they don’t need that seat.
Well then, how to proceed? It’s quite simple, really: turn to a group of people in priority seats and politely inquire if anyone is able to give theirs up. Don’t assume they’ve purposefully ignored you because they enjoy making you uncomfortable, or that they don’t need the seats themselves. Don’t target specific people who you deem the most able-bodied. Just put out your ask and expect that, like in all negotiations, you might not get what you want.
In most cases, women have reported that someone was willing to offer up their prized post and the process of asking was no big deal.
But on the odd chance that your request is ignored or met with a chorus of “no”s, feel free to unleash all the pent-up side-eye you want, mama.
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