When you're pregnant and rely on public transportation on a regular basis (in my case, a commuter train and subway), each day begins as its very own social experiment. Will you or won't you be offered a seat by a well-meaning stranger? Will you or won't you be elbowed/shoved/cut off by a harried fellow commuter? Will your day start with a firsthand reminder that the world is full of good people, or will it send you scowling to your office, wishing that strangers on foot came with ID numbers so that you could report the jerk who took the last seat on the subway?
After a pregnancy and a half of utilizing NYC's mass transit system, I haven't come to any startling conclusions about humanity or what the city is doing right or wrong. What I have learned, however, is this:
- Be comfortable with speaking up to get what you want. There are a couple of really good reasons that your fellow commuters aren't leaping out of their seats for you. First off, there's the golden rule that everyone from 20-somethings to grandparents knows (or should know): never assume that a woman is pregnant. This is particularly true in Winter; when your frame is hidden under a bulky coat and gear, it's not easy to differentiate the expectant woman from the one who's just added an extra layer. Secondly, people going about their daily business aren't necessarily aware and alert of every new person to enter the bus or train. Whether engrossed in an email or newspaper, they're probably not actively searching for random acts of kindness to complete during rush hour but would more than likely be happy to help you out. Just say, "Excuse me, I'm pregnant, any chance you'd mind if I took this seat?" You'll very rarely be let down.
- You never know what others are dealing with. While it's easy to tell if a person is elderly, using crutches, or wearing a cast, there are plenty of other physical ailments that aren't so obvious. If you're feeling great, wearing comfortable shoes, and not traveling too far, don't stress about scoring a seat. I loved this piece from The New York Times's Metropolitan Diary about the friendliest "standoff" ever between a pregnant woman and a man with a cane.
- Your own peers may be the least sympathetic passengers. I have no idea what this is all about, but women in their 20s and 30s, as a whole, tend to be the last to offer up their seats or even acknowledge a pregnant person. Presumably, they haven't yet been in your position themselves, but still . . . what happened to girl power?!
- And those who you least expect it from may be the kindest. That tough-looking guy with the oversize headphones? He's likely to be your most surprising ally on the train. I had the extremely odd experience of a stranger who I'd steer clear of if I encountered him on a deserted street at night offering for me to hold onto his jacket when no pole, handle, or seat was available. I declined, but after I processed the weirdness of the whole thing, I realized that he was just offering what he could.
- Come prepared for the worst-case scenario. As the laws of karma would have it, on the days when you're wearing sneakers and are empty-handed, you'll have your pick of seats on a quiet train. The one time all month you wear heels and tote your laptop into the office? You'll deal with subway delays, and no one in the vicinity will be feeling charitable. Do your best to travel light, wear clothes that you're comfortable in (and a coat that's easy to unbutton/zip, it can get hot on those stuffy trains), and always bring a bottle of water with you.
Fellow pregnant commuters, what's your experience been like? Did I miss anything?