Walking into a conference for planetary science and new mission planning yesterday, I got in line to pick up my badge.  I hadn’t been there five minutes when I was greeted by an old colleague who, instead of shaking my hand, smiled and said, “Well, I see you’ve been busy!” and patted my stomach several times in quick succession.

I stared blankly at him, honestly not getting it (I’m mostly with friends these days).

So he did it again.

I smiled weakly, realizing that he thought I was pregnant because of my treatment-swollen belly (I’ve been on drugs and chemotherapy with nasty side effects this year, the least of which are a) weight gain and b) the inability to lose weight).  I do my best to camoflauge it with clothing, but since I have no breasts (double mastectomy in 2008 to save my life), it’s difficult, particularly when I’m swollen with lymphedema too.

The best I could come up with was a weak smile and the rejoinder, “No, that’s just cookies!” moving away so he couldn’t insist, and asking him quickly “How’s business?”

It was not the best of ways to start a conference.


34 Responses to Sigh.

  1. marty l says:

    Sigh, indeed.

  2. Sigh and Grrr! People should know better. (And yay! You’ll be among friends starting tmw!)

  3. Bon says:

    how a human can make it past the age of 25 and not learn NEVER to make assumptions about pregnancy is truly beyond me.

    sorry your conference started that way. hope the rest of it was more focused on what you went for.

  4. Linda says:

    Ugh! Hopefully the rest of the conference is better. Loving you and praying for you!

  5. JJ says:

    As an overweight woman whose babies stretched out her stomach muscles, I get mistakenly asked about my “pregnancy” from time to time. Someone was talking to me about taking my daughter horseback riding and then looked at me and said,”of course it’s not good for the baby” so I just looked her dead in the eye and said, “Well, that’s not a problem since I’m not pregnant.” Then walked away, but heard her trying to apologize as I did. People just don’t think. I’m sorry, I know how much it hurts — try not to let the turkeys get you down!

  6. Becky says:

    Rude, inconsiderate, violation of personal space…not to mention condescending and so many other negative adjectives…I hope the rest of the conference goes much better.

  7. Jackie says:

    Ugggg, I hope the rest of the conference is MUCH better than that moment!

  8. Spacemom says:

    There is a Dilbert where a woman is pregnant and Dilbert asks when the baby is due. (she is about 9 months pregnant). She screams “Can I have 1 donut without someone making a comment?” and he runs away.

    My best line (when I was pregnant and strangers reached out to rub my belly) was to look them in the eye and ask “Does this mean I get to touch your reproductive organs now?” It freaks out the men.

    I think we should come up with a bunch of witty replies to asshats like that and you just be prepared. But then again, astronomers are pretty socially ignorant to start with.

    Sorry you had to deal with this crap.

  9. Sometimes your life is like a really not funny episode of Big Bang Theory. Promise me that should you one day just lose it and grab a man’s package as he pats your belly, you’ll be lucid enough to be sure to tape it for youtube.

  10. Megan says:

    Geez. I have been lurking for a long time, but this one got me to post. I remember what you posted about the conference last year. Thank you for working so hard to promote WOMEN in planetary science. I don’t know what to say – I hope he is mortified.

  11. Stella says:

    Gah! My mom always says that unless you see a baby’s head poking from between a woman’s legs you should never assume she’s pregnant… and NEVER ask!

    Small consolation but I’m sure he felt almost as bad about the mistake as you did…

  12. Delora says:

    When is that EVER appropriate? Even if a woman is crowning, you don’t just PAT HER STOMACH!

    Hope the rest of the conference went better.

  13. I too have the ‘pregnant’ stomach from treatment and lymhodema, I’m sorry that man was so insensitive. Like you, I wouldnt have known what to say. I think its rude to touch someone else in that way even if they are pregnant without asking. Sigh and Grr along with you and everyone else

  14. NoR says:

    It’s horrible overall but most horrible that he felt ok patting your stomach. Boundaries!!!!

  15. Karen G says:

    Ok, So, Who Does That?

    First, I hope the rest of your conference went really well!

    Secondly, I hope your colleague at least understood that this isn’t a normal interaction, whether with a colleague, a social contact, or a stranger. If you don’t think that he *did* understand, well, maybe a brief and constructive call would be helpful to him. It seems like you responded in a way to not hurt his feelings – and that isn’t a criticism of you!

    I’ve honestly never seen anyone pat someone else’s stomach, though I have heard it does happen. Arghh.

  16. By coincidence I just watched a reality show on women giving birth when they don’t even know they are pregnant. No weight gain, etc., but still, to be that out of touch with one’s body. it might help those people as well as the jerks who assume a rounded belly means pregnancy to include in Health Education the diversity of bodies, both pregnant and not. It’s just so insulting someone really needs to come up with a standard nasty response, like, gee, it looks like you’ve been even busier and leave it mysterious and walk away. It also infuriates me that people think it is OK to pat pregnant women’s bellies.

  17. Sigh –> for the socially inept colleague who acted inappropriately and made you feel uncomfortable.


    WOOT –> for the fact that you are AT THE CONFERENCE and active and able and serving as a wonderful role model for other women in science!

  18. Thien-Kim says:

    That’s so rude. Even when I was pregnant, I hated anyone who tried to touch my stomach!

  19. AAARGGHHHH! I *hate* tummy-patters, and when it happened to me I developed the defence/retaliation strategy of patting the person back (on their tummy, never thought of going lower!) When they gave me an odd look, or stepped back in shock, I would innocently say, “Oh sorry, I thought we were patting tummies now”. They never did it a second time – and usually apologised.
    Plus the sheer ineptness (I would say rudeness, but I bet he wasn’t intentionally rude and would be mortified to think he had hurt/embarrassed you) of *assuming* you were pregnant… sigh. Indeed.
    Hooray for being at the conference, though! I hope you’re having a great time!

  20. Emma says:

    A fellow woman in planetary science, I went on my first conference post maternity leave and one of my male (self-awareness free) colleagues asked who was breast feeding my baby while I was away? Where do you begin?
    I hope you had a good, productive meeting despite this rude beginning.

  21. Good God! There are rules in life:
    1) NEVER assume a woman is pregnant unless she tells you
    2) NEVER TOUCH a woman in a possibly-prgnant area of her body unless she gives you permission
    3) NEVER open your mouth in public if you are so insensitive or self-occupied that you don’t automatically follow rules 1) and 2).

  22. julie says:

    ???? This tells a lot about how our very brilliant male colleagues think when they interact in the **real** world… Sorry you had to deal with that.
    I heard the conference was great, I hope you had a good time besides that poor experience.

  23. rebecca c says:

    I got “when are you due?” just last week at work. I smiled, sighed and told the well meaning woman (who was about 50 lbs larger than myself) that, “No, I’m just fat.” Which I’m not, really, just have a poochy tummy. I have yet to wear that pair of pants again thought and I realllllly liked them. Sometimes people suck.

  24. NYFriend says:

    Wow. So sorry you had to endure such social ineptness and overall rudeness. *sigh* indeed.

    Hope you enjoyed the rest of the conference, and I’m so happy for you that you are there participating!

  25. UGH. That is crappy. HOPEFULLY he was so mortified that you’ve saved future women from a similar fate!

  26. My immediate reaction to this was to think that once again, you have handled a difficult situation with grace. It sometimes takes the uncouth oafs of the world to allow others to show off their class and dignity! I hope you had a wonderful rest of the conference!!

    Love to you, as always, CGF xoxo

  27. Karen says:

    How rude – I still get that when I go shopping as it is the only area of my body that carries fat – I just say 18 years ago! I should be flattered that at 53 they still think I am young enough to be pregnant but I really think is it is unacceptable. I would say that to another woman unless she volunteered the information.
    Hope the rest of the conference made up for the rocky start.

  28. Jane says:

    Your tweets from the Planetary Sciences and New Mission conference were very productive and I really enjoyed reading them! Glad you could shake off the reproductive faux pas, but sorry you had to experience it.

  29. Angela says:

    When will people learn? And touching at the same time? AND it’s a guy. That’s just so over the top wrong. I’m going to bet he was wishing the ground would swallow him up after that. Serves him right. Maybe he’ll think first next time!

  30. Ugh! I second Angela–When will people learn! Glad the conference was a wonderful success despite it’s rough start. I enjoyed meeting you at the Cause Blogger session of the Type A Mom conference.

  31. I was so sad when I read this… cause, well DAY-UM. I wanted to punch that guy in the mouth.

    Then I read the comments and they made me smile… and I hope they did for you too.

    Love you sweetie. That corner of my garden is still waiting for you.

  32. Amy says:

    Sadly, I can think of many colleagues who would do this. And I’ve seen you stand up to their ignorance quite well! I always remind myself that many male (and a few female) scientists were raised by wolves and without social skills.

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