I am not a social kisser.
I am English, and we simply have no social conventions for it. It is therefore an unpleasant moment of embarrassment for all concerned – how many? Where? When? In fact, because I hate it so much, I routinely end up mis-timing the social kisses that I’m obliged to endure. I once licked a colleague’s ear due to a mis-kiss. More than once, I have kissed vague acquaintances squarely on the lips for the same reason. The whole thing is an endurance and ought to be banned.
Basically, I’m not keen on physical contact with anyone but my very nearest and dearest. Even handshakes sometimes leave me wondering if we couldn’t have got away with a respectful nod. So, I naturally assumed that I would hate bump-feeling with a passion.
I had been warned: strange old ladies leaping out from behind the racks at Marks and Spencer to grab you in the middle. Inappropriate advances from colleagues. I even took the precaution of tweeting: ‘If anyone tries to touch my bump, I will fucking bite them.’ Actually, that might have been in capitals. You can’t be too careful.
But then, it happened to me. I was standing in a cafe, waiting to be served. The woman next to me began to chat, I mentioned I was pregnant, and she got all excited and immediately reached out and stroked my emergent bump.
And the weird thing was, I liked it. It was sort of sisterly and appreciative, like I was a cake, and she couldn’t resist tasting the icing. It was totally sincere. After months of feeling sick and generally awful while having nothing to show for it, it felt good to be allowed to see pregnancy as a privilege, something that was an objectively exciting thing. I felt a little bit like I was being welcomed into a community in which my experiences of the world were acknowledged.
We don’t do much to mark rites of passage in our society. In fact, we deliberately turn a blind eye as childhood segues into adulthood, afraid as we are of drawing attention to that burgeoning fertility too soon. Sure, we celebrate weddings, but quite rightly we don’t expect it to form any sort of a community; I’ve no more in common with other married folk than I have with someone single.
Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve noticed that I get treated more kindly by the people around me. Complete strangers go out of their way to ensure I’m alright. I’m almost invited to feel vulnerable, if that’s what I want, and I’m hugely grateful for it, because the whole experience has left me feeling a bit more pathetic than my usual self. And, for the first time in my life, I feel as though a rite of passage is being marked – not in any fixed, ceremonial way, but through a multitude of small gestures that acknowledge the changes I’m going through.
Now that the baby is moving inside me, having a bump is rather fun. I can now independently feel that he is fine as he swooshes around, without needing a medical intermediary. It’s endlessly fascinating (and a bit appalling) to see it growing every day; Herbert and I amuse ourselves every evening as I get undressed by declaring, ‘Bloody hell, it’s enormous! Surely it can’t get any bigger!’ ad infinitum.
What I really want to say, constantly, is I’m pregnant in thousand different voices: I’m pregnant (wonder); I’m pregnant (terror); I’m pregnant (excitement); I’m pregnant (queasiness). In any other context, this would be considered a bore; but instead, those who understand it because they’ve been through it themselves, all conspire to say it back to me: you’re pregnant! they say in chorus, and it feels like a blessing.
Now, I’m inclined to invite a little bump-feel, just in case people are too shy to ask. ‘Would you like a feel?’ I say, in the same way that I will, in a few months’ time, say, ‘Would you like a hold?’ Maybe one day, my own fingers will twitch to feel someone else’s bump, just to ignite the memories.