I decided once I popped and became visibly pregnant to keep a log about how often people offered me a seat on the subway, and what their demographics were. It’s been interesting from a sociological perspective — mostly women do it, but there are many who don’t, and there have been some very kind men, too.
But last night I had the most awkward train experience, the kind that made me flush purple, tears springing to my eyes.
It was crowded and there were no seats, so I grabbed a handle and opened my book. The thing about being visibly pregnant on a train is that it’s blindingly obvious when people see your bump but pretend they didn’t. It happens every day. The three folks seated in front of me very much saw my bump. In response, the young woman put on her sunglasses; the cute hipster wearing headphones rested his head back and closed his eyes, and the weird guy directly in front of me returned to staring off into nothingness.
No big. I rode six stops standing until the weird guy got off and I was able to snag his seat.
As soon as I sat down, though, a woman my age who had been standing next to me leaned over me.
“Did anyone offer you a seat?” She said. I told her no, and she was off and running, talking about how rude people are. I concurred but also shrugged and told her most people don’t offer seats (based on my experience, about 1/3 of the time people do, although some weeks it’s more). She continued, getting really worked up, and I started to flush. Pregnancy does weird things and lately I’ve been flushing when any attention is on me, and this felt like a spotlight shining down. See, the train had emptied quite a bit by this point, and people were listening.
Another woman jumped in. She’d apparently been keeping track too, and showed us her phone as proof, where she was penning a text to a friend about how she was watching a train full of people ignore the pregnant woman. She didn’t want to say anything, she explained, because once when she was hugely pregnant and no one offered her a seat, a stranger began yelling at everyone on her behalf (unprompted) and nearly caused a fight.
I felt my flush travel and thicken, a snake wrapping around my neck.
They were super nice women and I’d like to get a drink with them, post-baby. But it was also awkward. I was sandwiched between two of the people we were all accusing of being rude. And I was pretty sure they were listening.
And then they confirmed it. A few minutes later, when the women had found their own seats across the way, the hipster with the headphones took them off and said lowly to me, in his British accent, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t realize that’s what I was supposed to do.”
Which, first of all, I’m going to call a little BS on that one. But secondly, while that was very nice of him to acknowledge that, it put me in an uncomfortable position. (And I am already uncomfortable enough, thanks.) Because now I had to accept his apology and pretend it was no big deal, which felt almost like a manipulation, even though I am sure he was being sincere. What he did (or didn’t do) isn’t a big deal on a micro level, but it is kind of a big deal on a macro level.
People should offer seats to pregnant women. This is not groundbreaking. And yet when I googled this looking for news stories (like this one about the experiment on the London tube) I read a lot of comments from people saying they shouldn’t have to give up their seats because, and I quote from a recent news article out of a San Francisco newspaper, “those ladies got themselves pregnant and they should live with their choices.” (Oh, America!
Never Please change.)
About four months into my pregnancy I passed out on the subway. I was on my way to a yoga class and stood at the pole (there were no seats, and I wasn’t really visibly pregnant yet, unless you squinted) and next thing I knew I was keeled over, with people holding my arms and pushing water at me. I was so dazed that my first words when I came to (after “what happened?”) were “Oh, I’m pregnant.” The people who were helping me tsked. “You should have asked for a seat!” they said.
I guess I just feel like we shouldn’t have to ask.
I know we are all tired and we’ve all had long days and there are very valid yet invisible reasons why some people can’t and won’t offer their seat. I don’t know their lives. Maybe the guy whose seat I eventually got last night had been working on his feet for 12 hours straight and had the flu and really needed to rest. Maybe the girl with the sunglasses who wasn’t even doing anything to keep herself occupied (I mean, if you have a seat, at least make use of it, for crying out loud) had her reasons.
But it would be nice if we all, collectively, opened our eyes and really saw what was in front of us now and then, and took action to make it better. When my husband had a broken foot and was on crutches, he still had to pointedly ask people if he could take their seat. Earlier this week I watched an elderly lady stand shakily in the middle of the train car and hold on for dear life. No one offered her their seat. Not even me, because I too didn’t have one.
So, I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being selfish because it’s exhausting standing on a subway car when there’s a tiny person kicking at you from the inside and your feet are swollen. But it’s more likely that most of us are just so out of tune with the people and environment around us. Or, at worst, that most of us just don’t care. But it would be nice if everyone, just once, reached out to someone pregnant, or elderly, or someone who’s in a foot cast or with a crying kid or who looks more exhausted than we feel, and offered them something we have that we don’t necessarily need. Like a seat.