One weekend after I find out that I’m pregnant, I go to buy some comfy clothes with a Chinese friend. When we are done with shopping and eat lunch, she says:
“You should buy radiation-proof clothes. These are specially made for pregnant women and if you wear such a dress, people will offer you their seat on the subway.”
It will still take a few months until strangers will be able to see that I’m pregnant, so later that week, I look up radiation-proof clothes on China’s popular online shopping platform, Taobao. Taking the subway in China at rush hour can be a very uncomfortable experience, even more so if you have to deal with early pregnancy symptoms such as exhaustion, general weakness and nausea, which, although called morning sickness, can last the whole day. For me, the nausea is often at its worst on the way back home from work – it might be because I’m exhausted or because I feel stressed by the sheer mass of people or maybe because there are just so many different smells.
When I look up the clothes my friend talked about on Taobao, I find that almost all of them come in shades of pink. The dresses look like they are made for little girls and I cringe at the thought of having to wear a dress that will make me look cute in a sense I really don’t like. I scan through pages of radiation-proof maternity clothes and at last find a dress that is pretty simple and comes in a gray shade. I’m not giving up on getting a seat on an overcrowded subway yet.
After receiving the dress, I wear it on different occasions to find out if anyone will offer me their seat on the subway. And I pay more attention to other women who wear such clothes. Some don’t have a belly yet, but are still offered a seat. And some don’t even wear pink to be offered a seat. So my chances shouldn’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately, my tactics don’t seem to work. Maybe my dress is just too simple. Or maybe I would have to wear a long-sleeved shirt underneath the dress, just like other pregnant women do. I usually wear a jacket, because it’s too cold not to (I wrote this article a few months back in December). But even if I do take it off, nobody offers me their seat. It’s either the fact that somehow I don’t wear this dress correctly, or the fact that people just don’t associate a foreigner wearing this kind of dress with pregnancy. It seems like I need to wait a few more months until my belly shows to be offered a seat. Meanwhile, I’ve asked my husband to make sure I don’t have to pay for the cleaning of the subway if I do indeed throw up one day (he says I won’t have to).
Maybe it’s time to look up fake baby bellies online?
P.S.: Only shortly after I wrote this article, a guy offered me his seat one morning in my 11th week of pregnancy. There’s still hope that I don’t need to buy the fake belly after all!
Have you ever been desperate to get a seat on the subway? I’d love to read your stories.