uncommon courtesy

Commuting While Pregnant

This morning’s commute on the B train. And it wasn’t the first time.

I know some of you must be thinking, “wait, aren’t you pregnant too?” And you’d be right, of course. About 8 1/2 months along now, with baby girl due to arrive 44 days from now. I feel huge, and tired, and cranky, and generally uncomfortable in all sorts of places you don’t want to hear about. And I’m still commuting from our home in Brooklyn to my midtown Manhattan office five days a week, for an hour or more in each direction.

I stand on trains and buses a lot.

The more often it happens, the more often I see others who are pregnant, or elderly, or walking with a cane or crutch, or who just generally look like they could use a little help, standing on the train too while a bunch of bankers and dudebros and others who could maybe stand to stand for a stop or three ignore our presence or worse, the more pissed off I get about it.

So of course, I vent all over the internet about it.

But it mostly makes me sad. I was raised to have some awareness of my surroundings, to have empathy for others, to help those less able, when and how I’m able to. Have manners just disappeared from our society? Has common courtesy become that uncommon?

Now, I’m the first to admit that as a bigger girl, my pregnancy might not be so blatantly obvious to some people. But the other pregnant woman on the train this morning was teeny, aside from the very obvious bowling ball-like protrusion in her belly region. She was grimacing like her back was killing her. She clearly needed a seat. I caught her eye, and the look of relief on her face said it all. And then when she noticed I was pregnant, too, she said “oh no, no! I can’t take your seat!” I told her I was getting off in 2 stops, and I wasn’t going to argue – she clearly needed to sit more than I did this morning.

After (presumably) seeing and hearing this exchange, did any of our fellow riders get up so we could both sit? Nope.

I can hear the arguments already. As someone who has lived with an invisible chronic health condition for more than a dozen years now, I know too well that sometimes you can’t always tell at first glance if someone might need a seat more than you do. But there are signs, if you know to look for them. And there are people who very clearly, obviously need a seat… pregnant ladies, elderly people, people with canes and crutches. People for whom it can actually be dangerous to stand on a train. And yet so often, too often, those people stand, because “nobody sees them,” or truthfully, they pretend not to.

People ride with their faces buried in a book or a newspaper or an electronic device, and they’re so caught up in their own little worlds that when their train pulls into a station, or their bus pulls up to a stop, they either don’t take that one little minute to raise their eyes and take a quick look around to see if someone is boarding who might benefit from a seat, or if they do glance up, they try not to let on so they don’t have to move, or act, or care.

It’s so easy, not to see. If you don’t see, then you don’t have to feel bad about your inaction, right? “Oh, I didn’t see that 90 year old lady trying desperately not to fall while holding onto her pocketbook with one hand and a crowded subway pole with the other.” “I didn’t see the young father with the tiny baby strapped to his chest trying to balance the baby and a briefcase and a diaper bag and the grocery bags on a rush hour train.”

I didn’t see. It’s so easy, not to.

This isn’t just a New York thing; I dealt with the same crap two years ago when I was pregnant with Julian and commuting between Providence and Boston every day. I’m sure it happens everywhere, to some extent. And of course most people won’t say anything in the moment, because who wants to make a scene? Who wants to look like an asshole? Never mind that the true assholes are planted in seats, ignoring the people around them for whom a small gesture would make a huge difference.

Open your eyes, people. Take a moment to see those around you. Show a little common courtesy, and hopefully it’ll come back to you or someone you care about at a time when you need it.

About Jennifer Hess


One thought on “uncommon courtesy

  1. Amazingly enough, when I was pregnant with my first child and still working at the time, I had to commute daily to work on our light rail, and every time I was left without a seat, someone offered me theirs. I live in Dallas, and that’s why I say it’s amazing this happened – big city, lots of people, etc. – but it did. Maybe Texas isn’t so bad after all. I have to say though, I really feel for those who are left standing like you described in your post. It can be an unfortunate world of rudeness we at times live in.

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