If I could go back to my pre-pregnancy self, this is what I would tell her: Your hair will be lustrous and your skin will glow. Also, your thighs will become mottled with grayish-brown patches, thanks to melasma. Heretofore unnoticed veins will make themselves known, streaming across your torso like deep blue rivers. Soft, wispy hairs will cover your belly. Your feet will flatten, widen, and become uncomfortably swollen. And just when you begin to think that you’re turning into a hobbit: Men will find you absolutely irresistible.
I know it sounds crazy, but trust me on this. I’m almost seven months pregnant, and much to my surprise, I have never received more flirtatious looks, bashful glances, or random date invitations in my life. Walking around with a protruding belly, it seems, is an easy way to receive unsolicited attention. In the past two weeks alone, three men have asked me out—which could be a coincidence, but then again, the last time someone asked me out like that was in 2011, back when my baby face had strangers calling me “miss” instead of the more staid “ma’am” my smile lines garner today. Honestly, had I known that pregnancy was going to up my game this much, I would have stuffed a basketball down my pants in my single days.
At first I was convinced that I was imagining the increase in male attention—a harmless self-esteem boost, I reasoned, while feeling fatigued, queasy, and dumpy. The brain does some unpredictable acrobatics while the body is generating human life. But early in my second trimester, while out for coffee with my husband, a fellow cafe-goer kept looking at me. Nothing intense, nothing creepy, just a glance that lingered longer than necessary, followed by a shy smile after our eyes met. Initially I thought I probably had crumbs stuck to my face, because—and I mean this just to emphasize the rarity of this sort of occurrence—while I am attractive enough, I’m not the type of gorgeous that makes unknown men stare from across a coffee shop. I am, however, most certainly the kind of woman to have a smattering of flaky pastry remnants on her cheeks.
“Hey,” I whispered to my husband. “Do I have croissant face?” He assured me that I did not.
“Okay. This is going to sound weird, but is that guy looking at me?”
“Oh yeah,” he said. “Has been for the last 10 minutes. I get why he’s into you—you’re a hot pregnant lady.”
“I don’t know about that,” I said.
“Well, I do,” he said. “And besides, I think men have a caveman-brain thing going on. We can’t help but notice a woman who’s fertile.”
Caveman or not, my would-be cafe suitor was the first of a string of unknown men who, as my bump has grown, have collectively shown more interest than I received before getting pregnant. A few blocks from my apartment, a sweetly sincere dude with intense facial piercings complimented my eyes, then asked if he could take me to dinner. “I’d like to get to know you,” he said with a slow smile. When I pointed to my belly, he laughed and said he’d treat me to dinner for three. Another time, as I was heading to work, a 20-something guy fell into step next to me, doused me with charm, and looked hurt when I declined his offer to buy me a coffee. Then there are the men—usually a few a week—who simply flash their bedroom eyes and move on. It doesn’t bother or delight me; it baffles me. This just didn’t happen before I was visibly pregnant.
To be sure, the majority of male attention during my pregnancy has been endearingly wholesome. Most men kindly wish me well, ask how far along I am, share parenting advice, or are otherwise friendly and low-key. (I’ll always remember and appreciate a construction worker who, with the quiet gallantry and flourish of a knight, halted traffic to let me waddle across 37th Street.)
Still, that smaller but steady group gives off a different, let’s-get-it-on vibe. Which is odd, because, when you think about it, a pregnant belly is pretty much the biological version of a flashing neon sign that reads sᴏʀʀʏ, ʙᴜᴅᴅʏ, sᴏᴍᴇ ᴏᴛʜᴇʀ ɢᴜʏ ɢᴏᴛ ʜᴇʀᴇ fɪʀsᴛ. Somehow it doesn’t seem to matter—my husband was even with me in that coffee shop when the unanticipated attention began.
I know this might come across as a humblebrag: Oh, my belly is out to there and I waddle around in sensible shoes, but guess what, men find me hotter than ever before! But I’m not the only one to have experienced this unlikely phenomenon; friends have experienced the same thing, and they’re just as surprised as I am. “I remember thinking that men would avoid me at all costs once I was carrying another man’s child—that the responsibility would be a turn-off—but it was the opposite,” one friend said of the attention she received while pregnant with her daughter. Then there’s another friend who went to her 10-year college reunion sans husband and pregnant, and delighted in all the attention she received—it felt like far more than she had received whens she was in school. “The best part was seeing the look on their faces when I told them the news.”
But why? When you’re pregnant, your body is changing in this really obvious and dramatic way. Even the most benign attention presupposes a kind of corporeal scrutiny that it’s not usually acceptable to bestow on any woman, let alone a stranger. Perhaps the socially kosher examination of a pregnant woman’s body makes men more likely to tune in to their attraction. A different friend theorizes that some heterosexual men, already prone to appreciate feminine curves, can’t help but notice bigger boobs, a rounder belly, a little extra junk in the trunk. Another (and my husband, apparently) thinks that a pregnant woman’s obvious fertility triggers a lizard-brained attraction to her (the she-could-have-my-babies theory). Or maybe there’s a benevolent (or possibly sexist) wish to take care of a pregnant woman, or maybe some guys just have a pregnancy fetish. Could a swell of prenatal estrogen or pheromones be biologically magnetic? There have been studies suggesting that men are more attracted to women when they’re ovulating; is pregnancy-timed attraction a logical extension? Ultimately, the reasons are probably varied and complex.
As bemused as I am by the flirtation surge, I’m choosing to look at it as part of the transition from being a childfree person to a parent. When I first got pregnant, I assumed that people would notice my growing bump, but I didn’t expect this kind of male attention. And maybe that’s the lesson I need to take from all of this: Even if I try to predict how motherhood will change the way people see me, I’ll probably be surprised by the reality.
Until this pregnancy, I could walk through the world as a relatively untethered individual, but I’ll soon be viewed as someone’s mom, with all the baggage and connotations that that identity brings. For better or worse, in ways foreseeable and not, everything will be different—and while I’m 99 percent sure that my screeching baby is going to serve as a man-repelling force field, I wouldn’t bet money on it. Stranger things have happened.