Pregnancy is not an easy ride. It's some years since I last waddled like a duck, with my pelvis on fire, but carrying a baby about your person is not easily forgotten. I'll never forget the injustices of public transport either; nasty commuters on comfy seats with heads stuck in newspapers, deftly ignoring the humongous baby bump crushing their Financial Times. Meanwhile, a seriously ticked-off pregnant lady (that's me) clings to the hand rail, trying not to lose her (precarious) balance...
If you wanted a seat, you had to ask. There was no such thing as a Baby on Board badge.
Introduced by London Underground in 2006, 'BoB' badges were designed to save pregnant women the indignity of having to speak to their fellow human beings. They may look innocent, but risk eye contact with the wearer (if she's not already parked on her bum) and you realise that the subtext of the badge is: "I'VE BEEN AT WORK ALL DAY - IN MY CONDITION! – AND UNLESS YOU GIVE ME YOUR SEAT IMMEDIATELY, I WILL DO A SICK IN YOUR LAP".
When the BoB badges first arrived, you only saw the odd one - usually pinned to an exhausted executive in the 37th week, about to give birth on the Bakerloo line. But they have suddenly taken off. (It's probably the Duchess of Cambridge's fault – she was presented with one during her pregnancy.)
Now they are everywhere. Not just on transport, but proudly pinned to the coats, jackets and jumpers of every triumphant, alpha mum-to-be marching down the high street, or doing her shopping. The BoB badge (of honour) is a 'must-have' accessory.
Perhaps I should be chuffed. Standing up in the ninth month, my waters threatening to break over a City gent's shiny shoes, wasn't pleasant. And no one wants to be the subject of the 'is she pregnant, or has she eaten too many pies?' debate.
But I don't like the concept en masse.
One of my biggest pregnancy bug bears was being treated like an invalid. I was pregnant, I wasn't dying. Sometimes, I would have dearly loved a seat on the train, but there are times now when the threat of a fainting episode or projectile vomit could derail a journey (not always due to a hangover). The blanket wearing of badges suggests that pregnancy equals illness, or weakness, and that isn't true.
On those occasions when you're desperate to sit, asking can be awkward. If the nearest commuter is deep into a book or music, they might need a polite nudge – if they don't look up, a badge won't provide that. Starting a conversation isn't the worst thing in the world, and it's more positive than the passive-aggressive nature of wearing a badge to get what you want.
Although 'baby on board' communicates a message, that message isn't always clear – especially when worn for walking around Waitrose. What is a pregnant woman trying to tell us in that scenario: that she needs a seat, a place at the front of the queue or a spa day?
Julia is eight months pregnant and finds the badge most useful for walking through crammed stations during rush hour, but she admits it leads to confusion: "I don't always take a seat when offered - then people look as if to say 'why are you wearing that badge then?'. Other times, you get the look for simply wearing the badge, with people checking out your bump size to decide whether or not you deserve their seat."
Late in pregnancy, when taking a tumble could put you and your baby in danger, people should – of course - give up their seat. Bex, a mum of one, points out that a bump isn't always obvious. "You're crammed on the train and the seats often obscure your lower half, but the badge can be spotted," she says. But, says mum of two Kate, "when women are perfectly small and healthy, I think they're just wearing it for effect".
Other women feel passionately that early pregnancy is the right time to wear one. "In the first three months you're the most sick and tired," says Lynley, mum of one. "Your body is taking all your fluids for the placenta and doing a massive internal re arrange. In my first trimester I fainted on the Northern Line. When I was seven months, people couldn't wait to give up their seat – but I felt like superwoman then, surviving on four hours sleep and building massive items of furniture at 4am!"
OK, so we feel queasy in the first trimester – but what's to stop the emergence of a black market in BoB badges? No proof seems to be required to get one; desperate female commuters may already be cashing in, sprawling out on seats with nothing more than a food baby, conceived during last night's curry, on board. If I was giving those badges out, I'd want to see a positive pregnancy test before parting company with a single one.
Olivia, mum of one and pregnant with her second child, is all for the badges: "As a massive third trimester lady I definitely need a seat if I'm going more than a few tube stops."
But there must be myriad conditions (many of them 'invisible') that make commuting difficult. If pregnant women are 'entitled' to a seat, what about others, suffering in silence? If you're going through chemo or recovering from an operation, commuting must be a nightmare.
"I don't see why people shouldn't wear cancer/serious illness/hidden disability or similar badges," says Olivia. Although she admits that it could get out of hand.
If you ask me, the rapidly-propagating Baby on Board badges already are out of hand. Worn by every pregnant woman, everywhere they go, they will soon be ignored by rude commuters, just like my bump used to be, and the simple act of 'asking nicely' will be lost.
In the meantime, any pregnant lady can request one, whether she's in London or not, so expect to see one on a bus near you very soon.
More on Parentdish: Is that a baby in your belly or do you just want my seat?
More:Is It Just Me?
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