When I was pregnant, I lost count of the number of times I had to wait for a seat on the Tube. And when I say ‘pregnant’, I don’t mean in those early days, when my bump – or my vicious nausea – were only obvious to me.
In the first trimester, I didn’t really blame strangers for not noticing that I was in desperate need of a sit down, even when I felt like I was about to faint or throw up. Because the irony is that during the period when morning sickness can be at its fiercest, you don’t really look pregnant at all.
What I did object to, however, was when I became so visibly pregnant I was practically knocking people over at the other end of the carriage with my bump – and people still didn’t give me a seat. Usually those people were men in suits. A quick straw poll of the London Underground taught me that those working in the City were the least empathetic (make of that what you will).
And that’s where TFL’s ‘Baby on Board’ badges come in to their own – because they force people to notice. It’s hard to claim you “didn’t see” the huge bump beneath someone’s maternity top, when it’s decorated with a stark symbol in white and dark blue lettering, though there will always be some who look away.
And now the classic badge has had a revamp. The family activity app ‘Hoop’ has unveiled six new designs, put together by artists Erin Aniker, Marion Deuchars and Ellie Thomas, to help mums-to-be be more visible on public transport. Issued in time for Mother’s Day on Sunday, they will be given out free by Transport for London and are also available free to order on the Hoop website, for commuting mums-to-be across the UK.
And they’re cute.
One has a series of hands interlinked, presumably showing we should all take care of one another (though try telling that to the man who point-blank refused to give up his seat for me at seven months pregnant, because he’d “had a busy day”). Another shows what is reality for many pregnant women – having to hold the handrail, trying not to fall over. And one depicts commuting utopia: a woman peacefully sitting down, reading a book.
I was reluctant, at first, to wear a badge. It felt embarrassing to pin something on my top that told the world what was going on inside my uterus. You wouldn’t usually get on a packed train and start shouting at stranger about any other health condition you were experiencing, and I felt protective over my pregnancy – particularly in that fragile first trimester. I hadn’t told any of my family and friends yet, so I’d wait until I was a good few stops from home before sneaking my badge out of my bag and pinning it self-consciously to my lapel.
Plus, wearing a badge felt strangely ‘showy’, at least at first, and I worried I was somehow bragging about being pregnant, when it can be such a long, hard struggle for many women to conceive.
But the truth is that I needed to wear one, because I felt awful. On one trip into work in central London, I had to get off the train and crouch in a corner of the busy platform to retch into a plastic bag. And I didn’t even suffer as badly as the likes of Amy Schumer or Kate Middleton, who were both hospitalised after suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum.
Still, as my experience showed me, the badges aren’t foolproof, and there are always going to be some people who steadfastly look the other way. I’ve taken to speaking up for the pregnant women crammed silently and patiently into a corner on a rush hour Tube train, with their permission, of course (because sometimes it takes a mouthy stranger to shame a carriage into doing the decent thing, when you don’t feel able to ask for it yourself).
Maybe, just maybe, these new badges will help. They’re different, and bright, and eye-catching – and should be harder to ignore. And if more people start wearing them, then it’ll send an important message to those who disregard the women standing with the equivalent of a three kilo bag of sugar between their legs: shame on you.