Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Baby bump on board.
One recurring theme underlying courtesy campaigns across the country and globe: People aren’t so great at being polite to each other, especially on crowded trains or buses. In fact, passengers sometimes go to great lengths to avoid forking over their precious perches, even to pregnant ladies.
Case in point: When Judy Wong, from Brooklyn, entered a train car, people played aloof. “Many people pretended to fall asleep,” she says. “One person acted like he was scrolling on his phone, but it was just a black screen.” Towards the end of her pregnancy with her twin girls, fellow passengers did stand up more often, she notes. (Maybe because they worried that her water might break at the slightest hint of start-and-stop traffic.) “Either they were sympathetic, or I looked frightfully overdue and they feared a train delay.”
Riders’ territorial instincts make sense: On a subway or bus, an empty seat is like a desert oasis—seductive, beautiful, and always out of reach. If you do stumble upon one, you set up camp and stay put for as long as you can. It’s paradise!
Especially in the muggy summer months, passengers may be tempted to collapse into a sweaty heap on an empty chair and fan themselves with newspapers like Victorian convalescents. Couple that with the fear of mistakenly assuming someone is pregnant, and you’ve got a recipe for staying put, whether the intentions are selfish or not.
“My later months of pregnancy were December and January, so it’s possible that I was not so obviously pregnant under a bulky coat,” says Kacy Gordon. During the Chicago winter, she found herself asking people to give up their seats on the bus. “When I asked, people did let me sit, and usually looked embarrassed,” she adds.
That’s why Belly Buttons exist: to make it crystal clear that a lady is carrying around a fetus and would like to sit down, please. Right now.
The series of badges—handmade by a husband and wife in Brooklyn—is emblazoned with snarky phrases designed to be worn atop the baby bump. (One example: “Stand up for what’s right...in front of you.”) Conveniently, baby bumps happen to fall just about at eye level for seated passengers, making it impossible for a sitter to avert his or her gaze. It’s an in-your-face courtesy campaign.
Buttons, $18/set at Mommy Belly Buttons.