The Pregnancy Diaries: Why Are People So Selfish on Public Transit?

Thursday April 28, 2011 by Ali


I'm starting to get cranky riding the streetcar and subway in Toronto. It's not because we're all packed like sardines or because the person standing next to me this morning let one go that stank up the whole front section. It's that everyone is so completely oblivious. Oblivious to the old lady struggling to stand and carry her grocery bags or the eight-months pregnant woman hanging on to the pole for dear life as the subway whips around the corner. They pop their head phones on, absorb themselves in a rousing game of Angry Birds or just sit their with their eyes glazed over, never aware for a moment that someone might need their seat more than they do.

It's pretty obvious why an elderly person should get preferential treatment but do people realize that pregnant women need that too? It's not that we're weak or that we want to take advantage of our condition. A person's centre of balance shifts considerably during pregnancy, which affects everything from balance to spine alignment, muscle stiffness, etc. Add to that water retention, which causes swelling of your extremities—especially the feet, collapsed arches from the additional weight gain and a constant nagging exhaustion.  And that's if you don't also feel like ralphing all over the person sitting in front of you.

So far, I have had one person offer her seat for me, which I truly appreciated as my commute is 45 minutes and involves a heavy laptop bag slung over my shoulder. 

I offered my seat to an eight-months pregnant woman because her load was heavier than mine and no one else was moving. We ended up riding all the way home together and in talking, she mentioned that commuters aren't as considerate these days. She said that during her first pregnancy, she rarely had to fight for a seat as someone always offered. One streetcar driver even announced (to her embarrassment) as she boarded that someone needed to "give up their seat for this woman." It may have been an uncomfortable way to get a free seat, but it made her feel good that the driver was looking out for her. "For this pregnancy no one ever offers to move," she said.

I truly believe that for the most part, people don't offer because they are distracted by their commuting activities and don't realize. However, there is a certain percentage of people who just don't care. 

They are the ones who stare at my belly from their comfortable seat as I stand there shifting my weight uncomfortably. I have been elbowed in the belly by them and had them open their newspapers onto my unborn child when sitting beside me.

I'm really hoping that by the time I reach my eighth month, my condition will be obvious enough that this will happen less. If not you may hear of a smack down on Toronto's Spadina streetcar very shortly. Headline: "Hormonal Pregnant Lady Beats on Commuter with Laptop Bag."

Do you offer up your seat for the disabled, elderly or pregnant?  If not, why?

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on May 16, 2011  Ali de Bold  STAFF said:

@Platinumluv - Grrrrr! Now I'm angry on your behalf too! Spadina is my streetcar route as well. I wonder if there is something particular about that route or the people that ride it that make it worse than others or if they are all like that.

Here's a plan: Let's you and I ride together with our big bellies and our commuter beating laptop bags ;). Actually my laptop bag is on wheels right now. Alex bought it for me so it would be easier/less strain on my joints. I know people don't like roller bags but they are going to have to deal with it for another 2 months.

Good for you that you said something. I haven't said anything besides offering a little cut-eye where necessary.

It would be really great if streetcar drivers made an announcement for anyone needing a seat like they did for the other woman I mentioned in the article. Sure it would be a bit embarrassing but it would work!

on May 16, 2011  TammyK  1,016 said:

There's hope! The other day when I was taking the subway home, it was extremely crowded due to rush hour. A woman spotted a pregnant woman that was actually kind of far away and pointed and asked if she wanted to sit down pretty loudly due to the distance. I didn't even notice there was a pregnant woman standing since she was blocked by so many people but that woman actually took the effort to get that woman's attention to offer her a seat. That was really nice to see and I am inspired to offer every pregnant woman a seat every time I see one.

on May 16, 2011  Platinumluv said:

Oh, and might I add...I too thought that when when I got bigger to tell that I'm obviously pregnant that this would happen less......no way! This is my 2nd child and I look like I'm 8 1/2 months pregnant right now. Hope you have better luck than I do. Maybe I will join you in the "Spadina Beatdown" if not ;)

on May 16, 2011  Platinumluv said:

OMG! Spadina, Spadina, Spadina! It is the streetcar that has me sitting here fuming as I type this. I have to take this route 2x a day to go and come from work. I'm 7 months pregnant and this morning, a lady actually pushed me from behind because she was racing to get a seat in the back - i actually feel over a little onto a guy sitting in a seat, and then when i regained my balance, she continue to TRY to push her way past me. I was so pissed! I yelled "ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?!?!?" This is an almost everyday occurrence. I'm miserable by the time i get to work. I'm suffering from really bad, debilitating round ligament pains and my commute is getting too much to bear ( i have to take a bus, train and streetcar in the morning and evening) and the fact that I have only had two people offer their seats to me (not on Spadina, on the train), adds to my pains by the time I get home from work. I too have a laptop bag, and then my big purse, and I can barely walk through the door without cringing in pain. I've always been the type to offer my seat to an elderly or pregnant woman...wish everyone had this mentality. It especially made me sick when I was standing and my big belly was right in some young guy's face (he wasn't distracted by anything like a book or electronic device) and he just looked through me as if i wasn't even there....yes, on Spadina. Sooo...I'm in the process of applying for an Accessible Parking Permit so that I can avoid this - and the pain - by driving to and from work everyday.

on May 10, 2011  mamaluv  STAFF said:

@Ali - I totally agree. I was speaking more of general chivalry, when guys do/are expected to/get in trouble for not giving up their seats or opening a door for someone not in obvious need of assistance. Helping elderly, ill, pregnant, and other people needing aid is not a case of chivalry - that's more a case of common decency.

@Becky - that's what I mean exactly! There are some people who take pride in caring for themselves no matter how the opposite might appear to someone else. I would have acted the same as you and offered a simple "sorry". I would not get into a discussion with her (not saying you did!) because people with strong opinions generally cannot be dissuaded from their point of view.

on May 10, 2011  Becky  12,798 said:

A while back I was standing at the back of the streetcar and a very elderly lady was sitting near by. Before her stop came she stood up and started moving towards the middle exit doors, the streetcar lurched and she almost fell. I sort of instinctively put my arm out and broke her fall .... only to have her berate me. She told me God gave her her own hands and she doesn't need my help. I think she saw the look on my face so she did counter it with "i know you meant well"... jeez. What was I supposed to do, let her fall when I could have stopped it? What would you ladies have done?

on May 10, 2011  Ali de Bold  STAFF said:

@mamaluv that is true - but in the cases we are talking about this isn't "let me sit down because I'm a girl". It's "I might pass out if I don't sit down right now".

I don't think anyone should ever be upset with someone for doing something thoughtful. A man doesn't open a door for a woman because he thinks she is incapable, it's because he is being thoughtful. She should smile and say thank you. No one should ever be made to feel badly for doing a good deed.

on May 10, 2011  mamaluv  STAFF said:

Just to play the Devil's advocate, I have to say I feel sorry for guys sometimes. If they act chivalrous, there are women with a feminist chip on their shoulders out there who'd lambaste them for being chauvinist. We want equal treatment, which theoretically means not getting special treatment 'cuz we're girls... but then we get peeved when no one opens our door or does other old-fashioned courtesies. It can be a lose/lose situation sometimes for those poor guys!

on May 10, 2011  Ali de Bold  STAFF said:

Meg, you make a really good point that there are some disabilities that aren't obvious. I can only imagine what that must be like for you on a bad day when you really need a seat. It's fantastic that men offer you out of chivalry. That would NEVER happen here unless the woman was elderly, obviously pregnant or with small children - and she gave him the evil eye to move ;).

I have had 2 men offer to move so far, which was really gracious of them, but usually it's women who notice and say something. Probably because they know what it's like or can imagine.

on May 10, 2011  Meg said:

I live in Halifax, and from what I've seen, this isn't much of a problem here. I've got "invisible" disabilities (Crohn's and arthritis), so even though I look like an average twenty-something, sometimes I really do need a seat on the bus or ferry. As such, I try my best to be aware of other people who might need a seat on days where I feel healthy. I have happily offered my spot to the elderly, pregnant women, and young moms with kids in tow. In return, I've had men let me take the last seat, or offer me theirs, simply because I'm a girl.

That said, I have seen all of those people being made to stand because no one would offer a seat. It's a shame that politeness and consideration seem to be going out of style these days...

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