Society already has a weird, unhealthy relationship with women’s pregnant bodies. While our figures are critiqued on dozens of levels — we’re too fat, too thin, too old, not old enough, not smart enough to take seriously, too smart to be sexy, too quiet, too loud, too opinionated (I could go on) — the pregnant female form somehow also becomes public property. We touch them without asking, we police them, but most of all, we judge them.
Nobody knows that better than mothers who are bartenders.
For some reason, it’s still odd to people that a woman who isn’t drinking is still serving. Some can’t shake the stereotype that bartenders are all irresponsible lushes, and bringing a fetus through the doors of a bar is going to ruin it for life. Then they try to rationalize that dissonance by asking extremely personal questions.
Case in point…
‘Why Are You Still Working?’
“When I was most visibly pregnant, I was working in the suburbs, which was a different set of challenges than working in the city,” says Andrea Pentabona, general manager at Variety Bar in Somerville, Massachusetts, who worked up to the week she gave birth. “There were a lot of rich white people who had a lot of questions — not that they would ask me directly — but the message was, why do you have to work while you’re pregnant?”
She says there was a lot of “beating around the bush but trying to understand, like, get a glimpse of the other side: ‘Oh, this poor person has to work pregnant — what is that even like?’”
But her occupation confused a lot of guests, too. “Like, ‘Why are you working in a bar while you’re pregnant? You’re serving alcohol — that’s weird.’”
And then one woman wrote a negative review on Yelp: “Something like, ‘This place would be great if the bartender weren’t pregnant. It’s distracting and confusing.’ The worst part? Yelp didn’t take that review down. We had to ask, for months, to get it flagged as inappropriate.”
“People just ask weird fucking questions when you’re pregnant,” says Jen Davis, bar manager at The Eddy in Providence, Rhode Island. “Because it’s a bar, they often assume it’s just an easy-breezy job, not realizing I’m the person who runs the bar — that, like, I can’t just not be here. The thought that this is my career didn’t seem to occur to them.”
“There were definitely a few men who came in and were visibly disgusted that I was pregnant,” says Briana Volk, co-owner of Portland Hunt and Alpine Club and Little Giant in Portland, Maine. “That’s always fun. I had one guy call me a fatass, and I was like, ‘Cool, it’s another human inside me.’ But I did get to cut him off and make him leave. That felt good.”
Volk stayed at work “until the day before I went to the hospital to give birth, so I was pretty big there for a while, and I’d try to maneuver between two people and people wouldn’t want to get out of my way.”
‘Who’s Going to Watch the Baby?’
Davis says patrons would often ask, “Who’s taking care of the baby when you’re working at night?” Her husband, in fact. “The baby’s father. The other person who made this child. Like, seriously? They can’t wrap their heads around the fact that the mother doesn’t have to be the primary caregiver forever.”
Pentabona had the same experience. What’s more, she says, even if the dad weren’t taking care of the baby, “why is that your business? What if answering that question was really painful? What if someone had died? What if someone had left?”
‘So What About Your Husband?’
“Men were really into questioning my husband’s commitment, like he couldn’t possibly be serious about me if he’s letting me work while I’m pregnant,” says Pentabona. “They’d say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have you working.’”
“Don’t assume that she got knocked up by some random guy,” Davis says. “The nightlife industry has always been known for being fairly risque, and a lot of people just don’t understand that the people who work in the industry (for the most part) have very normal lives, just not normal hours.”
Davis adds, “We’re not like these crazy party animals or bad parents because we’re bartenders. We’re working while our kids are sleeping. Then we wake up at 7 a.m. with them after working all night.”
‘Are You Going to Get a Real Job Now?’
Volk tells me about a father and his three sons who came in on a Thanksgiving weekend. “As I’m bringing their drinks over, the dad asks if I was going to get a real job after the baby was born. I wanted to be like, ‘How is this not a real job?’ I was fortunate enough to be able to look at him and say, ‘Well, I own this place with my husband,’ which shut him up right away.” His kids, she says, were mortified. However, she notes, “If you’re an employee somewhere, you don’t get to say, ‘Hey, I own this place, fuck off.’ I’m still really stuck on how to handle that.
“For our staff, this is their career and they have respect for themselves, as anyone working a job they love should.” She hopes her guests see that “this is a professional world and an intentional career.”
“The way I always handle this question,” says Pentabona, is:“‘This is my career. I work really hard at it. You have no idea what I’ve put into this and what it means to me.’”
Or, if she really needs to: “‘I have a master’s degree in social work and I feel that applies very much to bartending. Bars are community centers, and I’m doing very important work, especially in the times we live in.’ People usually shut the fuck up after that.”
‘Are You Going to Breastfeed?’
‘… Give Birth Vaginally?’
‘Can I Talk to You About Very Personal Decisions Involving Your Body?’
“Oh my god. Why do people ask these? They’re really personal questions,” says Davis. “There’s a lot of women who physically can’t breastfeed their children, and it’s devastating to them. Asking a question like that so bluntly is just so rude.”
She adds, “People would sometimes get really ballsy and ask if I was going to have the baby vaginally or naturally, or ‘What’s your birth plan?’ and I was like, ‘I’m not going to talk to you about how I’m going to have this baby.’ It’s none of your fucking business.”
Overall, if there’s one takeaway I’d love for people to understand, it’s that bartending is a job like any other, and motherhood has little to do with it. “I chose this, I love this,” says Pentabona. “Every day I come into work and I love what I do. Can you say that about your job?
“Most people can’t.”