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ABC presenter Jessica Harmsen shares what it’s like being pregnant in the public eye

ABC presenter Jessica Harmsen shares what it’s like being pregnant in the public eye
26 May
5:55

Updated May 26, 2018 08:49:42

There are some stories that briefly stop the frenetic pace of a metro newsroom.

Like the moment Kate and Wills emerged from St Mary’s Hospital to present baby Prince Louis, for example.

The impending nature of my own blessed event was also not going to be left unnoticed.

“So Jess, outfit all picked out? Will your husband be taking fashion tips from Will and wearing a sports coat when you give birth?” asked one colleague.

“Makeup and hair stylist all booked for bubs number two Jess?” ribbed another.

But after more than a decade as a television presenter, my colleagues know me too well.

I’m not regarded for my attention to high-end grooming outside the realms of the 7:00pm nightly bulletin — I am known to arrive most days at work with wet hair, toting a plastic bag of foodstuffs.

If I’m honest, as I assessed (read: judged) the Duchess’ neat red slip dress and shiny hair, I thought she had missed the opportunity to portray a more realistic look of post-birth appearance.

But it also gave me pause for thought about the odd reality of being pregnant in the public sphere in 2018.

Pregnancy on air

When I fell pregnant the first time in 2014, colleagues prepped me with cautionary tales of indignant audience letters, advising of the inappropriateness for a “woman in the ‘family way’ to flout her condition”.

Thankfully I have been largely spared the cruel critiques but, in their place, there have been some truly bizarre and sometimes overly-familiar incidents.

Now in my second pregnancy — as I did in my first — I’ve resorted to unbuttoning my jacket while on air, a completely un-noteworthy choice rendered essential by my increasing girth and diminishing lung capacity.

Little could I predict the fall out.

My unbuttoned jacket so enraged one chap, it provoked him to pen me a letter describing my appearance as “slovenly”.

He went on to suggest that if the ABC’s male presenters had to button up, I should too and the double standard suggested that ABC management held a clear bias towards female presenters.

One respondent to my tweet wanted to know, what exactly was most offensive?

Being female? Being pregnant? Or the open jacket?

Concerns then went to my marriage

One’s waistline isn’t the only thing to grow during pregnancy.

Water retention can be a pain, and my body seems to store most of it in my fingers.

So for the better part of nine months, I can’t wear any wedding rings without my fingers turning into little hot red sausages.

And it wasn’t long before I received the first of what would be many emails and comments on their sudden absence.

To: Jessica Harmsen

Subject: You look well

Dear Ms Harmsen,

“… I noticed for some time you haven’t looked happy. Especially as your wedding rings have come and gone. But in recent weeks your face has begun to glow again … however you conquered it, well done!”

At least I was “conquering” this pregnancy!

When I received this correspondence I imagined a well-meaning — if not slightly nosey — aunt searching for gossip about my marriage.

And it prompted a brief exchange with hubby.

Me: “Are you offended or concerned that I’m not wearing my wedding rings? You know there’s nothing wrong, right?”

Him: “I hadn’t noticed. Where are they? They’re insured right?”

Crisis (and divorce) averted.

Slightly inappropriate gifts

While the interest in my clothing and wedding rings were unexpected, one gift to my office really did come out of the blue.

Towards the end of my first pregnancy, one anonymous viewer sent me a copy of the African-American edition of “Where Did I Come From?”.

No name, no note and it wasn’t from a friend or relative.

For more than a week, I stared at its cover.

What did it mean? So was it meant for my unborn child? Was it a joke?

Given my heavily pregnant state, I was clearly already abreast the content of the book.

I suspect I will never fully understand its intended meaning.

But I don’t want to come across as ungrateful. In more than a decade of presenting, I have received some truly lovely cards, sentiments and gifts from appreciative audience members.

I treasure them as an antidote to an ever-growing tide of trolls breeding, thanks largely, to social media.

I’m not the first, or last woman to be pregnant on TV

There was once a time pregnancy wasn’t something women did openly and certainly not on TV.

In 1952, American comedienne Lucille Ball was considered one of the first woman to acknowledge a pregnancy on the silver screen.

But if you think we’ve moved on as a society, maybe think again.

As recently as 2014, American TV news anchor Laura Warren made international headlines with her slap-down of an irate viewer who left her a voicemail describing her pregnant form as “disgusting”.

There is a barely contained rage at the core of these kind of statements that is bluntly and childishly cruel.

TV as a medium has this strange effect of bestowing on the audience a sense of ownership over presenters.

It can create a false sense of familiarity that immediately dissipates if you are, say, watching the host on a stage or see them walking down the street.

But beyond the actual criticism lies the more disturbing aspect: The fervent belief in one’s right to comment on stranger’s body in the first place.

My final stages will not be televised

It’s not my intention to sound precious, but like most women in their final trimester, I move about feeling a little ill-at-ease in my own skin and irrationally susceptible to tissue commercials and any news story about babies.

Travel into the studio now takes a moment longer and I like to leave time for the directors to crack jokes about the width of the camera shot, my breathless voice and inability to bend over for a dropped pen.

But as I waddle off into the maternity leave sunset, I confess to letting out a small sigh of relief.

I seem to have made it through being publicly pregnant relatively unscathed.

Now on to the actual hard part.

Jessica Harmsen is ABC Adelaide’s News Presenter, who may or may not be seen wearing her beloved wedding rings.

Topics: pregnancy-and-childbirth, health, australia, sa, adelaide-5000

First posted May 26, 2018 08:47:21

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