Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Learning Empathy through Pregnancy

I think it should be a standard rite of passage that every human (boy, girl, both) should experience one full month of being pregnant. Like when you're 25, you have to undergo one full month of not-actual-baby-producing pregnancy that allows you to experience the myriad of feelings, symptoms and side effects that come standard with baby making.

I don't say that to sound like, "Oh my gosh - pregnancy is so hard and all of you non-pregnant people cannot possibly relate." It is actually quite the opposite. I feel like I have learned so much about my abilities, my limitations and other people as a result of this experience - and I think everyone could stand a refresher in empathy.

Pregnancy has been humbling for me. First of all, it is really amazing what these bodies are capable of doing. It really does feel miraculous in many ways. But the physical toll on my body has been significant, too; not debilitating by any means - but enough to force me to slow down a lot. Simple things, like going up a flight of stairs, are not mindless activities anymore; you are likely to find me resting halfway up to catch my breath. Finding the motivation to take a shower, make a lunch, clean the house all requires specific and directed determination. I set small goals throughout the day and high-five myself for dealing with basic things. All of these things - the mundane, day-to-day activities that fill a life - require planning, time and careful thought.

I have been fortunate that I have not experienced anything in my life until this point that would require such accommodation and change. My pregnancy is temporary and so are the challenges that have come with it. I know it will take some time and plenty of effort, but I fully expect to bounce back to my former shape and abilities - but as I struggled through my run today, I got to thinking about the fact that many people live with circumstances, abilities and afflictions that are not temporary. They aren't counting down the days until their asthma disappears or their weight is healthy or their heart is strong enough for rigorous activity again. It also made me think of all of the people I know that are struggling with one thing or another that they do not allow to get in the way of living a life they want or pursuing the goals they've chosen. I thought about many of my students - and the things that they don't have or the challenges they do have - but they still show up to school every day and try (most of them.) I thought about the times I have hollered at an athlete for quitting a particularly hard workout without really knowing what they're experiencing physically.

Honestly, I found myself feeling a little bit embarrassed when I considered the assumptions and thoughts I have had about other people without knowing their full experience. I would hate for someone to have seen me on my run today and for them to think, "Gosh, she sure runs slow" without knowing the full story, "HEY - I am doing my current best!" I guess this was all a reminder that the only assumption I should be making about anyone at any time is that they are also doing their current best. As a teacher and coach, this is absolutely necessary to keep in mind...and my slow run was totally worth the lesson today.

So, back to my original point: I think everyone should experience pregnancy. Learn the amazing abilities of the human body, learn that making a person is surprisingly hard (maybe it shouldn't be surprising) and learn to empathize with others through understanding your own limitations.


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