“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, spoken by Atticus Finch
True. Absolutely. But how easy is this to do?
I’ll admit I’ve always fancied myself as rather good at this. I like to think I can switch my perspective, consider things from other angles and appreciate that not everyone thinks and feels the way I do. Still, it turns out that I often have no idea. My latest teacher—my second pregnancy.
I wore the comfiest shoes during my first pregnancy. These (metaphorical, of course) shoes fit me perfectly—no pinching, no rubbing. These shoes made me feel amazing. In those nine months of carrying my first child, I was walking on air (albeit, heavily). I was heard to say the words “I love being pregnant!” with gusto many, many times. It was the truth—I did love it. I loved every little thing about it, even the ‘not so good’ bits: the nausea, the hip pain, the sleepless nights. I mean, there was a tiny human growing in my belly—it doesn’t get more incredible than that.
Believe it or not, not every woman feels this way about pregnancy. As shocking as it was to me at first, this ‘body invasion’ by what is essentially a small parasite (albeit a lovely one), is not always an overwhelmingly positive experience. I have to admit, somewhat ashamedly, that I just couldn’t understand when friends told me they didn’t like being pregnant. How could that be? Pregnancy is amazing! It’s a miracle! Couldn’t and shouldn’t this miracle of life override any negative side effects?
And then I got pregnant for the second time.
The shoes I’m wearing now pinch and rub and are the wrong colour. They’re certainly not mine. Suddenly, I’m walking in someone else’s shoes; someone I didn’t and couldn’t understand until I was there. The nausea has been inconvenient as I’ve struggled to keep up with my toddler; the headaches are painful; the sleeplessness horrid; and, the discomfort of expansion far more noticeable.
Without meaning to, here I am walking around in someone else’s skin—and my own. Now I get it. I see things from a different angle. But you know what? I probably still don’t really understand anyone else’s experience. How can I? All I know is what I feel. Maybe now I’m closer to ‘getting’ what some of my friends have experienced, but not for a second can I claim to have it nailed.
Perhaps I’ve learned a bigger, better lesson than that. I’ve come to realize that my judgements come from a lack of understanding, a lack of ability to climb into someone else’s skin. Despite my best efforts, sometimes I will judge another person because I cannot understand their situation. And people will, and do, judge me. It’s the way things go, it’s the unfortunate side effect of only ever being able to live inside our own skin, to wear our own shoes.
I don’t think this means we shouldn’t try slipping on others’ shoes when we can—in fact, I absolutely believe we should always try. But I also think we need to realize that our ability to do so is limited.
A part of me is disheartened by the mismatch I’m experiencing between this pregnancy and the last. What if it means I’m already a less-than-good-enough mother to this second child? Why can’t it be as overwhelmingly positive as the first time around? Another part of me is pleased though. Pleased that my eyes have been opened to yet another of my human limitations. Pleased that my ability to empathize has heightened. Pleased that I know more (and less) about life. Pleased that my ego has been put in its place.
So these shoes will do; I will walk around in them and experience them for what they are.
I might even lend them to you one day.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise