Saturday, March 20, 2010

One-Sided Sensitivity

There's something that's been on my mind for a couple years now and I've wanted to ruminate on it, but haven't yet taken the time to formally write it out. It surfaced again today, so I decided to take advantage of a quiet morning at work (thus far) to finally get it articulated.

I've been reading a couple blogs by LDS women about their struggles with infertility. I sympathize with them greatly. Infertility hasn't been an issue for me, but I can imagine the heartache that they feel and my soul yearns to comfort them somehow. However, there is this very common attitude that it's not fair for any woman to complain about pregnancy, because these women can't/haven't experienced it. That really rubs me the wrong way. We all should be compassionate and sensitive about someone's trials and no pregnant woman needs to drone on incessantly for hours about every single ache and pain (which I am guilty of-I am not pleasant when pregnant). But the pains and discomforts of pregnancy are real, and it's insensitive to discount someone's suffering, whatever it may be.

I don't mean to single out infertile women; I have encountered it also from women who have had miscarriages and/or premature babies. In a group of friends, whenever a lady in the late stages of pregnancy would vent about her ever-increasing discomfort and/or a seemingly minor worry about her child (if the baby had a cold, for example), one particular woman would always seem to comment, "Well I had my baby at 25 weeks and he barely survived and has all the long-term medical complications, so I don't know what you're complaining about." I find that attitude repulsive. To me the underlying sentiment was, "You don't know real suffering, and your fears are worthless because I have gone through so much worse." Perhaps I am interpreting the intention wrong, but that is how I perceive it.

I haven't endured the pain of not being able to have children, but I have endured a major loss. My father died when I was 18. I was there, performed CPR and called 911, answered all the paramedics' questions and then was told that all efforts had failed and my dad was dead. I was barely out of high school and was living with him at the time. In one night my life changed forever. Suddenly, I was the “next of kin” ; I had to be the one in charge of picking up his autopsy report and helping make funeral arrangements. I am forever grateful that my mom took on the bulk of the responsibilities, even though my parents had been divorced for 5+ years and his family lived across the country. But I still had to experience hardships that most college freshman do not. I was left without my father, just as I was really getting to know him for who he was, not just as my dad. I lost the one person in my immediate family who shared my religious beliefs, and I suddenly didn't have that “backup” anymore. I shut it out. I carried on. I didn't let myself feel that grief at the time. It's only been over the 7 years since that I have let that grief out, in small doses. It is especially difficult at major milestones in my life: my wedding, the births of my children, their blessings and other moments of great importance.

Why do I bring this up? Not just to show that I, too, have suffered and grieved, but to use it to illustrate my point. I don't have my dad in my life. I know I'll see him again after this life, and that he is watching over me, but it doesn't change the fact or take away the pain that I can't see him or talk to him or hug him now. I can't watch him play with my kids, or watch sports with my husband, or talk to me about the Gospel. That's just how it is. But I don't begrudge anyone else their relationship with their father, just because I can't enjoy mine right now. If a friend is telling me about an argument she had with her dad, I don't reply "Well, at least your dad is alive! You can talk to him so why are you complaining?!" I realize that my loss doesn't invalidate their suffering. Whether or not their problem is big to me, it's big to them and worthy of my sympathy.

I'm learning the lesson that just because someone has something I don't have, doesn't mean they are taking it away from me. I used to get jealous and angry when I'd hear that about a woman who had no morning sickness during her pregnancies. I thought, "That's not fair! I'm so miserable and sick and suffer so much!" But then I realized that I should be glad for someone who doesn't have to suffer like I do. Just because a friend gets to enjoy her pregnancy without throwing up constantly, doesn't make me throw up more. Right now I live in an apartment, we have only one car, and a lot of my furniture needs to be replaced. I have friends who have houses, two or more cars, nice furniture, and plenty of money. They have been blessed and I am happy for them. I wish I could have it too, but they haven't taken those things away from me.

My point isn't to beat up on these women, but rather to point out the insensitivity in this attitude. There are so many insensitive, rude and very hurtful things said to women when it comes to the subject of childbearing and -raising. Comments like "If you had enough faith, you'd get pregnant," or "What?! Another kid?! Can you afford the ones you have now?" are awful and terribly hurtful, even if they weren't intended to be. We all have our trials and struggles and pain. Each of us also has been given talents and gifts and blessings. Not two people have been given the same lot in life. We need to make sure that we are not discounting or invalidating someone's feelings just because we don't experience what they do. It would be horribly rude for me to say to a woman yearning for a child, "Well, at least you get to sleep through the night/eat without throwing up/not be thrown up on or peed on constantly." I just ask for the same respect. I invite you to share with me your struggles and feelings about trials you have to endure. We can build understanding even through our differing challenges and being dismissive of each other's circumstances will only erect barriers between us.


Heather said...

Very well said!

I think everyone should feel validated in their feelings, no matter what!

Lavinia said...

Aimee, I have tasted both worlds and I agree with you. I went through infertility and it sucked. All of our friends were getting pregnant and we weren't and it was very hard for me. I don't remember if I was one of those who complained about women complaining during pregnancy but I do remember being bitter and having a hard time being around my friends new babies. It hit me one day that I may NEVER get pregnant, and I could either live my life being bitter and unhappy or I could accept what I'd been given and be happy for those around me. I chose the latter. I knew that eventually I'd be a mother, whether of my own womb or by adoption. Funny, that I had finally gotten pregnant with the twins, then Joey and now our fourth and I don't do well being pregnant. I don't get sick, but I'm moody, I'm depressed and everyone and everything gets on my nerves. I have to work at being nice and biting my tongue, so I can honestly say. I don't care for being pregnant, but I do love motherhood and am so excited to be a mother again.

I'm sorry about your father, what a horrible thing to go through. I totally see your point in mentioning his loss. I lost my mother as well before my children were born, but unfortunately I am one of those who wants to smack people when they complain about their mothers. I should work on that, thanks for sharing and thanks for the perspective.

Bri said...

This is great. All I have to say is what Lavinia said that if someone doesnt find themselvefs happy in whatever situation they are in of course other people situtations will bother them. But that is something that that person needs to get over and move on with. We all have trials we need to grow through to become better, and that doesnt make someone pain not hard to deal with and someone joy not wonderful. Comfort those who need comfort and Celebrate eachothers joy. We can all learn from eachothers experiences.