When I was pregnant I read a lot of books and watched a lot of documentaries about natural childbirth, even orgasmic birth.
When I would hear the birth stories of women around me, I had a whole inner dialogue about their experiences and my own thoughts about them.
Honestly, I would judge them.
And then I went through labor.
I remember a moment of fleeting clarity between contractions when I thought:
Any choice that any woman makes during her labor and her child’s birth is a great choice. I shall never judge another woman about this again.
I realized that until I’d felt what it’s like to get a human being from the inside of me to the outside of me, I had no right to have much of an opinion about what another woman had decided to do in the intensity of that experience.
Before I had a baby I thought it was so strange how my friends had to leave things early (or not attend in the first place) so they could be home for their babies to nap.
I didn’t get it. Couldn’t the baby just sleep in the car? What’s so important about a nap anyway?
I thought they were so rigid. I thought they should really just relax a little.
And then I had a baby.
And there have been days when naps have been missed or cut short, and trying to get her to go to sleep (or stay asleep) at night has become an insurmountable task with lots of wailing and tears (mostly hers, but a few of mine too).
I got it: naps are important. Reorganizing your life around your baby’s sleep is sanity preservation for many of us. Leaving lunch early is worth having your blood pressure remain stable at bedtime and the potential promise of a couple more hours of contiguous sleep.
Yes, we can all suppose what it might be like to experience something. And if we’re particularly empathic, we may even, to some degree, feel what it’s like to experience something we’ve never actually experienced for ourselves.
But the truth is you just don’t know what it’s like until you know.
So, here are my recommendations (for myself just as much as for anyone else):
And for Pete’s sake, let’s definitely stop giving advice about things we haven’t experienced.
For anyone in a leadership role (particularly a government role), don’t pretend you know how to create systems, regulations, or legislation about things you know nothing about (like having a female body, for example, and making decisions about it).
If you find yourself in a position where you need to have an opinion about something you’ve not experienced, call a life line! Ask someone you respect who has had experience with this thing. Don’t just make it up because your decisions, judgments, opinions, and rules will affect real live people who will have real, live experiences of this thing.
If we all kept our opinions, advice, and rule-making centered on the things we actually know about (and have felt in our bodies) we’d be making a great leap toward more peace on earth.
I apologize to every person I have judged because they made a choice about something I thought I knew something about but had never actually experienced.
I won’t do it again. I’ll be over here doing the best I can with the experiences I’m actually having.
OVER TO YOU:
Have you ever judged something you haven’t experienced? Have you ever given advice about something you didn’t actually know about? I won’t judge – I’ve done it, too! Let me know how this post lands with you in the comments!
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