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On judgment and what we think about things we haven’t experienced.

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):

Don’t judge something you haven’t experienced. {Tweet it.}

Don’t judge something you haven’t experienced-tweet.

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!

 

P.S. Have a message that you’re ready to get out to the world but are scared or overwhelmed when it comes to speaking in front of a group? My friend KC Baker of WomanSpeak supports women in crafting their message into a powerful speech. She’s a brilliant speaker herself and is dedicated to helping women find their voice, speak their truth, and deliver their life-changing messages in impactful ways. Her course, Speak Up for Your Business, has just opened for enrollment. To learn more and get her free video series, Speak Your Truth, Change The World, click here.

  • Joanne says:

    Yup, I have sat in judgment, before and after having kids. However, the reality of parenting is far different from what I had imagined, and what seemed simple pre-kids can be darn hard to implement or enforce, because my kids are human and individuals.

    I still catch myself judging on occasion, but I’ve realized that it’s often from a place of insecurity and that I can turn it into a learning opportunity to recognize where I’m feeling less-than.

    My gratitude for opening up the topic of judgment for discussion. It’s something that we moms (and dads) don’t talk about enough.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I love your insight that judgement can come from a place of insecurity and can point to where we could use some more support or information. Great point Joanne!

  • Celeste says:

    I remember thinking get before I had children or was a supervisor I will not do it this way or that way. The experience helped me understand what drove decisions that people in my past made. I was able to make a more informed choice through their eyes. This also gave me the ability to chuckle a little when I felt judged by another person. It goes back to the saying, “Just wait till you have children of your own. I hope you have one just like you.”

  • Simran says:

    Oh how we judge. And all the time, it`s ourselves we judge the hardest.

    I judged myself terribly after what was supposed to be the natural birth of my daughter – it ended in acute surgery 24 h into the birth. Took me years to forgive myself for that one. Still get sad sometimes when I think about it. I also got judged for having sadness about it. Like, what was the big deal, my baby was fine. For me, accepting my feelings at the time was an important part of my healing and forgiving myself.

    Respecting our own and others perception of an experience is love. And I believe judgement is a lack of self-love. And quite noisy.

    Thank you for your beautiful post!

    • Kate Northrup says:

      I totally hear you about the sadness around birth even when you have a healthy baby. Not judging ourselves around that is huge. And I agree – judgement is a lack of love. Thanks for chiming in with your story and wisdom!

  • Sydney says:

    Hi Kate! I really liked this post. It reminded me a lot of the book Stumbling On Happiness that talks about how as humans were exceptionally bad at predicting how we’re going to feel in any given circumstance and tend to take polarizing views of events once they’ve happened (romanticizing etc) I hear what you are saying!! I am a midwife (without children of my own, yet) and I felt my stomach clench when you wrote about not judging people who have been through what you haven’t, because it’s my job not to judge and hold space for everyone’s birth, but sometimes part of me does. I’m working on that and I know in a fundamental way it’s mostly because I’m young and still harbouring a lot of naivety about the world (I’m 27) but I do wonder about the advice giving part. That is also part of my job, to give people advice and recommendations about pregnancy and labour and how to get through it all with grace, dignity and health in tact. Does this count as giving advice about something I don’t know about? I struggled with this a lot during my years in midwifery school telling myself that oncologists treat people when they’ve never themselves has cancer, but I think that’s a morbid example and not entirely parallel…any thoughts??
    PS been getting your emails for years and love them. My mom got me Money A Love Story for my birthday and I’m so excited to read it! Keep up the amazing work, it is appreciated.

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Hi Sydney – what beautiful, vulnerable questions. Here’s my thought: your job as a health practitioner is to keep people safe and as comfortable as possible. You’ve been very well trained to do that through midwifery school. So I think you’re good to go! It’s the judgement part to watch and I think you seem well aware of that. Keep rocking and supporting women because that’s an incredible calling you have there!

  • Ragnhild says:

    Love what you’re writing. THIS has been one of my main subject for many, years now, and having kids was the first big “eh… ups.. sorry”, because of what you just write.
    But “I won’t do it again.”… I don’t believe we can truly stop. It’s part of being human. We can stop judging with big word and all of that, but a (small?) part of us will alway have a better solution or don’t really understand ANY situation what we have not experienced out selves. Like how you talk to your three year old (until you hava three year old..) or how to deal with teenagers! (Do there really have to be such a fight? Can’t the parents juts… I don’t know… I like to think I will have a better solution, but honestly; I would not know until my house is full of four of them! ;)
    But being aware; the best place to start. And forgive and try again when we do fall into judging <3

    • Kate Northrup says:

      So true! I think it’s human nature. It’s just how quickly we catch ourselves and become conscious that we’re judging. So perhaps I should have amended and said “I will keep doing it because I’m human, but I’ll do my best to stop myself as quickly as possible so my judgement doesn’t leak onto you!”

  • Simone says:

    Very wise young woman. I am still working on this as it has been a major issue for me. I am making progress, and have a softer way of seeing others and can appreciate the learning opportunities in each and everyone’s lives. Live and let live!

  • Dianna says:

    Hi Kate and thanks for this post. I never thought I was judgmental….until I got divorced and realized I had judged pretty much everyone who had ever been divorced before me! ‘They must not have been committed enough…didn’t they take their vows seriously?…how terrible for their children…’ on and on until it happened to me. Not judging others has been a lesson well learned for me that I now try (try…I’m nowhere near perfect at this!) to apply in all situations, especially in my career as a teacher, because as you said, “you just don’t know what it’s like until you know.”

  • Robin says:

    Kate – Spot on. Thank you for this wisdom. I’ve noticed more proverbial slaps in the face recently when finding myself in judgment (“I’d never!!”) and then I’ll find out some more info about someone’s life and be stopped in my tracks (“oh, that makes a lot of sense; I’ll shut up now”). Reminding myself: I can’t know what another has experienced or is going through — I’m not them. I’m practicing choosing to listen and be love. Slowly getting better at it. :)

  • mary bingham says:

    There’s discernment , as in deciding what you would choose for your experience, based on your beliefs, thoughts and opportunities. And then there is judging some one else’s decision. That’s where we run into “oops” factor. We really don’t know what has preceded their decision .
    I’m hoping people are clear on the difference, because they really are the same process. But one is ours and the other belongs to someone else. When I was younger I didn’t understand this difference because I CHOSE what I did after deciding I didn’t want to do it the way I saw others do it. But it didn’t mean I was judging them as wrong, just ‘not for me’ kind of judging.

  • Crystal Strain says:

    I was just having this conversation with my daughter. We see these great memes all the time about women supporting and building each other up and yet the reality is that in our secret or not so secret moments we judge and harshly. I caught myself the other day in one of most treasured places beginning to judge a woman… “my” steam room at the gym is a sanctuary for me and what do I see but this woman doing back-bends, crunches, spine rolls and oh my thoughts…and then it hit me…

    This was her moment. Her moment to do back-bends, crunches and spine rolls in the steam… it made her feel something and exactly who am I to say her moment wasn’t “right”? I left feeling humbled and happy for her and myself that we each enjoyed our moments.

  • Helen says:

    This conversation resonates very deeply for me. I absolutely did the orgasmic hypnobirth program at home. I even calmly explained to my obstetrician he may not actually know I was really in labour because I would be so calm. Well, that labour took 36 hours and I cried and struggled all the way through to the last half hour and needed an epidural to get that child out safely. The impact on me of my ‘failure’ was huge. And I think that’s because I was such a judgmental person – I turned that all in on myself.

    Judgment was a such a great, protective suit of armour. I’m better than you. Or you’re better than me. Always scrambling on that ladder of worth, mistaking it for my friend.

    But I’d missed the fact it was hard to really enjoy the world in a suit of armour. It took a few years to realise that and to stop beating myself over the head. It’s been wonderful news for my children because I’m easier on them, now that I’m easier on myself. Wonderful blog Kate, thank you x

    • Kate Northrup says:

      Oh wow Helen – the piece about judgement as armor is so powerful and profound. Thank you for adding that layer to the conversation!

  • Anita Butler says:

    Great post, Kate – thank you!
    EVERYBODY judges, right? We judge others and ourselves – sometimes negatively, sometimes positively.
    I especially appreciated the comment from Sydney, the midwife who hasn’t yet given birth, that “I felt my stomach clench when you wrote about not judging people who have been through what you haven’t, because it’s my job not to judge…”
    The truth is, even if we HAVE had an experience we find ourselves judging another’s experience of – having a baby, anything in the parenting journey, going through a divorce, anything – we STILL can’t rightly judge the experience of another person. Because my labor and birth might go really easily (that does happen!), while someone else’s might become complicated by physical or emotional influences. My divorce might have been “justified” by physical abuse – and her’s might have “just” been emotional – but nobody saw her heart bleed. My kids might respond to the kind of discipline (or not) that is currently in vogue, while the children of another parent may require an altogether different approach.
    Having raised three kids to adulthood, I can tell you they were all very different. And I had a friend with six kids, all homeschooled – the first five were clearly siblings: similar build, hair and eye color, even temperaments. Then along came #6: He looked like a Hummel doll! And was he ever mischievous! Their mother said to me one day, “If we had stopped at 5, we would probably be touring the country giving parenting seminars by now. I think God gave us Benjamin to humble us!”
    So in judging, we can ask ourselves, “How much help can I offer?” And if I can’t help, “How much grace can I bring to this situation?”
    Yeah. Judge that way:-)

    • Kate Northrup says:

      So beautifully said. It’s so true that even if we have experienced something we can’t know what that thing was like for another person. Best to open our hearts, right? Thank you for chiming in!

  • Maria says:

    This is a sentiment that has been on my mind a lot lately (I literally just wrote a blog post about this last month). Especially within online communities, and especially toward mothers, judgment abounds. I know I have been guilty of it, and I know I needed to go through the process of being on the receiving end in order to truly understand. I generally feel like it’s only when we take ourselves less seriously as mothers (allow ourselves to not sweat the small stuff), that we also begin to create space for other mothers to make decisions freely and without judgment. Great read!

  • Yeah! This is so good. I’m definitely going to be more aware of putting myself in other peoples shoes now. thanks for the reminder Kate xxx

  • Heidi says:

    I got pregnant when I was 19 and decided to get an abortion. Before that, I judged teenagers who got pregnant, and I thought, “How could they get pregnant and get abortion?” Then it happened to me. It was one of the most scariest, heart-wrenching times of my life. However, it taught me a valuable lesson to not judge another person’s experience, if i have not gone through it myself. Hard lesson to learn.

  • Jacinta says:

    A-freakin-men! After the World events of the last few days I have been left in a space of inner turmoil. Last year I brought two people beings into the world and so many times since I have been left questioning if it was the right thing to do, to subject them to this World. I have felt so much anxiety over the judgement people are constantly putting out on social media and in general and it has made me wonder ‘are they judging me when I am not around?’ I too have been guilty of judging other people’s situations but have been trying to make a conscious decision lately to be mindful that we only see the side of people that they show to us.

  • Jen says:

    Love this. I have not experienced having a baby but I have certainly had other experiences where I have felt judged by others who definitely did not experience what I was experiencing! (And I’m sure I have unintentionally judged others in the same fashion at some point :-/ And I too, apologize! LOL) I think the most frustrating thing about situations like this is that it made me judge MYSELF… why wasn’t I experiencing it the way these others had and/or expected me to? It just made me feel worse about everything. A good reminder that we are all on unique journeys, and the best way to learn is through experience (and to be gentle with ourselves in the process).
    Thank you for sharing, Kate. xo

  • As a near-future dad I came to this while doing some research… I better get ready for some headaches, I see. Thank you for helping me judge any new mom’s situation better.. it’s easy until you experience it… and there’s still so much judgment in the workplace! we need to change just that. People don’t understand. I do from just very recently.

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