There are many significant events that happen in life. Many of these events shape us as people. They can help us feel more empowered, completely ignored, powerless, or anywhere in between. A few examples: getting a driver’s license, passing a difficult class, graduating, running a marathon, getting married, and having a baby.
Each of these events are often seen as a rite of passage. They require planning and effort and are chalk full of expectation.
Take for example, running a marathon. There is training involved. There are expectations and hopes. The runner hopes to, not only finish, but to finish within a certain time frame. Suppose the runner suffers an injury and is unable to finish the race. Would he not feel frustrated, saddened, and discouraged? He has worked hard to achieve a goal, and was unable to meet the goal. But if he succeeded, if he finished the race, even if he had to crawl across the finish line, imagine the sense of accomplishment he would feel.
What if a well intending person happened to be driving by as the runner was struggling. What if he took it upon himself to shove the runner into the passenger seat and drive him across the finish line? And when the runner protested, the driver proudly said, “All that matters is that you make it across the finish line.”
Graduation marks a transition from life as a student to life as a career person.
Suppose a college student was working almost full time to pay her way through college. Finals week comes along during a busy week at work. She has to pass all the same exams as her peers. She has to write all the same thesis papers, and finish the same amount of field experience. But, because of her job, she is met with extra challenges that some of her peers do not face. Maybe in the midst of all this she receives a call that her grandmother had passed away. Now she also grieves. The funeral will be held in a week, which is when finals week is over.
Imagine what this student might be feeling. A sense of unfairness. She might feel overwhelmed. But if she can, despite everything stacked against her, pass her finals; imagine her sense of accomplishment. Suppose her roommate sees her struggle and helps her study. Maybe her roommate takes over the cooking and cleaning because she isn’t overwhelmed with finals. Those acts of kindness would be so helpful for this student.
But, let’s suppose the roommate took it a step farther. Maybe she sees how rough life is for this student and decides, “I’ll write all her papers for her!” Maybe this poor student is so desperate, she allows her roommate to write all her papers. When graduation day comes, and she walks across the stage, chances are she’ll have a greater sense of guilt than accomplishment. And as she begins a career that requires this degree, she might wonder, “Am I even qualified for this job? If I didn’t have all those odds stacked against me, I might have been able to graduate on my own… or maybe not.”
The end goal of a wedding is for the two to be married at the end of the day. We affirm the bride and groom that none of the other details really matter in the grand scheme of life. But nearly every married woman I know wishes to re-do at least one aspect of her wedding. Especially now that Pinterest exists!
Wedding days are chalk full of expectations. Some brides spend years planning the “perfect day.” While other are content to show up at the courthouse. It’s not the style or size of wedding that matters. The expectation, and the feelings of met (or unmet) expectations, will stand out in her memories. Some examples of unmet expectations: a family member shows up drunk, the bridesmaids argue the whole time, the best man loses the ring, or the flower girl falls and rips her dress.
If the woman begins to share her feelings of the experience and the frustration of unmet expectations, imagine how frustrating it would feel for her to be told, “You set your expectations way too high in the first place, every wedding has at least one thing go wrong.” Or, “All that matters is that you’re married.” These might be spoken with good intentions, but what we often hear, is, “Your feelings don’t matter.”
This is why I am so passionate about birth. I don’t know why our culture tends to diminish how giving birth is a rite of passage.
To give birth is physically exhausting. It is a marathon. There are times when we don’t need someone to drive us across the finish line, but to instead, cheer us on, and hand us a fresh drink of water.
To give birth marks a transition from dreaming about this child, to being responsible for raising a child. Pushing an intervention on a mother can cause her to wonder if she is really cut out for this role as mother. Are there times when there are odds stacked against us, and an intervention can save a life? Yes. But that doesn’t mean we won’t have feelings of loss, even if everyone is healthy and “happy” in the end.
If there are unmet expectations while giving birth, let’s give each other the grace to hear the feelings of loss, frustration, guilt, and powerlessness. Lecturing that the expectations were unrealistic will not bring relief, but only add frustration. Struggling to understand our feelings does not mean that we are ungrateful for what “really matters.” We won’t all have the same feelings, just as we didn’t all have the same expectations.
So instead of assuming we know how someone feels, or telling someone how they should feel, let’s just listen and let the feelings speak for themselves.