My Mixed Feelings about "How Are You Feeling?"
Pregnancy is hard and comes with lots of weird things happening in and to your body. In my experience, lotssss of people are curious about those things…but I often wonder how much they really care to hear.
I realize it’s not the same thing AT ALL, but the easiest health analogy I can come up with I experienced with my dad, and probably did to him, too. When you ask a cancer patient how they’re feeling, they’re obviously battling something big, often something that could result in death. It’s easy to assume that at a minimum, they’re not feeling great.
Pregnancy is the opposite since you’re building a life, but the bodily feelings are equally layered and complex. When you ask a cancer patient how they’re feeling, do you REALLY want to know?
When I’m asked how I’m feeling, I consider the source. I’m most often asked by people close to my age and life place who have been there, so I tell them the truth: “I always feel some level of gassy and, recently, like the bottom half of my body is throbbing and about to fall off.” Usually, they nod and smile because they get it. They’ve been there, even if they haven’t experienced the same things. Pregnancy is magical and I can’t even wrap my mind around how amazing it is that our bodies can create life, but it’s far from convenient. My belly bumped our water glasses at dinner last night while we were out and it made me laugh a little. I’m sure most pregnant people can agree—the belly is the least of our problems.
But when our daycare provider pops out from between her mini van and her SUV and surprises me with “How are you feeling?!” I’m not going to be honest with her. I’m going to say something (like I did recently) along the lines of, “Oh, fine. Just carrying around this bowling ball!” It’s somewhat honest, but also dismissive. Don’t ask me if you don’t REALLY want to know. Don’t put me in a position where I have to fudge the facts to move on with my life. It’s nothing personal against her, but I don’t think she’d care to hear about my gas.
And why is my body suddenly everyone else’s business, anyway?
To me, the “How are you feeling?” question is lazy unless you’re talking to someone you know will be comfortable telling you some level of the truth. And that doesn’t even begin to address how you’re feeling mentally, emotionally, etc. I know I’ve done it so many times without thinking, so I’m going to challenge myself to start thinking about the question more. What is my relationship with this person? What do I really want to know? How can I show them I’m thinking about them and that I support them? That I know what they’re going through? How do I create a safe place for them to share, if that’s my goal? How can I be more intentional with my questions? Is how they’re feeling even relevant or is there something else I can ask that would be more meaningful for us both?
In the end, the question is always asked with good intentions, but when it comes to mind for me in the future, I’m going to start thinking more critically about if it’s even worth asking. A cancer patient isn’t feeling great, and most pregnant people—especially at different points in their pregnancy—aren’t either. So, how can we be better, more thoughtful for them?