Pregnancy was a strange time for me. My belly got bigger, breathing got harder, my gait got waddlier. My ribs dislocated occasionally, I had to eat constantly to avoid heartburn, and my ligaments began to send shooting pains into my legs whenever I walked. Towards the end, I could no longer mow the lawn by myself, climb on ladders, reach things on high shelves, carry heavy objects, or even walk across the street at a normal pace. I had no energy to weed the garden in 100+ degree heat. In short, I became slow and needy.
I had never been truly sick, or injured, or disabled, or elderly, and I didn't remember a time when I was so slow. I had always been - if not exactly strong - then at least self-sufficientish, able to paint and tile and mow and garden and for God's sake, at least be able to shave my own legs! How uncomfortable it is to need other people to help you! How annoying it is to need other people to do things that you want to do for yourself! How exasperating to move along like a drunken snail!
Pregnancy gave me a small taste of what it is to be vulnerable. Sadly, I had not been one to be overly patient with others, compassionate of weakness and need. Walking a mile on swollen feet in pregnancy shoes set me straight. I wish everyone could have this experience - if not pregnancy, then trying to live on minimum wage, caring for kids without a support system, living alone when all your friends and family have died before you, or trying to get by without all the advantages that comfortable middle-class people take for granted.
As a pregnant woman, I didn't want pity. But a little understanding, a little leeway and help was welcome. As I began to resemble a watermelon tacked onto the middle of a pole, I realized how frightening it is to need, and not be able to meet one's own needs, to not meet our cultural expectation for speed and independence, to not exactly measure up. At the same time, I saw how important it is for us to protect and help people who are experiencing vulnerability while letting them keep their dignity.
I had "known" this before my pregnancy, of course. But I had not FELT it before. Actually feeling every painful step, every sleepless night, and awkwardness with every lumbering about-face - that gave me a much better understanding of what it is to be vulnerable.
In our current economy, many middle class people are struggling to hold on to their comforts and expectations, and for the first time, failing. They finally feel what it is to not know where their next meal will come from. Some of them cry, "It's not my fault! I'm a hard worker! I did everything I was supposed to do!" They don't want to be identified with those undeserving poor who only make minimum wage or who are unemployed - who should just get a job, or an education, or an abortion, and who should just serve the master class for crumbs while eking no pleasure out of their existence whatsoever.
So - will this economic experience nurture compassion for those who have long been struggling to provide for their families with limited resources, education or support? Or will the experience of vulnerability only bolster contempt for those who need help - those who have fallen even further than before?