Before we left the US, I bought some necessary and splurge items at Wegmans (arguably the best grocery store in the world) with the remainder of a gift card from some very generous friends. Looking at what I was able to track down within ten minutes blew my mind; in Phnom Penh, finding a single item often means trips to at least three different stores.
Life is different here. Perhaps because things I want are so much harder to get, I find myself more appreciative of what I have. It also means I don't bother trying to find some of the things I would impulse purchase in the U.S., especially during pregnancy (do I really want a chicken finger sub badly enough to spend an hour in traffic to make some sub-par version of it?).
Let me tell you about being a Western pregnant woman in an Asian city. In my first three pregnancies, I gained about 40 pounds each time (slightly more than the recommended ideal). But I worked out daily throughout and after pregnancy, and was able to reach my pre-pregnancy weight each time about a year postpartum. Never once did any of the excellent OBs I saw in the U.S. or Africa suggest I was gaining too much weight. Fortunately, my glucose tolerance tests were always normal and our babies were between 6 pounds 15 ounces and 8 pounds 2 ounces (very typical weights for American babies born to women of my height).
At my first OB appointment in Asia, a very competent and kind doctor told me an 8 pound baby was "too big" and I should watch my weight. She suggested I avoid sweets and cookies. When I reported my pre-pregnancy weight, she thought she heard wrong and wrote down 20 KILOGRAMS less. She could not imagine someone of my stature would weigh what I was telling her, though I likely surpassed the average weight of women here when I was in the seventh grade. Asian women tend to have smaller bones and less muscle mass, and arguments have been made to lower the range of their "healthy BMI" for this reason. My Slavic and Mediterranean genes know nothing of this small frame existence.
Ironically, the foods I crave are not available or simply not worth the trouble of seeking out here. I have certainly eaten less sweets and cookies this time around. Today I am 31 weeks pregnant and have gained 19 pounds, on track to reach my goal of about 25 pounds this pregnancy. But I know when I weigh in at the doctor, they will still do a double take. Experience dictates expectation, and Western bodies are outliers here.
All of this forced me to stop and consider expectations I am placing on others, who were created with different strengths and weaknesses than mine. My kids. My husband. My friends. Strangers. Do I expect them to respond to situations as I would, a person with entirely different life experiences? Further, how do I respond to feedback that isn't entirely positive? What does it look like to consider others better than myself? Last night my husband joked that if the machine that beat John Henry was in competition with me, it would have lost. I have been described as "a tornado of order". I place a high value on productivity. But what if that isn't best? For anyone else, or even for me?
Our current, positive social experience depends on surrounding ourselves with people who think our way of thinking/doing/living/being is best. Or at least those who won't suggest where we might make improvements. But maybe this isn't necessarily good for us. Maybe someone who doesn't know my lived experience telling me not to eat so many sweets isn't an insult, but a kindness. Because I feel better this pregnancy than I have in any of the previous ones, despite having a "geriatric pregnancy" (over 35) in a much less pleasant climate.
Considering the experiences of others is useful both in giving and receiving correction. We can communicate more gracefully when we don't assume our way is best and learn to appreciate wisdom in the perspectives of others. We can't change others' exposures, or even our own, but we can change how we hear. And if we end up getting a little less of what we thought we wanted, just maybe we will appreciate a little more of what we already have.
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