Empathy when unexpected


After having undergone an overwhelming amount of changes both physically and emotionally over several months, I had just become a new mother. I was so new at it that I hadn’t managed to get a grip on how I was even feeling about this new-found status. A bunch of close friends asked me how it felt to be a new mom and the one thing I had found absolutely fascinating about it was watching my new born feed without even being taught how to. Witnessing basic instinct in its purest form was beyond wonderful.

One of them came up to me privately and told me that this conversation made her uncomfortable. She assured me that it was natural for new moms to be comfortable talking about breasts and nipples but it was not the same with everyone and that I should refrain from discussing it in public when she is around. At first, I was completely taken aback because that was the strangest thing I had heard since I’d become a mom. And then I wondered if  I was just being naive to share my experiences as if everyone were to understand or empathise without any other judgement?

While having a baby just feels like any other thing in my life such as riding my bike or watching TV, I realise people find stories of my new found experience rather boring, strange or impossible to relate to. This realisation makes me more empathetic towards people who don’t have children (yet) and hence, I try my best to not talk about this aspect of my life (barring the occasional spam of photos because “I think” my baby is so cute!). But I must confess this is pretty hard to do given that my baby is less than 3 months old and a LARGE part of my life goes in taking care of her and hanging out with her.

So, do we all learn empathy only once we have experienced something? Is it not possible to cultivate this virtue forward looking? Recently, I was out for dinner with a friend in this tiny Bistro close to home and just when my food arrived, my baby started howling for milk (despite having fed her just before stepping out!). I had no choice but to feed her right then and there, so I wrapped my dupatta around for privacy. I continued eating with my left hand as I fed Berry (my daughter) and watched a waiter from the restaurant unfurl the window blinds in front of me, which was overlooking the street with a huge group of men sitting on their bikes.

It took me a second to realise that the waiter did this for me. I hadn’t asked him to do this. I don’t know if he felt awkward about bystanders looking into his restaurant to find a woman breastfeeding her child. Or I don’t know if he did this to make me feel more comfortable. I’d like to assume he did. He seemed like a nice man. I kept thinking he needn’t have done that because I wasn’t even a regular at his restaurant (in fact, it was my first time!). I was baffled by this stranger’s generosity because maybe empathy is a very underrated virtue.

I felt an immense sense of gratitude for this waiter, but it was conditional to what he did. So my gratitude was not good enough for the unconditional empathy he  had bestowed upon me. Anyway, he probably won’t the impact of his little gesture until he’s blessed with a similar unexpected gesture of kindness and you know what, that’s the best part about it!




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