One of the ugliest emotions we can feel, jealousy often motivates us to do and say the unthinkable. With complete honesty, I don’t feel like I’ve ever envied my friend, neighbor or enemy anything that they had and I didn’t. That perfect relationship, amazing career or shiny car were their accomplishments to celebrate and I think that, for the most part, I’ve celebrated with them. This isn’t to say that I couldn’t have been on the receiving end of envy at one time or another. However, I find it much more difficult to label my enviable qualities. College education? Happiness? Either way, it doesn’t matter now. Because that all changed the day Avery was born.
The first time I felt the ugliness of jealousy was in the week after his birth. Twice in one day Arick and I got trapped in an elevator with a pair of exuberant new parents leaving the hospital with their perfect pink newborns. All of a sudden those four walls felt even smaller and the air grew thick. I drew in my heavy, labored breaths so intentionally that Arick would look at me questioningly. In the crisp November air I’d crumble as we made our way to the car. Arick drove us back, the only sound in the car my occasional sobs. When we got to our motel room I laid on the bed and Arick wrapped himself around me. He thought I was crying because I was sad for Avery. The truth was I was sad for me. Sad that I had to scrub in to visit my child in the NICU so many times a day when “those” moms got to take their infants home. I cried because I was robbed of the birth I expected. As I explained this to him he began to understand what I was feeling. He understood but he begged me not to feel that way, not to let that darkness into my heart. I tried not to. Once, after a particularly hard day followed by an equally difficult elevator ride, he told me he was jealous, too. Just that once. I’d be lying if I said I got over it, that I found a way to remain unscathed by the normalcy around me. But I never did. It always hurt in the exact same way.
As petty as it seems, I was jealous of other NICU moms. Within hours of Avery’s birth a lactation consultant was in my room teaching me how to pump. And I didn’t want to breastfeed! “Your baby needs your milk.” So I did. One of my favorite memories of Arick, one that I’ll probably retell as long as I live, involves our ignorant efforts at pumping. Neither of us knew what we were doing but the consultant told him: she’ll pump and you’ll clean the parts and take the milk to the NICU. We didn’t know it would be 24 hours before I got anything. But we finally did: One entire 1 ml syringe. He loaded me into a wheelchair and he delivered it to Avery’s nurse as if he’d produced it himself. Anyway, once released I’d pump in the mothers room several times a day. This is ironically where most of my friendships were made. I never had much, a couple of ounces a day if I was lucky. Then there were the moms who came out with two bottles full. Two four ounce bottles full of that liquid gold. God how inadequate that made me feel. The one thing I could do for my baby I couldn’t do good enough. I found myself disliking one woman in particular when I felt like she judged me and my one ounce bottles. She didn’t, but you couldn’t tell me that. She gave me tips on how to increase my supply. While I tried them, each one felt like another failure for me and win for her. Eventually, Avery outgrew my supply and he went on donor milk. I was equally disgusted in myself but thankful for those moms who over produced. If not for them, my baby’s very sensitive tummy would have been subjected to formula far too early for my comfort. Am I still jealous of them? Yeah, a little. Because I just wanted to be good enough.
While Avery was in the NICU I joined several groups for micro preemie families. There we can share our joys and struggles with those who truly know what we are going through like no one else. At first I found these groups a great comfort. “Arick, look! This baby was 1 lb 8 oz and he’s standing alone on his first birthday!” “Babe, look at this baby taking her first steps. She’s 15 months and was just a couple of ounces bigger than Avery!” With each milestone that their babies hit I felt a little piece of my own heart restored. Hope became tangible and not just a wish I wished, a prayer I prayed each night. I saw evidence that Avery was going to do all of those things, too. But as time went on, and he didn’t do any of those things, I found myself resenting the group. I was so jealous of the mom whose baby sat up by 9 months. The babies who said their first words effortlessly. Don’t get me started on those who voraciously dug into their smash cakes on their first birthday. Avery just stared at his and cried hysterically when icing got on his hand. I just wanted some semblance of normalcy and I wasn’t finding it. My jealousy of those who had it festered. I found myself crying when I’d see another baby hit a milestone that it seemed we’d been waiting forever for Avery to hit. I wanted to be the one celebrating!
Of course, this was before his CP and PMG diagnoses. The shade that these two conditions has thrown over my world has been life changing to say the least. It was through this lens that I’ve been able to check my jealousy and truly feel at peace with who Avery is. When Avery was diagnosed with CP, it was labeled as spastic quadriplegic. One of the most villainous forms, it means that all four limbs are affected. I spent weeks wrapped up in that term. In the end I just had to let it go. Arick said to put it in a bubble and blow it away and I did. I had to. To cope, I became friends with the parents of children with these conditions. That’s when my entire world changed.
PMG is devastating. Many living with bilateral have no mobility. That means the parents will never get to see their baby sit unassisted. They’ll never catch their breath in anticipation while watching their child pull themselves up to stand. If the correct portion of the brain is affected, as it quite often is, they’ll never hear their child say Mama or Dada. It may have taken forever but Avery has done these things. And I have faith in my heart that we’ll see him walking soon. There is no need for jealousy…that thing that turned me into someone I’m not. I feel so ashamed of myself. I realize how blessed that I am now. I needed to accept Avery for who he is on a much deeper level. Beyond the “He’s perfect to me” and “I love him no matter what” to the “if he never does anything…if I wait until my last breath for some milestone then I’ve wasted time I could have spent just enjoying who he IS.” And we all need to celebrate everything when it happens cognizant of the fact that many parents won’t experience that particular joy. But they’ll have different ones that are equally amazing.
Today, Avery’s NICU neighbor took his first steps. Born 5 days behind him at 23 weeks and 1 lb 6 oz, he’s cut from that same cloth that God must use for all of his miracles. Am I jealous? Not a bit. I can’t wait until those unsteady steps turn sure and he just runs. My heart is so full of love for their family! I started writing this last night and when I saw him walking this morning it was cathartic. I’m over it. Jealousy will no longer have a hold over me. I know that Avery will take those same steps one day. And to those Moms who feel like I felt: Don’t waste time like I did. Don’t measure your child by someone else’s. Your child is perfect and you are amazing. A-maze-ing.