I met you in the hospital tearoom once. Quietly sat with your partner, a small, wan face amid the shrieks of small children scuttling across the carpet. But they weren’t yours. Five months after he took his first breath you were still waiting for him to come home.
I think until I spoke to you I’d been unconsciously searching for proof that my son Etienne wasn’t so sick by comparing him to the other babies in intensive care. It’s a common coping mechanism isn’t it? That supposed comfort that there’s always someone worse off. But I’d only ever seen mild alarm and then a realisation on the other parent’s face that maybe their child wasn’t doing so bad after all – relative to mine.
And then here it was; my consolation in your words. Evidence that the spectrum was much, much wider. Testimony that in some way my son had shifted up in the order of the world. But instead of relief, it only added another dimension to my emotions; sympathy, pity, and deep sadness for you, who quietly ate her lunch and waited for the days to tick over.
That I didn’t find solace in your tragedy is I hope unsurprising. Did anyone ever feel gratitude that you were the poor bugger deemed to be worse off? Of course in a world of 7 billion people, the irony of that twisted logic is there’s only one person, right at the bottom of the heap who’s allowed to be worried, or depressed, or desperate, and I’m sure it wasn’t you. My stress was real, your stress was real, and the other mothers worrying over what I then dismissed as trivial concerns – their stress was real too.
I didn’t know it at the time, but in the few words we exchanged you helped me discover my own ways to find perspective. That are internally-driven and don’t rely on comparisons to others. You helped me understand that I was not the first person to experience what I was going through, or the last. Your tender relationship with your partner made me remember that even if things went to shit, or I fell down, loving hands would pick me up. Your quiet, but courageous demeanour revealed to me that acceptance was not the same thing as giving up.
And then later you showed me, when a mother’s greatest fear became your reality, that you could become stronger, more resilient, more loving, a tighter family unit even after you’d been to hell and back.
And so I want to thank you, brave mama, for teaching me a profound lesson in perspective. One that had nothing to do with you being worse off than me, and everything to do with strength, and courage, and resilience, and acceptance and love.
2 thoughts on “To the Mum who gave me perspective”
Did anyone ever feel gratitude that you were the poor bugger deemed to be worse off?
Heh. I was that person, for quite a long time. I was very fortunate – I took my child home – but I knew for the greater part of the hospital stay that I was “that poor woman” that every other mum in there hoped not to become. But you see I knew other women who were for me “that poor woman” – and it gave me a lot of perspective. I’m not saying that I was necessarily “grateful” to be the woman everyone hoped not to be – but I knew that I wasn’t the worst off person in there, and I guess more importantly I knew how much people needed someone to look at and to be able to say “well things are completely awful today, but at least I’m not that poor woman and my baby’s not doing [x, y, z, a, b, c etc]”. Because before I became “that poor woman” I was the woman at the other end making the comparisons and hoping that my baby wasn’t the sickest in the unit and would go home quickly. It’s so hard in NICU because you don’t have a manual – you don’t know where your baby “should” be at, what is “normal” for NICU and the only way you have to gauge things is to talk with other mums, google and find out what the ranges of normal are. And then you hope like hell you’ll never end up like that poor woman… until one day you realise you are her, and that the others on the rollercoaster are hanging on for dear life and hoping that they’re not going to turn into you. 🙂
What an honest and thought proving reply lsn – thank you. ‘Hanging on for dear life on the rollercoaster’. Couldn’t think of a more accurate description!