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.