I wanted to write this blog post because it’s a question I have not only asked myself about other women’s pregnancies and babies since Samuel being born in the second trimester, but even prior to his arrival, I could never quite make sense of how those around me struggling with infertility, or having suffered miscarriage and baby loss, would feel about my own pregnancies or baby…and to be quite honest, mothers with babies who suffered extreme prematurity weren’t even on my radar.
Google defines to be jealous as ‘feeling or showing envious resentment of someone or their achievements, possessions, or perceived advantages’. I’d like to explore this a little bit and explain where I’m at.
Having a ‘Mummy Instagram’ page & feed means that almost every day, thanks to the good old algorithm, I will see at least a handful of pregnancy announcements, baby bump photos, birth announcements and newborn photos. I stop to look at these posts, I tap ‘like’ on these posts, I leave comments on these posts. When I say ‘congratulations’ on a pregnancy, or a new baby, or a gender reveal…I mean it, from the bottom of my heart. I do not resent a new or expectant parent’s happiness, and I would never be disingenuous about this or avoid wishing them well because of my own experience. There is no happier or more moving time than the promise of new life…I’ve been in those shoes and I 100% buy into sharing the excitement.
However, that doesn’t stop a niggle that I never used to feel. A sting of sadness; a reminder that what was supposed to be for us didn’t happen that way, and of everything else that happened instead.
Even now almost 10 months later, I am not yet comfortable to be around other babies. It’s impossible still for me to not look and compare what a ‘normal’ baby is doing, what the baby looks like and what has come naturally for Mum and baby, which wasn’t the same for me and Samuel. I have two close friends who were due months before me, whose babies were born after Samuel, in the same month. It may be almost a year since he was born, but that does not mean I have forgotten the experience or that his preemie journey is over, or even will be over for a number of years.
To see Samuel aside babies of the same age who are twice his size and in some cases almost walking, is something I will hold my hands up and say I am not yet stoic enough to deal with gracefully, and is a situation I will continue to avoid until I feel differently. There is actually a designated baby clinic in my area for babies who were on the special care unit at my local hospital, so that they can get weighed/chat to other Mums of premature or sick babies without experiencing these feelings. I haven’t yet attended it myself, and tend to take Samuel to the ‘normal’ baby clinic. For me, this is about taking little steps to push myself into situations where I can gradually learn to feel more at ease around Mums and babies who haven’t been in my shoes. I don’t engage in chit chat, but I’m there. It’s part of the healing process.
The other new and unexpected emotion I now find myself processing when it comes to pregnancies is that I am almost entirely unable to get my head around the possibility that the outcome of a pregnancy can be positive, and am struck by the fear and anxiety of this, completely unnecessarily, on another woman’s behalf. I know logically that what happened with Samuel is very rare; only 7% of births in the UK are premature, and of that 7%, just 5% were born before 28 weeks and would be classed as ‘extremely preterm’*. But knowing this doesn’t take away from the fact that it did happen to us, and that every second and third trimester bump photo now triggers a habitual thought pattern for me that includes willing the baby to stay in there ‘til they’re absolutely ready, calculating in my mind the potential size/weight and stage of the babies’ development (particularly their lungs), and comparing this to Samuel at birth. I would like to think this is because it’s still not been that long, and that eventually one day I will see gorgeous bumps and scrummy newborn babies with only the feelings of joy and excitement, without a tainting by my experience.
I don’t believe I’m special, or am worthy of any kind of exclusive treatment. I don’t like a fuss of any kind (good or bad – the thought of a big party thrown on my behalf, for example, calls for me to tuck my head away in my hands or rush to the toilet for a nervous poo). I certainly would never ask for, or expect anyone to tiptoe around me because of the indignities and failings of my own reproductive system. If there’s a situation or conversation I would rather avoid, I generally do just that, it’s no one else’s fault or responsibility. Unless backed into a corner or subject to a serious feather ruffling, I don’t tend to speak my mind about sensitive issues that pertain to me. This is why when someone pregnant has a moan to me about being pregnant (which having had a full-term pregnancy myself I COMPLETELY understand and empathise with) it is always of value to me if the disclaimer of ‘I know I probably shouldn’t whinge to you’, or similar, is thrown in there somewhere…at least in comparison to the times when it is not. Not because I think anyone owes me an explanation, or an apology, but it’s of comfort to me know that another mother might appreciate that it may potentially be difficult or uncomfortable for me to hear.
Bitter? No. Resentful? No. Jealous? Still unsure…maybe ‘envy’ is more on the mark?
Lucky? Definitely…I am under no illusion that I am one of the luckiest ones. Whatever the journey, my baby is here and never a day will pass where I am not acutely aware of how fortunate we are to have him.
Have you ever experienced any feelings like this? Perhaps you’re an IVF parent, have suffered miscarriage, baby loss, or are a fellow preemie parent? I would love to hear from you, it can be a lonely old place when we don’t talk!
*premature birth statistics from tommys.org