I was chatting with three of my oldest girlfriends last weekend about what to register for when having a baby. These are a group of friends who have been by my side through it all, there is no BS, no drama, just four loyal girlfriends that came together through the unique sport of synchronized swimming years ago when we were just kids. Three out of the four of us have kiddos and the fourth is expecting in the new year! The new mama-to-be wanted our opinions of the “must have” items for the new baby.
Despite the negative experiences my boy’s faced when they were babies along with the difficulties I had getting pregnant, I still LOVE all things baby! I was so excited to look at her baby registry. As we started discussing the must-have items, my two other friends with kids made general comments such as, “you cannot survive the first three months without X, Y & Z”. I would just laugh and say “well I didn’t need any of that stuff haha”; I didn’t need that stuff because my babies were critically ill and in the NICU at Sick Kids.
I find that anytime I try to make a funny joke or comment on MY experience of being in the hospital, most people respond by saying things like, but…. “everything‘s OK now”, but... “you got through it”, but... “it’s over”, but…”look at your boys now”. I know these comments come with good intentions when they find the conversation uncomfortable but I find comments like this to be upsetting rather than encouraging as they minimize my lived experience.
Without being offensive to my girlfriends, I know that I am super sensitive and aware of the “but” comments. I love them and am super happy that my friends have healthy babies and cannot wait to meet the new member of our crew but looking at a baby register and talking about what is needed for the first 3 months still brings up sadness. I think as a society, we need to recognize that everyone deals with trauma differently and there shouldn’t be a timeline on your healing. Things may trigger you YEARS later and it’s normal AND okay that triggers bring you right back to the trauma.
When people find out about my kids’ stories, another common response is to tell me about another kid they knew who was sick. People would respond by saying things like, “well, my sister’s husband’s cousin’s kid has cancer and they are being treated at Sick Kids and it’s really bad”. These responses would (and still do) infuriate me! I know that many people experience hardship but it’s not a competition, we have to be supportive and understanding of all circumstances.
The crazy thing is that one day I found myself responding to someone making a generalized comment about a kid and family I didn’t even know! WTF, I know exactly how it feels to be on the receiving end and I still responded this way! I was shocked when I caught myself. I KNEW BETTER! It made me realize how we all want to find a solution or give hope to an uncomfortable situation instead of just acknowledging the feelings and sitting with the discomfort of the situation.
I always wondered why people didn’t respond by saying things like: “I’m so sorry that was your experience”; “That is unfair and shitty”; “This was not your fault and you, your boys and family didn’t deserve this”; “It’s okay to still be angry and sad about your experience even though your kids are older”; “I’m so glad to see your boys doing well; how have you been coping?” These types of comments were seldomly said and yet it's what I really needed to hear, especially in the thick of it. I conscientiously try to provide these kinds of supportive comments to people in my life but clearly it’s not always a natural response. Why?
I recognized all that I had to be grateful for but I was still angry and had so much built up rage. I started listening to A LOT of audio books during my walks. I gravitated towards books by women explaining what it means to be a woman and a mother in today's world along with the accompanying endless expectations. I really related to Rachel’s Hollis books, Girl Wash Your Face and Girl Stop Apologizing. I am also a huge fan of Brene Brown’s work and Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed. All these books pointed out the same main messages that I was getting from our society. The main ones being: always be grateful, mothers are selfless and love being moms and women never show anger. These books helped me realize that even after giving birth we are still just humans and being a mom doesn’t give you angel wings or some crazy superpowers that everyone talks about. It does however, distort your body LOL! But seriously, listening to these authors made me realize that I myself, and society as a whole has to be kinder to ourselves; it’s impossible to be perfect at everything….
My experience really left me wondering why does our society always rush to try and give advice to make things better? Why is listening to feelings so uncomfortable? Why isn't there room for anger to sit beside gratitude? For me, when people acknowledge(d) the crap in a situation, I felt heard and my experiences felt validated. I continue to work on listening and supporting the experiences of others without trying to problem solve or draw comparisons. I’m not perfect and sometimes, I find myself sliding back into comfortable territory of glossing over feelings to offer solutions or “reminders”. But I stick with it, and I challenge you to reflect on how you respond to other people’s emotional situations and spend some time acknowledging the experience of others - you may be the first one to do it!
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