Although I did not realize it, I have been fortunate the majority of my life. I had not truly experienced jealousy nor envy until Charlie was born. Prior to her birth, I knew how to go about obtaining, doing, or becoming anything. When Charlie was born, it was the first time that I felt like something I desperately wanted was completely out of my hands. Despite my overwhelming desire, I felt powerless. I noticed each person around me whom had what I wanted… a healthy baby. Charlie’s birth was my first experience with, both, jealousy and envy. I have come to understand that these are not uncommon emotions among special needs moms.
My first recollection of the envious spark started ten days before Charlie was born. I was in labor and delivery triage on a stretcher and waiting for the results of my blood work. A few seconds prior, a doctor diagnosed me with severe early onset preeclampsia and explained that I may have to deliver that day (at 24 weeks) depending on my lab results. During those tense minutes, I laid curled up in a fetal position quietly sobbing. As I was begging and bargaining for a few more days to carry my baby, I could hear the conversation of the women behind the next curtain. I may not have paid attention to it and it may not have seemed so loud under normal circumstances. However, things being how they were, the woman’s voice was booming to me as she said to her friend, “This is so inconvenient. I tried to schedule this c-section for last week but the doctor would not do it before 38 weeks. I had to cancel my trip for this.” I was enraged. I wanted to jump off my stretcher pull back that curtain and scream at that lady. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was. I wanted to call her an idiot. In reality, all I did do was cry harder.
Auspiciously, delivery was not indicated that day. I was admitted to a high risk perinatal unit where doctors watched as my case of preeclampsia turned into HELLP. Every other day for ten days, the option of delivery was revisited. I delivered via c-section (the day I hit 26 weeks), when it had become the safer option for me and my baby. The delivery was brutal. After five failed epidural attempts, the doctors ran out of time and general anesthesia was used. Feeling defeated and in shock, I laid in recovery. I remember the sound of crying babies surrounding me. I was angry (actually jealous) that those wailing babies were not mine.
Throughout Charlie’s three month NICU stay, I became quite familiar with envy and jealousy.
It did not take long for me to avoid the hospital lobby. I could not bear to watch the procession of new mothers being discharged. It was a stinging reminder of how things were supposed to be for us. I never thought that I would not be one of those pregnant women with their full bellies awkwardly waddling through the hospital lobby to have a sonogram. I had always assumed that I would be discharged from the hospital with my baby.
After I discovered how to avoid the lobby, there was another source of jealousy and envy in the hospital. For whatever reason, there constantly seemed to be young children left unattended in the NICU waiting area. The NICU waiting area is where I was forced to sit when Charlie would suddenly get sick and required sudden examination by the neonatal team. It is where we had to wait anxiously for the outcome. I have seen families delivered bad news there. It is the place where exhausted NICU parents gathered during shift change. I am dumbfounded why people treated this sacred area as a playground. I am even more confused why they would leave young children unattended. Most of all, I was envious that these anonymous people had young children.
The envy and jealousy did not bring out the best of me during her NICU stay. I was snippy and easily annoyed. I struggled and actually felt disappointed in myself for experiencing envy and jealousy. It made me feel small and petty. It was after I talked to a few other NICU moms who admitted similar feelings to me that I realized that it was normal.
After Charlie’s discharge, the jealousy and envy would hit in waves. I hated hearing strangers and acquaintances complain about ordinary baby things. The complaints about being awake all night, seeing their baby receive vaccinations, and so fourth was trying. They were not wrong for complaining. These were issues for them. I had to figure out how I was going to cope with them (I choose to ignore them).
Recently, a mom posted on a micropreemie board that she was thinking of leaving the board because seeing all the micropreemie successes that “caught up” was too hard for her. These posts bother me a little too. I wonder why the acceptable bar for celebration on these boards is “catching up”. Ocassionally, I find myself slightly bitter with envy when these parents celebrate. Other times, I wonder if all these preemies really “catch up” or whether their parents have reached a point of acceptance. For me, the jealousy and envy reduced to a simmer once I had understood and accepted our new lives. I now know that every baby has a different outcome (even preemies, micropreemies, and term babies) and this course (like it or not) is ours.
Envy and jealousy persists in my world. Although, I do not experience them as frequently as in the beginning. When I do, it continues to feel like an unexpected kick in the gut. Even though it is a struggle, I try not to let it get the better of me. I remind myself that I can not always choose the way I feel but I can choose how I react to how I feel. Simply knowing that, makes me feel like I am no longer completely powerless.