The Trouble With Optimism

There are times in life for everything. It is crucial to know what is appropriate at key moments. As much as I like to be optimistic about things, there are situations that even optimism is ill suited.

When Charlie’s early arrival was imminent, it was hard to prepare for what was to come. Things were complicated by the overwhelming obligation people felt to be optimistic. I found the transition difficult enough from having a full term pregnancy to a very premature arrival. It did not help when people would say things like, “Don’t worry, it’s just preeclampsia. It happens to a lot of women who go on to carry full term.” or “She won’t come early. It will be fine.” I wondered what was wrong with these people. I really just needed someone to help me transition to my new reality rather than to outright deny what was happening. I felt dismissed and as if our dire situation was being minimized.

Thankfully, the nurses on the high risk unit were masters at facing new realities. I had a really amazing nurse that sat down with me and explained what was happening. She answered my questions the best that she was able to (even nurses can not predict the future). Finally, I understood what was happening to my pregnancy. I was informed what the doctors and nurses were watching and waiting for. I felt hopeful and empowered by her realistic view. So much so, that I asked her do the same for my husband. After his talk with the nurse, he went to tour the NICU and started to prepare for Charlie’s early arrival. It was something that he refused to do prior to the conversation.

As Charlie’s NICU stay came to an end, optimism again clouded things. I felt like our procession out of the NICU was similar to the scene in The Princess Bride where the trio is leaving Miracle Max’s home. Everyone waved happily like Miracle Max and his wife standing in the doorway. Instead of inquiring under their breaths “Do you think it will work?”, the neonatalogists muttered to each other, “Do you think she will “catch up”?” Just the like movie, the answer was “It will take a miracle”.

When we walked out of the NICU, we were ill prepared for post NICU life. Coming to the realization that Charlie would not be one of those super preemies that caught up by the age of two was very painful. My husband and I were sure that Charlie was going to be one of those super preemies. I had to go through all the emotions that I went through with her early birth. Because Charlie did not come home on monitors or oxygen, no one had prepared us for long term problems or delays. It was a shock when it became our reality.

Similar to her early birth, people were armed with a seemingly endless supply of useless optimistic responses upon hearing about Charlie’s challenges. “She’s fine.” or “Oh, it’s nothing. Preemies catch up by the age of two.” Both of which, make me want to scream. Fine babies do not flirt with the possibility of a g tube. It is not “nothing” when Charlie is frustrated that her body can not do what she wants it to. Things are not “fine”. Nevertheless, somehow we found a way for it to be OK.

What did I need to hear at the time? I needed to hear how it will be tough but it will be OK. I needed to know that everything may not end happily ever after but I will find a way to survive. I needed an honest look at the situation and information. I needed options rather than a false dilemma of things being either completely fine or absolutely poor.

Looking back, we did get through it. We found a way to be okay despite none of those predicted optimistic tales of comfort coming to fruition. The trouble with optimism is that sometimes it does more harm than good. Even with optimism, there is a time and place for everything.

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About Rebecca Wood

In May 2012, my pregnancy ended three and a half months early due to severe early onset preeclampsia. This is my collection of thoughts and media. It is an attempt to document and discuss our experience of navigating the post NICU world. View all posts by Rebecca Wood

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