As I sit to write this post that I’ve had on my heart for months, I keep feeling like I shouldn’t. Mom envy is something every mother experiences at some point. It’s a nasty, ugly part of us, but we all have it. Because, well, sin. Duh. We are not perfect people who can be content in our circumstances at all times. We see what someone else has or doesn’t have, and we want that for ourselves because from the outside it may look better than the hand we’ve been dealt. All the while, that mom we envy so much may envy us. It’s an ugly cycle of lies we are made to believe about ourselves as women, as mothers, and as daughters of the King. We all do it, but I feel like we don’t talk about it.
James 5:16 calls us to confess our sins to one another so that we can adequately pray for each other. So I guess here is my confession. Here are the lies I let myself believe about our life. Here is my broken, sinful heart that compares my life to those I see around me.
I should first start with the disclaimer that I would goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. I love my son. I love my life. I truly do. I am so thankful for the adventure God has called us to in being Evan’s parents. In my eyes, he is the most perfect, sweetest baby. And because that is where my heart truly lies when my head is clear, I feel so guilty for the envious comparisons I make with the mothers I am surrounded by. That is what makes me feel like I shouldn’t put these words on a page, but I have been encouraged by a friend whose opinion I value and trust that this is a topic that really needs to be shared because even if the situations are different, all moms can resonate with the emotion behind it. I also feel like it’s near impossible to write about this topic without coming off like I am looking for sympathy. I want to be clear; I am not. I want to be understood, and I want my story to be known, but do not waste your energy feeling sorry for us. We have the most amazing kid in the world whose life brings us to the foot of the Cross daily….really, I feel sorry for all of you. Evan’s not yours.
I think my mom envy started long before I was even a mother–well, because I wasn’t a mother. I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. And all of a sudden it felt like everyone around me was getting pregnant. I was 26, married for a few years, financially stable, so the questions started. And they are meant to be innocent questions, but I know from my experience and from experiences others have shared with me about their journeys in infertility and miscarriage that those questions are anything but innocent. The intent behind may be, but they hurt. A lot. And looking back, I know I was one of those people “innocently” joking with a young married couple about when they would have kids. I hate myself for that. And I am sorry. For about a year before we started trying to have a baby, I was miserable because I wasn’t a mom. And because Satan likes to be a jerk and kick us while we are down, I was flooded daily with reminders that I was, in fact, NOT a mom. Students, coworkers, acquaintances would ask me “why” I didn’t have a baby yet or when I was going to “get on it.” My favorite would be “Well ______ just had a baby so it’s your turn now.” It wasn’t our time yet. We were still wading through the waters of grief from losing Alex’s sister to cancer. We were waiting to be more prepared financially. We were waiting for my health to improve so I could have the healthiest pregnancy possible (oh the irony). But it still hurt my heart every day that I wasn’t a mom. I can vividly remember about a dozen instances when I was told that I could never understand (fill in the blank) because “you’re not a mother.” And sure, that may have been true, but what a jerk thing to say to someone especially when you don’t know their situation. I recently saw an article or blog or something on Facebook titled something along the lines of “Everyone you meet is grieving.” That is such an important truth to remember. You just don’t know the hurt going on in a person’s heart. And to say things, even if they may be somewhat true, to a person like “you’re not a mother” or “why don’t you have kids?” is just sad. I have so many friends who have been through Hell with infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss. It’s tragic to a woman when she desperately wants to be what she feels in her heart she was made to be, and for whatever reason, she can’t. **I want to clarify that I do not in anyway think that if you have had a miscarriage or lost a child that you are any less of a mother. You had a child. It doesn’t matter how long he/she was able to stay. You are a mom. You will always be a mom.** Also, maybe I am still a little salty over this one.
In pregnancy I think I was too overwhelmed to really experience mom envy too much. Maybe I was jealous of people who didn’t throw up all the time. Or people who could be pregnant and still function as a responsible human. I think I was just miserable and gross, so I didn’t have the energy to have much mom envy. Maybe that’s the trick…? If I get even less sleep, I’ll be too tired to think or care? Sounds like it could work. Definitely not willing to try it though.
The NICU brought a lot of comparison for me. Birth brought a lot of comparison for me. In some ways, I feel like I missed out on something because I had a somewhat scheduled C-section and never experienced true active labor, or my water breaking, or birthing a human. From what I hear, I didn’t miss much. I wrote in a previous post about missing out on that first moment of seeing your baby, falling in love, and immediately getting to snuggle or kiss him. Today I read a birth story from another mom who had the sweetest moment with her son. I read it, and I was so happy for her. But it also made me remember that I didn’t get that, and there’s no take backs. (Fun fact, it is possible to be happy for others and sad for yourself at the same time.) Obviously, Evan’s health and well-being trumped any kind of expectation of that moment, but I still miss it. I didn’t even hold him until two days later, and it was with help and a lot of finagling of cords and tubes, and it didn’t last long as it ended in Evan not breathing. There were things I took for granted in my mind when I was pregnant. We aren’t guaranteed anything. I had even come to terms before delivery that I wasn’t guaranteed my baby would live. But I still took for granted what it would mean to hold my son or even touch him or kiss him. I didn’t kiss him for the first time until he was two weeks old I think. And after that, I didn’t kiss him often at all. Not because I wasn’t connected with him or because I didn’t love him, but because I loved him so much I was afraid to do anything to harm him. It wasn’t until recently that I truly got comfortable giving him all the kisses like “regular” mamas do. These little things that I didn’t even think about before he was born became the biggest things.
Maybe this post should really be more about the things I took for granted that led to my mom envy. I think a lot of that jealously stems from other moms getting to do things I took for granted in my mind or expected before Evan was born. So organization be darned, I am going to continue this post in list format. The English teacher in me wants to throw up all over this post.
Checking on my newborn in the middle of the night. For me, that meant calling the NICU to talk to his night nurse instead of looking at a baby monitor or popping my head in the bassinet to look at him. I couldn’t see him. He was 40 minutes and 14 floors away. I hated the feeling that I still wasn’t completely a mom. I mean, I was only doing it part-time in so many ways. At least, that’s the lie I would tell myself.
Holding my child. I’ve talked about this before, and I am sure if you know a NICU family or you are one you get it. Holding Evan was sometimes not possible. I would have to put him back because he wasn’t breathing, or he had difficult equipment at the time, or he just couldn’t tolerate being touched that day. It was heartbreaking. I now find myself sometimes whining about how my back or arms hurt because he has days where he won’t let me put him down, but then I have to remind myself how much of a gift that is. How for so many months I dreamed of holding him as much as I wanted. I would see pictures of other moms toting their babies around wherever they went in wraps and carriers, and I was jealous. When we got home, as tired as I was, I loved (and kind of miss sometimes) the nights where Evan would only sleep if he was being held. He needed ME. So my arms could hurt, my back could hurt, my brain could become mush from being so sleep deprived. My son needed me to hold him, and I could finally do it.
Nursing. My shortest lived mom envy. Didn’t do it. Couldn’t do it. Felt really guilty and like a failure for it for a while. Realized that was dumb, and it didn’t matter how my baby was fed or what he was fed. Props to all the moms out there who can nurse their babies or pump for their babies and it goes well. That’s great. But it’s also great to be physically and emotionally healthy for your child and for your child to get the nutrition he needs, and sometimes those things can’t happen if you try to nurse or pump for your kid. I feel like we are bombarded mostly due to social media these days with the message that if you don’t breastfeed, you are not a good mom or giving your child what’s best for him. That is a LIE. And to the moms out there struggling with this…guess what? IT’S OKAY. You do what you need to do for you and your babe to be happy and healthy. And don’t you dare feel an ounce of guilt over it.
Feeding my child. Evan doesn’t eat anything by mouth. He’s never filled his little belly from a bottle. He has tried it. He has swallowed 5mLs on his best day (that’s roughly a teaspoon). And that takes a lot of time and hard work on his part. Evan is nine and a half months old, and he just started tasting baby foods to see how he would handle it. He does not actually “eat” enough to be any kind of substantial nutrition. He may swallow a tiny bit, but the experience is more about engaging his oral skills and him coordinating those skills to learn to eat the food. It’s also about tolerating a spoon in his mouth. It’s also about tolerating something other than spit in his mouth, and let’s be honest, he doesn’t even tolerate that sometimes. The feeding pump and his G-tube are lifesavers…literally. Evan would die without them. But it’s hard sometimes when I see other kiddos trying foods or eating and becoming covered in something. I remember telling our speech therapist that I was sad that it felt like we would miss out on the cute pictures of our baby covered in food from trying to feed himself or smearing the food on his face from thrashing away from the spoon. The day he tasted something for the first time was magical. The day I got to go into Target with BABY FOOD on my shopping list was magical. I knew that 98% of it would end up in the trash because Evan wasn’t really eating-eating it, but I got to buy baby food! I think the feeding stuff is actually making me more grateful than envious because every little thing about it feels like winning the lottery. Also–tube feeding has made our lives easier in a lot of ways. Evan is on about a hundred medications it feels like, so not having to make him take them all by mouth is kind of awesome. I can give him meds while he’s sleeping. He can eat while he’s sleeping. In fact, he’s eating right now, and he will keep eating until 6AM. I think any envy that comes out of this topic comes more when someone who doesn’t know or understand Evan’s feeding journey makes a comment about his eating that would only make sense if his feeding journey was that of a typical nine month old. It’s completely different. It will be for a long time, maybe forever. And that’s okay. But I can hate little things about it. I am a human after all. I hate the beeping the pump will do for seemingly no reason at times. I hate that there have been nights where Evan’s bed ate more than he did because something popped open that shouldn’t have. I hate that parts of my house have a lingering Nutramigen (his formula) stink from all the times I have spilled it when pouring it into the bag. I hate that stomach contents have exploded into my face when venting his tube. I hate that he is really good at popping it open when not in use and leaking stomach juices all over the place. I hate that a feed involves cleaning the bag, measuring the formula, pouring it into the bag, priming the line, programming the pump, and that’s all after making sure Evan’s G-tube has been adequately vented and his extension set is also cleaned and primed. It’s tedious. So easy…but tedious. And not super convenient on the go. I’ve started scheduling his doctor’s appointments so I can avoid having to feed him while out. Fewer accessories makes for easier travel. So sure, I hate a lot of things about it, but I owe his life to it, and if I’m being honest, a lot of the things I hate I also laugh at.
Picking my baby up in the middle of the night when he’s fussing. When I do this, I am also making sure I am not stepping on or tangling cords and tubes. There have been nights where I have cried thinking about how I can’t just pick him up without first thinking of these cords or carry him into another room. In fact, there are rooms in our house he can’t reach unless he is put on a portable oxygen tank and disconnected from his pulse ox. The feeding pump could wheel along next to us on his pole. I am jealous at times of the moms who can do this without a second thought. I cannot wait for a day when we are tube and cord free. Heck, I would settle for just one fewer tube (oxygen, I’m lookin’ at you).
Isolation or not expecting isolation. This is where the majority of my mom envy probably lies. At least lately. I am getting a little stir crazy. If I am out by myself at Target or the grocery store, I often see moms and their littles. Sometimes tiny babies like Evan. And all I can think about are the thousands of germs that baby is getting exposed to. But then I remember that not all babies are immunocompromised like a preemie and kind of a wimp like Evan. I am jealous of people who can go to a coffee shop to meet a friend with their baby in tow. I am jealous of people who don’t have to carefully consider if the person they are seeing is sick, has been sick, or has been near anyone who has been sick and then sacrifice a social engagement if so. I am jealous of people who feel comfortable letting other people come into their house without making sure vaccinations are up to date and that person hasn’t had so much as a sniffle in at least two weeks. I am jealous of people who are comfortable with and excited for other people to touch and hold their child. I know I’ll get there eventually, but the NICU and five more hospital admissions have done a number on us. I don’t want to live in constant fear of Evan getting sick. But I’ve seen what a tiny cold can do to him. I know what something like RSV or the flu could do to him. And how do I cope with watching my tiny baby who physically can’t throw up dry heaving because he has a stomach bug and can’t get relief? I will talk more about isolation in my next post though, as I feel it is so important for people to truly understand. So I will stop here for tonight.
Milestones. I know Evan runs on Evan’s time, and I am so proud of the progress he is making. He is getting closer to being able to hold his head up every day now after months of little to no progress. So my “envy” here isn’t really about him not meeting the milestones he “should” be, but more about what I think other people think of us because he hasn’t. I worry all the time that people see that he can’t do a lot of things yet and wonder what we are doing wrong. I think about the unsolicited advice we get about him from people who know nothing about hypotonia or physical therapy for a preemie. So really my only worry here is that other moms, dads, random strangers even, think I am a bad mom because my kid can’t do at nine and a half months what most babies can do at two or three months. I guess I could even lump the helmet into this. We get comments from people about it being good that he was wearing his helmet because “you’re running out of time to fix his flat head” when they see him in it in a picture, but what they don’t see was him screaming like he was being tortured the whole time he was wearing it or the massive breakout of eczema and staph all over his head and face that followed. Like no, we are not just lazy. We do not have him lay on the ground all day letting his head get flatter and flatter. We do so much physical therapy work with him every single day to get him to turn his head the other way or maneuver him to put pressure on the other side of his head. And maybe this is all my own ridiculous insecurity. But I feel like I would judge me at least a little if I didn’t know our full story, so my guess is other people are too. Or maybe I am just more sinful than the people around me…likely.
I am sure I could find more ways that I have experienced “mom envy” in our parenting journey so far, but I have already written a tragically grammatically flawed and disorganized novel about my feelings, and I need to go to bed.
To my fellow mamas– if you leave this post with nothing else know this: you are who you are supposed to be for your child. You were handpicked by God to be his/her parent. Your child needs YOU. Not the mom down the street who “has it all together” (spoiler alert: she doesn’t). Not your mom or your mother-in-law. Not your best friend. Not the girl from high school who you still follow on Instagram whose kids are “perfect.” Not the know-it-all old lady in the Kroger parking lot. You kid needs YOU. Our parenting journeys all look different, and when we forget that it’s okay and good that they look different, it is so easy for that nasty envy to creep in. This is something I have to remind myself of daily, and I am lucky enough to have friends and a husband who help me keep that in check.
Thank you for reading along with our story. Thank you for being “in it” with us as we navigate these waters. Thank you to those who have prayed for us and for Evan throughout this journey.
Also–remember, you’re not supposed to feel sorry for us. So stop it if you are.
Please don’t forget to send me an email through the contact page if you have questions. If you’re worried your question might offend me, I promise it won’t! I threw it out there, so I am happy to answer anything I can for you all! I’ve gotten some questions already that I am excited to answer and some post topic requests as well!