I had three uncomplicated pregnancies and births before I got pregnant with my fourth. So when it came time for me to give birth, it was assumed that things would be similar. After twenty hours of labor, ending with a c-section (my first), it was discovered that he had a collapsed lung. He needed a chest tube immediately and spent almost a week in the NICU. So… nothing like the first three babies I had.
Throughout our time in the NICU I looked around at the very sick babies and their worried parents. I told myself over and over how I should be thankful that it wasn’t worse, that my child, “was going to be okay.” And yet, I wasn’t okay. I was emotional and anxious from my unexpected experience. I was sad that I was recovering in one room while my baby was in a little isolette in another. I couldn’t hold him for the first week of his life because he had lines in his chest and belly. And – hormones (enough said). But because I had perspective – at least my kid is going to get better, I never validated any of my own feelings. There were mamas there that had babies fighting for their lives and mine was going to live. So, I willed myself to say,”I’m fine. He’s fine. We are all FINE.” Because, I have perspective.
Having some perspective can be useful. I have an amazing appreciation for my health, my family’s health, and my relationships (losing my mom at a young age taught me that). I am grateful for a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep and that I have enough food to feed my children. And yet, I think, that train of thought can be taken too far. It can be taken to the point where I can’t validate anything that is hard in my own life. Because someone, somewhere has it worse than me.
As a woman of a certain age, I’ve been exploring this more and more. I have been falling into conversations with my fellow middle aged moms about fading eyesight and achy joints. And when the laments become too much for me, my response has been, “Well, it’s better than the alternative.” I have now lived longer than my own mother. My best friend died of brain cancer over a decade ago. She left three little boys and a husband behind. They will both be forever young. Now, I get to watch her boys grow up and I get to watch mine as well. Every milestone, every ordinary day I think of my dear friend, I think of my mom. They never got to make it this far and I get to do that. Would I really want to waste my time complaining about getting older while I still have breath in my lungs?
And yet, at what point do you get to acknowledge those aches and pains of middle age? When CAN you admit that life is hard? Can I mourn the loss of my oldest when he moved on to the military? After all, he’s not dead but I don’t get to see him nearly as often as the parents of a college kid do. Can I be sad that my second child is now off at college even though he’s only a few miles away? Can I admit that having a child with special needs is awesome but also really, really hard?
When is it okay to acknowledge those hard moments, days, weeks, months, maybe years? I have noticed friends doing this as well. And, when I do, I now pause and say, “It’s okay to say it’s hard. This is hard. Yes, it could be worse but this is still something we can acknowledge.” Oftentimes they are surprised and reluctant to acknowledge the hard. They must have perspective too.
If I have been given a longer life than some, I had better live it the best I can. Maybe I can have a new-found perspective. I have to remember to talk to myself like I do my very dear friends. I can live more fully if I allow all of the feelings to come, to acknowledge them and then, move on. I don’t have to wallow in self-pity but I now refuse to allow myself to push valid feelings aside. Yes, I have perspective. One that helps me appreciate my life as a gift. One that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. But one that is not always easy (or hard), no matter how I look at it.