Mental Health, Motherhood, Personal,

Comparison: The Thief of Joy

In all honesty, I am not happy. I am not happy with who I am as a person. I could always be skinnier, prettier, or just do more. I honestly believe the best thing I have going for me is being a mom… and I fail to acknowledge that I am a good one at that because I could always be better, or simply do more.

When I say I am not happy, I am not saying I am unhappy with what I have. I live a rather good life. I wouldn’t say I am ungrateful or greedy because it isn’t that I always WANT more. I just seem to have a problem with comparison. Comparison is the root of greed- the root of all evil and from that stems so many branches. Comparison, not greed, is the opposite of gratitude. How does the old saying go? “All roads lead to Rome.”

I’ve mentioned before that I carry myself with higher standards. I expect more from myself. I know others expect more from me and I let them (and myself) down often. But what am I basing my standards off of? Where do I get these ideas? These expectations I hold for myself? It isn’t like I am able to pull standards out of thin air.

It has always been my dream to be a mom and to raise a large family of my own. Mark is just the start of that and it has been a wild wild ride so far. My pregnancy was difficult and there were many curve balls thrown at just about every turn. I remember the suffocating feeling of failure while I sat in the hospital bed just days before we welcomed Mark into the world. My body was failing. It failed me because I wasn’t able to carry my son to term. It failed him because it didn’t provide him with a safe and formidable home to grow. The idea of any sort of normalcy was getting thrown right out the window.

My pregnancy wasn’t just complex. I ended up being diagnosed with pre-eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome. Both of these conditions mean that any pregnancy I experience in the future will be considered high-risk and I am right back in the specialists’ office once again.

Of course, I compared my pregnancy to others, my body to others, and even my choices when it comes to how I wanted to raise my son. If I am being honest here, I found myself comparing his milestones to my friend’s children as well. All of it only seemed to make me extremely unhappy. I felt like I failed him once again. I felt like I let myself down too. I felt I was unworthy of being a mother. As time went by, that unhappiness began to fester and I was becoming bitter.

The sharp sting of bitterness became my reality soon enough, all because I failed to acknowledge the simple fact that every person is different. I can make this a religious thing and say “God made me (you, Mark, all of us, etc) perfect just the way we are” and to some extent, it’s true. I can’t seem to shake that perfection means confidence and confidence means not comparing and judging. But since I lack confidence, and I compare, doesn’t that mean I am not perfect? Does that mean that Mark isn’t perfect? And what is perfection anyway? Who defines what perfection truly is?

Is it a perfect pregnancy? A large family? A child without health issues? Is perfection eating all organic and working out 7 days a week and having a rocking body? I mean is that what perfection is? Because if it is, my life is the furthest thing from perfection.

So why do I crave it so much? Why do I crave something that just simply isn’t me? Why do I crave something that was never in the cards for me? Who said this is what perfection is? I am not sure what your definition of perfection is and honestly, I pray we have different ideas of what is considered perfect. Life is a little more fun that way.

I may not have a large family (yet). I have a child with Cerebral Palsy. I definitely have mom guilt and a few (too many) extra pounds. I had a difficult pregnancy too. Was any of this considered planned, perfect, and expected? No. Can I adapt to the circumstances? Yes. Finding meaningful little moments strung throughout a day, a week, a month, a year even… to me, that is perfection.

I want to take a moment and talk on perfection and my son, Mark.

When it comes to comparing his milestones to other children, I am guilty. I forget that sometimes there are things I must take into consideration. I think the biggest of these things was his adjusted age.

For anyone who may not be familiar with this, an adjusted age is your premature baby’s chronological age minus the number of weeks or months he or she was born early. It is used to determine appropriate milestones for a premature baby. For instance, Mark was due on December 8th, 2018, and was born on September 12th, 2018. This would mean at 3 months old, he would be compared to a newborn. At 6 months old, to a 3-month-old, and on his 1st birthday, yes, he would be 12 months old but behaviorally, and developmentally he would be compared to a 9-month-old. Adjusted ages are factored in until 2 years of age. By 2 years of age, Mark should be “caught” up to what a typical 2 year old should do and be (in terms of height, weight, behaviorally, developmentally, etc.).

So while most babies were crawling by 9 months, Mark was crawling on his 1st birthday (9 months adjusted). While most babies were walking by 18 months, Mark was walking at 20 months (17 months adjusted). So there has always been that slight delay.

It was disheartening to hear comments of “oh he isn’t crawling yet? MY daughter was walking and speaking in full sentences by her first birthday”, or “poor thing, he hasn’t walked yet? Well MY little one was running by 10 months old”. Of course, these are huge milestones! Your baby is paving their way to independence and it is a time to celebrate! While all my friends were celebrating, I was struggling and we kept working on these things in therapy. We kept pushing at home. I did all that I could to support him in whatever way he needed.

Those disheartening comments, didn’t help my bitterness. I soon found complacency in the pit of continuous comparison.

I won’t say that just ignoring the comments and ignoring others will make it all go away. I think the real issue wasn’t that everyone was having great experiences, or great routines, or even a “typical” child. The real issue was I was struggling to find those many perfect little moments in time.

I failed to see my strength as I fought my own body to keep Mark safe as long as possible. I failed to acknowledge Mark’s determination and resilience as he fought for his life in the NICU because I was too consumed with my own failure. It was my body who let him down. I didn’t see all the time I was working with Mark at home as moments of bonding and building him up. I never once felt beautiful while I was pregnant- even though being pregnant is so so so so so beautiful.

I focused on all of the wrong things. I didn’t find little moments of perfection. I found things to compare. Instead of stepping back and taking it all in, I looked around and pointed fingers at what other people had and things I wanted. There are only so many seconds in a minute, and minutes in an hour, and hours in a day. The days are so long but my God the years are undoubtedly short.

Comparison stole my happiness. Comparison was the thief of my joy. I can’t expect to hold myself to whatever expectations society and our culture have for all women or all mothers. I can’t hold myself to these standards for one reason alone- I am not most mothers. For the same reason, I can’t hold Mark to the same standards or expectations society and our culture has for all children. Mark isn’t most children.

Taking in these moments with Mark… celebrating each and every milestone with him, whenever they come has been one of the greatest blessings and joys of my life. Comparing other’s “normal” to my normal caused me to overlook meaningful experiences in time with my son. Some of these priceless milestone moments were ones I never thought I would be able to remember or experience again. I was wrong. I was so very wrong. I was able to get it all back, by taking a moment to look back, and finding/reliving/ remembering every one of the little moments (no matter how big or small) and that makes it all worthwhile.