After my daughter, a 28-week preemie, was born, it was the better part of a year before I could look at a woman with a big pregnant tummy and not feel angry.
Of course, I wasn’t angry at the woman herself. I would never want a woman to go through the trials of having a difficult pregnancy or giving birth to a 2 pound, 7 ounce infant and all that entails. My daughter’s 68-day NICU stay was the most difficult time of my life, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
The real reason I had such feelings of resentment is three-fold.
Firstly, I felt cheated. Women who haven’t experienced a sudden and early end to pregnancy have told me, “At least you didn’t have to be big and uncomfortable!” But, see, I wanted to experience that. To have a big tummy as I lovingly decorated a nursery, to have a baby shower and be fussed over a little. To have my family’s anticipation build as my due date neared, and to feel the nervous excitement when I went into labor. To have my family visit me after the birth to see and hold the baby, and to celebrate the moment.
In contrast, I never got a baby shower, and when my daughter was born I owned maybe a single outfit for her. We went shopping for everything ourselves during the NICU stay, and the salespeople assumed I was early into my pregnancy because by that time my stomach was flat again. There was no celebrating on the day my daughter was born.
The second reason had to do with my daughter’s struggle. She was supposed to be safe inside me, shielded from the world, and instead her little body was being handled and poked with needles, accosted by lights and loud noises. The ventilator prevented her from crying and she was fed intravenously. She had multiple blood transfusions. I wanted to know why some babies have such an easy time entering the world, and why my daughter had to fight so hard and endure so much. It didn’t seem fair, and I viewed it as being my fault.
That leads into my third reason, which has to do with guilt. I had suffered a placental abruption and hemorrhaged in my 26th week of pregnancy, and nobody could figure out why. I tried so hard to hold onto the baby and was convinced that I would, even if it meant staying in the hospital for three months without getting out of bed. I spent two weeks on bedrest, bleeding on and off, before my water broke on the first day of my 28th week. I had an emergency C-section.
When my daughter was born, all I could think was that my body was a failure and inferior to those of other women, and that my baby was suffering because of it. Something other women took for granted was so difficult for me, even though I had done everything I could to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Every time I saw a woman with a big tummy, my blood would boil as a wondered why she could do it, while I couldn’t.
A main purpose of our community is finding comfort and commiseration. In speaking with other preemie parents, I know that I wasn’t alone in the anger and resentment I felt. If you felt it, or are feeling it now, know that it doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.
For me, it took close to a year for the negative feelings to start to taper off. Then one day, I saw a pregnant woman in the grocery store and I smiled. To my surprise, I realized that it was genuine.
After my daughter had been home for a while and we reached a certain normalcy, my feelings of envy, anger, resentment and even guilt began to fade. To be truthful, I’m not completely over it yet. I still can’t watch those birth stories on television, and baby showers are a little bit difficult for me, but I can mostly put those feelings in the back of my mind.
For many of us, our NICU wounds will never disappear, but they do fade with time. We’re only human, and we need to allow ourselves to feel what comes naturally, for it’s part of the healing process.