“Is She Going To Be Normal?”

July 15, 2013

using the word normal, is he going to be normal, what to say to parents of preemies
Sometimes, when people would ask, the anger I felt at our situation would rise up and boil over in my answer.

“She’s going to be perfect” I’d spit through gritted teeth.

Other times, the weight pressed heavy on my shoulders, bowed and bent under the reply.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. But she’s perfect.” I’d whisper, choking on both the words and the emotions.

“Is she going to be normal?”

Before I had my own child I’d found people too sensitive, the ones who used the phrase “neurotypical.” I lumped it under the category of politically correct, naive to the nuances the word “normal” held.

Afterwards I found I both hated and feared it. Normal. There is no normal in a NICU, there is only alien. My baby even looked like one, when her skin was so translucent that the red light of the pulse ox glowed right through it. When she waved her minuscule hand in our direction it looked like a miniature replica of E.T.

I hated being asked if she was going to be normal and I hated myself for fearing she might not be.

You know, you just know that you’ll love her regardless but when everything about the status-quo shifts all of your hopes and dreams are rocked with it. You rethink everything, including what you used to label normal. Maybe she won’t walk, but that won’t mean she’s abnormal. I see the beauty in her eyes and then bristle at the term “normal” when I hear it used in conjunction with my baby. She was never going to be normal in my eyes anyhow because she is my daughter and I have found her exceptional since the moment I saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test.

We brought her home hooked to tubes and wires and machines and it wasn’t normal but she was home, with us, and it was good. I became friends with the nurses and therapists that were in our house daily and it wasn’t normal but she was getting better and it was good. I often stand nearby and translate her requests, filtering her attempts at words through my voice and maybe that isn’t normal but once they told us she might not speak and now I hear her and it is so good.

If you asked me now I would tell you not to say it, to catch it before it rolls off your tongue and hangs in the air like an omen.

If you asked me now I would tell you to reach for other phrases, “How is she?” “How are you?” “I love you.”

If you ask me now if she is normal, I will still answer, anger abated, that she is perfect. Because she is. I don’t know when the string of complications that began with her early birth will finally unravel or when the effects of it all will unwind themselves from my heart. But I know that in searching to define her I bypass “normal” and flip right to the pages that read “perfect” and “miraculous.”