When Comparison Steals Your Joy

February 3, 2020

comparison, NICU baby, mom and baby, baby hands

It was Teddy Roosevelt who famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Psychologists estimate that 10% of our daily thoughts are comparisons. I would argue that this number seems a little low when it comes to parents.

When my twin pregnancy ended at 28 weeks with an emergency c-section and my babies were rushed to the NICU, I couldn’t help but compare my expectations and my reality. All of the dreams and plans I had for the birth of my twins were crushed. What I had imagined would never be. And if I’m being honest, in those first few days of NICU life, I had a hard time finding any joy.

I had always planned on having professional maternity pictures taken of my pregnant belly, but I did not. On the day my pictures were to be taken, my babies were already born. They were fighting for their lives, connected to tubes and wires, in the NICU. And while I treasure every picture I have of my little preemies while they were in the NICU, these are certainly not the photos I had in mind.

I had always envisioned that when I went into labor, there would be a comical yet sentimental drive to the hospital, but there was not. I was already in the hospital on my eighth day of bed rest. Magnesium sulfate was pumping through my veins, while monitors continuously recorded two tiny heartbeats. Doctors and nurses did everything they could to stop my babies from coming so early, while also preparing me for the realization that it might not work.

I had always hoped for a festive, celebration of my baby’s birth, but there was none. After eight days of hospital bedrest, one of the baby’s heart rates dropped. It was decided that even though I was only 28 weeks along, the babies would need to be born right away. Preparation for an emergency c-section began. There would be no adherence to a birth plan. There wasn’t time to call family. Even after their birth, there was no lightness. Sure, I was happy my babies were here, but didn’t feel much like celebrating with such an uncertain future. NICU rules restricted who could come and see the babies, so visitors were limited.

I had always imagined holding my babies moments after they were born, but I could not. They were rushed to the NICU as my surgery continued. It would be hours until I got to see them again, once I was out of recovery. I wouldn’t be able to hold them until the next day. It would take several nurses to negotiate all the leads and wires and place one baby at a time into my arms.

For me, life in the NICU wasn’t about comparing my experience to other people, but a comparison of my reality to my expectations. This was not at all the picture I had of how my life as a parent would begin. This was not the pregnancy I wanted, nor the birth story I had envisioned. And letting go of a life imagined is very hard.

But if comparison is the thief of joy, then acceptance is the insurance policy. I will always long for the things that I lost. I will always have regrets about my pregnancy and the birth of my twins. But as I began to accept what was outside of my control, some of the damage was repaired. And I was able to recognize joy in places I never imagined before, like inside the walls of the NICU.

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