Comparison is the thief of joy. My son was just a few days old when this quote from Theodore Roosevelt appeared in my Instagram feed.
I was sitting there, in the early hours of the morning, breastfeeding Vance Jack in the hospital bed and checking my phone. I was desperately trying to stay awake so I wouldn’t start to nap while he was attached to my chest. It was another one of those decisions we never thought we’d make as parents, to hold a phone near my baby’s head or falling asleep onto him? Well I chose the iPhone.
And as I flicked past those words boxed up neatly on my Instagram feed I looked down at my tiny newborn son and realised that they were exactly what I needed. Somehow, they had found me at just the right time.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
Because it was while I sat bonding with my son, I felt a tremendous grief that I didn’t get these moments with my daughter.
The overwhelming love and calm I had for my baby was very different to my experience just 19 months earlier.
Florence had burst into the world three weeks before her due date and full of surprises. Failing to breathe, she was taken to intensive care while the experts checked her over. Hours later and still without my baby I was delivered the news that Florence’s extensive vascular birthmarks were likely the tip of the iceberg for her and my husband and I then banded together to face weeks of tests to determine the extent of her challenges. Even then we had very little idea what lie ahead. There was no path forward for us other than to grieve the idea of the baby we could have had and to fiercely love the one we do. Now that I can see our beautiful, funny and caring little girl explore her world I can confirm it was the (equal best) day of our lives but it was very nearly the worst.
That’s why we entered into our second pregnancy and specifically Van’s birth as a giant bundle of nerves.
“I can still place myself there, exactly in that moment, when relief flooded my body and the dam wall holding back all of those feelings and tears crumbled.”
I went to bed that night with pains but ‘nothing serious’ and woke to bed sheets soaked through. My waters had broken at 38 weeks.
It was 4am and my husband was already at work for his breakfast TV shift, my daughter was sleeping in the next room and I started having contractions.
I called my husband, convinced that I may have wet the bed. He just laughed and said ‘it may be a bit earlier than we expected but I think we’re having this baby today.’ I knew deep down that he was right.
I called the hospital who said I could stay at home for the time being, so I tidied our toy-ridden house (after a quick calculation that the in-laws would be needed for toddler duties quick smart), packed my daughter’s bag for day care, put my suitcase in the car ready for hospital and had a cup of peppermint tea. I guess on some level I knew this would be my final moments alone for a long while so I planned to make the most of that last hot cuppa.
At 6am I woke Florence, dressed her and shovelled some Weetbix into her sleepy little mouth before we bundled into the car.
On the drive to day care the contractions started to get stronger, the gaps in between more predictable, so it was a big relief when we arrived early and one of the carers ran out to take her inside. The sun was only just creeping up into the sky and it was clear and beautiful, this was the day, his birthday and I was starting to get excited. As I parked the car and walked over to the labour ward I kept touching my tummy and feeling the baby’s little wiggles and squirms.
“I’m your mummy baby and today I get to meet you!” I told him.
Matt had found a last-minute replacement and arrived a short time later as they prepared me for a C-section.
I’d had an emergency caesarean with Florence so I felt very calm and relaxed about the whole thing. The contractions became more painful and by the time I was prepared for surgery I was overwhelmed by the anticipation.
Everything went smoothly through the epidural, many of the theatre staff had helped deliver my daughter as well and they greeted us like old friends.
“How you came into this world is of no consequence, what matters is that you are here.”
The anaesthetist asked us what type of music we wanted to play during the operation. We both laughed loudly because we didn’t care. Soon we would meet our baby boy!
We were wheeled into theatre and the paediatrician stood frozen. He recognised us from the birth of our daughter. He had cared for her during her trip to the neonatal intensive care unit. He reminded us of the first precious moments stolen by circumstance and following days of heart-aching worry as we waited to hear if our baby would be OK.
The paediatrician’s expression was pained and he came over close to my head where Matt sat holding my hand.
“Are we expecting this to happen again?” He asked, nervous.
We just shook our heads and squeezed each other’s hands tight and before we knew it there was a deep-voiced scream and a pink, long beautiful baby boy raised high above the blue curtain. There was nothing but joy when Vance Jack entered the world.
He cried loudly but he wasn’t distressed, it was as if he was talking to us. Telling us he was fine and everything was going to be OK.
I can still place myself there, exactly in that moment, when relief flooded my body and the dam wall holding back all of those feelings and tears crumbled. The worry was gone.
It was OK, he was OK.
They wrapped him tightly and I was taken through to recovery where I could breastfeed him for the first time. It was heaven.
So, it seems strange that such a perfect experience would make me feel sad and I can’t explain exactly why it’s so, but I hadn’t realised what we had missed out on the first time around until we got our calm, easy birth.
I love my daughter more than I could ever explain and her entry into the world is still equal first as the best experiences of my life.
But along with the inexplainable high of meeting one of your greatest loves, there was an amount of grief for what we had missed out on. A little part of me felt that worry and pain again as we relived the mirror image of that experience but with sunny weather. Same place, mostly same people, except this time I had my baby curled up on my bare chest, as it was meant to be.
We live in a world that encourages us to constantly compare, to better ourselves.
I realised that I had spent so much of my life setting goals and achieving them, making lists and checking them off, setting plans and following through. The problem with that though, is that the best parts of life don’t follow that script.
The best days of my life were like surfing, like waiting for the surge of an uncontrollable to take over and offer me the opportunity to respond. I’ve never been an amazing surfer. I probably peaked at 18 years old, but I’m hoping this parenting gig is something I can keep getting better at.
“I realised that I had spent so much of my life setting goals and achieving them … The problem with that though, is that the best parts of life don’t follow that script.”
What I realised was that some days, sometimes, there is nothing else left but to surrender and enjoy the moment for what it is.
One birth may have been easier. It may have been infinitely less stressful but both were the best days of my life.
So, I don’t know a lot about American politics. I know Theodore Roosevelt was known for being masculine and something about the Panama Canal and that’s about where my sleep-deprived history class ends. But that night in the hospital bed as I cuddled my baby close and smelt his intoxicating newborn scent I had to agree with Roosevelt. Comparison can be the thief of joy, but only if I let it.
So welcome to the family Vance Jack! You are loved. Sometimes aggressively by your big sister! I promise to love you fiercely and to make sure your sister doesn’t crush you with her forceful cuddles.
How you came into this world is of no consequence, what matters is that you are here. We will treasure you and your sister, we are the lucky ones.