The difference between 'he's so tiny' and 'he's come so far' is a SuperMum cape...
For the first 6 months of James’ life, I was constantly anxious about his weight. I’ve written about this before – it was consuming, and it was magnified by the comments I received every single day from strangers about how ‘tiny’ he was. I would defend him, telling people our story and explaining that he was ‘technically’ only X weeks old. Some people got it, and others continued to say ‘but I just can’t BELIEVE he’s 4 months’, like…yes dear you’re right, I’m lying to you. Gotcha! Sometimes I’d even have to remind people who already knew our story that James would take a while to catch up, because, you know, that whole thing where he arrived 10 weeks early and he was fed through a tube & fought for his life. Remember that? It frustrated me so much, not only that I had to justify his size, but that it actually made question myself. I knew the situation and I also knew it was completely normal, yet I still wondered if maybe I was doing something wrong and James really was too small. I went to our routine appointments and the doctors time and time again told me he was doing amazing (not just good…AMAZING) and I felt reassured for about 24 hours, until someone else compared him to their X month old. It was a constant cycle of Scott reminding me that James was putting on huge amounts of weight each week and he was settled, happy and definitely not hungry, to being struck down by a random who asked me if I was feeding him. Yes, I’m completely serious.
So when James caught up and moved onto the charts for his actual age (and not just scraping the bottom – he was in the 50th percentile!), I was so excited to finally be able to confidently say his age without following it with the usual ‘but he’s technically…’. I was sure I was done with the insensitive comments and I would never have to justify myself again; I mean, he was now just like every other 11 month old, right? But how wrong was I. A couple of weeks ago, I attended a friends baby shower where I knew there was going to be another boy about a month younger than James – I had previously had to ‘remind’ his Mum that James was ‘technically’ 6 weeks younger than her son, but no, she didn’t seem to listen. Anyway, here I was all confident that I wouldn’t get the judgement this time and I walked in beaming like the cat that got the cream. Within minutes I was hearing the same comments…“he’s SO small, look at him next to X, did you know he’s OLDER than X”, and on it went. This time, I was still frustrated (and pictured myself spear tackling her to the ground), but I realised it wasn’t because it made me feel like a failure. In fact, I realised it wasn’t about me at all! Some people just can’t help themselves. It wouldn’t have mattered if James was born full term or even if he was the size of a small house, this Mumma would have compared. She clearly just can’t see past her own child and the sun that shines out of his bum, and while she probably doesn’t mean any harm, she just can’t seem to conjure up the much nicer (and positive) phrases such as ‘he’s grown so much’, or ‘look at him crawling now!’
This theory was confirmed when a week later at a market I had another Mum (this time a stranger) do similar. The difference was her sister had a premmie, so she should really know better. She walked up to James and seeing my stand selling premature baby milestone cards, asked if he was prem, how old he was and how early he was. I was excited to hear that she clearly comprehended what ‘prem’ meant and confidently replied (again feeling proud as punch with my shoulders up high) ‘he’s 11 months old and was 10 weeks early’. I was sure this was going to be the time I was praised for how well we had done, and I was selfishly ready to boast about my little hero. But instead, I was met with that face - other premmie Mum’s will know what I’m talking about…that shocked ‘oh but he CAN’T be’, ‘are you sure’, ‘why is he so small’ face. That half grin where you can literally see their brains trying to muster up a friendly response, but instead they come out with ‘oh but lucky he’s cute’. Again, I’m not even kidding. After that initial pause where she looked sympathetically at James as if we never feed him, she 100% responded with ‘BUT lucky you’re cute’ and squeezed his cheek. Cue me again picturing myself spear tackling this woman to the ground and this time pulling her hair. I couldn’t believe it. I can still see my chin falling to the ground and my mind doing a 180 and being too stunned to even snap back at her (I did manage a ‘he’s healthy which is all that matters’, but oh the things I could have said!) Thankfully, about 30 minutes later, I was reminded that there is good in the world! Two lovely men who run the market walked up to me and asked the same questions, also connecting the dots that James had arrived early. THIS time, I was given the chance to boast. One man initially guessed his age to be a year (can you imagine my heart bursting with love), and the other responded with ’10 weeks early, oh my gosh he’s doing so well!’ I wanted to run up and hug them both and stroke their hair!
I guess you can all see where I’m going with this. If only we were all so open minded and willing to show compassion, the world would be a much better place. Mum’s would stop questioning every little thing they are doing, and instead start to actually BELIEVE they are the champions that they really are. I know people reading this will be thinking ‘oh but it’s clearly just women…they are always judgemental and compare’, but I don’t believe that for a second. I’ve also had other Mums who I’ve never met before and who don’t understand premature birth, tell me that James is a true miracle, they have sat and listened to me tell his story with their mouths gaping and instead of responding with ‘I can’t believe how small he is’, they said ‘I can’t believe how far he has come’. And I’ve had Dads constantly ask me James’ weight (I’m talking every 2 weeks, like mate, really?) and then say ‘oh X has already overtaken him’. We all know as parents that every baby is different – we say it 100 times a day, it’s our way of concealing the fact that we have absolutely no idea what we’re doing! So let’s start putting that wisdom into our actions. You can see from the above situations just how shattering a thoughtless comment and just how inspiring a kind remark can be, so next time you find yourself thinking ‘oh that baby should be crawling by now’, or ‘that baby is overfed’, instead consider what you actually know about their situation and if you really truly believe what you’re thinking. I can assure you that your mind will change pretty quickly and you will instead think ‘oh that baby is already waving, how clever’ or ‘that baby has the cutest rolls, I want to squish them’ (I mean honestly, does anyone actually NOT love baby rolls and does anyone really think you can overfeed a baby!?) Ultimately, you have a choice: you can either choose to ruin someone’s day and make them question their role as a parent, or you can choose to lift them up so high that they spend the rest of their day walking around with their SuperMum cape on. It’s up to you.