Crawling. Walking. Rolling over. First social smile. Grasping objects. Sitting up unsupported. Eating solids. Babbling. Responding to name. The list of developmental milestones goes on and on, each one becoming a source of anxiety and fixation for any parent. When our children reach them, we celebrate and praise them. When they don't, we worry and wonder if something is wrong. The stress of milestones and meeting them can lead to some very heated discussions and comparisons are a hard thing to overcome.
Grey and I have been thinking about milestones a lot with the Beats. Being born premature means that their milestones have been shifted, but there's also the worry that their prematurity has delayed them in some way. To be honest, there's been some stress around this topic, particularly because both children have decided to flip some of their milestones, with them sitting unsupported long before either of them could be bothered with rolling over. But what we've been trying to do (and I've been failing at a lot) is not to push for reaching each ability and recognizing that each baby is different and will reach these goals in their own time and way.
This past weekend Grey and I met up with another couple from our daycare to do some hiking. The weather was gorgeous and all babies clearly enjoyed the scenery (lots of babbling, head-turning and shrieks of delight). As we walked, the conversation turned from infant milestones to milestones in general. The other couple is a few years younger than Grey and me and have only recently been married following the surprise that is now their son. As I talked with this young father, we both reflected on milestones in life and how traumatic it can be to not meet them. What I hadn't thought about was the trauma that can come from meeting them too soon or skipping over other milestones in the process. This young father talked in length about how the arrival of their son not only rapidly changed his relationship with his new wife, but also how it has impacted his other relationships. Particularly hard where those relationships where the other party was struggling to acquire what came to him so unexpectedly.
"It hard, you know." he told me. Pausing to think for a moment before continuing. "On one hand, I want to support my friends during these times where they are hurting so much. But I worry I'll say or do the wrong thing. That by trying to help, I'll hurt them all the more. Then there's the fact that I'm struggling with all this change. And I feel like I can't talk about it because somehow I'll seem ungrateful. I'm not. But it doesn't mean it's any less hard."
During our hike, Grey and I shared our story. We talked about our losses, both of our angel babies and family/friends along the way. We shared with this couple how traumatic it was to not be able to reach the Parenting milestone. How continual failure without explanation truly traumatized us.
But then this young father pointed out something I've also been thinking about, but hadn't been able to put into words. He talked about how ready Grey and I seemed to take on parenting the Beats. "It's like you're fearless of those sleepless nights and the nursing strikes," he said.
The truth is, we are. After all, we had fought so hard just to be able to get a chance at this opportunity. And we are both very aware of those around us who struggling harder and for longer who never get this chance, making each of these moments so much more precious. In a strange way, infertility has prepared us for the unknowns that come with parenthood. Sure, we knew it would be hard and there was no way to predict how, but the one thing we learned is how to survive moments of uncertainty and hardship. To find joy when it would be tempted to focus solely on the negative.
Equally true is how traumatizing it can be to hit milestones unexpectedly or easily. In my own family, it was the youngest grandchild who easily became pregnant as a teenager. Though I remember how much she enjoyed the attention surrounding her new status as mother (her parents were raising their grandchild), a few years later I remember well how depressed and sullen she seemed as all her other friends had gone off to pursue university/travel/explore the world. Reflecting now, her reaching this milestone was far from something one could celebrate given her situation.
Since this hike, I've been thinking more and more about how society responds to meeting milestones. On one end of the spectrum is the shaming that happens older women struggling with infertility, with accusations that they waited too long and should have got the ball rolling sooner. But on the other end is the shaming that happens to single mothers. Or the stigma associated with choosing not to parent. Nevermind the myriad of factors influencing each of these outcomes and roads, what people consistently measure is the milestone and the order it is reached.
The place I struggle is how to resolve all of this. In the case of the couple we hiked with, though change came quickly, I'm certain they will ultimately be fine. They had been together for years prior to the arrival of their son and built a foundation for their family that will stand the test of time. But most aren't in a similar situation. In a lot of cases, there's a reason society pushes for milestones to be met in a particular order. Similar to why meeting developmental milestones within an appropriate time-frame is important.
For now, Grey and I are working with the Beats on their milestones. Praising them both as they roll, shift their balance to reach objects, try new foods and develop their pincer-grasp. And as I work with the Beats, I reflect on my own milestones, which now include learning to let go, focusing on what is instead of what should be and even relearning how to be more patient and forgiving with all around me.
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