Why do we hide our jealousy away? Why do we pretend we’re happy about other people’s successes or situations when we’re not? Why do we keep the ugly thoughts to ourselves? I guess because we’re ashamed. Because we’re not meant to feel jealous or resentful. We’re not meant to be annoyed or upset that someone else is in a better position than we are. Society is not geared up for that. It’s not ok to not be ok about someone’s progress. It’s not the done thing to express ugly thoughts about others’ achievements.
So when parents of preemies listen to other parents talking about how well their little ones are doing – how little oxygen they’re on, which centile they’re tracking, or their anticipated hospital discharge date – how many of us genuinely feel completely happy? How many of us are fully relieved that these other babies or children are doing well? Outwardly, all of us. 100%. Every face is smiling and every head is nodding in response. Each mouth is saying how wonderful it is that little such and such is doing so well. But I’d wager a good number of us is, in fact, hiding the darker side of our true responses, reactions and emotions. I’d guess that alongside our outwardly expressed happiness, we perhaps also harbour feelings of jealousy, distress, sadness, anger or fear.
I used to sit in the breastmilk expressing room on the hospital NICU ward listening to other mothers talking about how well their babies were doing and feel a whole gamut of negative emotions because ultimately it seemed so unfair that their babies were doing so well when mine was not. I thought I was the odd one out, the only antisocial, unsympathetic, selfish mother there. I was sure no one else in the room ever thought ugly thoughts like mine. They all cooed and smiled and seemed happy and interested in each other’s babies, regardless of how well or sick their own babies were.
But being part of an online group of preemie parents for the last year or so has really opened my eyes. People are often more honest about their true feelings online than they are in person. I’ve read so many parents’ confessions of jealousy, resentment, anger and grief about other babies’ journeys. It’s very humbling, reassuring and refreshing.
It’s great that some of us are able to be more honest about our feelings with strangers online. But wouldn’t it be good if we could somehow be more honest about our true feelings in our face to face interactions too, especially in times of great trauma and emotional turmoil. In some ways it would be more healthy for us all if we allowed ourselves to have genuine reactions and responses, if we permitted ourselves to express our grief, pain and jealousy rather than locking them away.
Sitting feeling ashamed and guilty day after day in that expressing room added another dimension of stress and angst to my already traumatic NICU journey. If another mother had spoken up and admitted some of her negative emotions or responses about other babies’ journeys it would have helped me to do the same. And equally if I had been more honest it may have been beneficial to other mums in the room.
Sometimes it’s ok to be human and to show our true feelings because it gives others permission to express themselves and talk honestly about their feelings. And when would we need this more than in times of crisis and trauma?