I have officially reached the point in pregnancy where sleep has become elusive. It may be because my tummy has expanded to a size where it is impossible to achieve a comfortable sleeping position without utilizing every pillow in the house (there is officially no room in the bed left for Lyndon). It may be because a tiny human is having a dance party in my uterus… or perhaps trying to perform a C-section from the inside and bust out early (at least that’s what it feels/looks like). It also may be because at 31 weeks pregnant, the impending birth of said tiny human is becoming more and more real, which leads to many a-thoughts… which leads to little a-sleep. It’s likely a combination of all three.
Some of these thoughts are the type that any woman likely has when pregnant. You know the kind:
- This kid needs to get out somehow. Ouch.
- I’m never going to sleep again because clearly my sole purpose in life now is to stare at my baby at every moment to ensure he is still breathing.
- I don’t know how to do anything. My 2.5-year-old niece literally guides me through the process of getting her in and out of her car seat [“Silly Auntie, that’s not right!” followed by, “You did it!” – sometimes.].
- Am I ever going to fit into my clothes again? What will I wear for our newborn shoot?
- Our new local children’s hospital opens the day before I’m due. Where will I even go? I’m clearly going to give birth in a hallway somewhere.
Okay, maybe some of these thoughts are me specific. Nonetheless…
Many of my thoughts are thoughts that I never would have dreamt of having, because there was a time when I never would have dreamt that I would be the future mother of a child with a limb difference. I often find myself trying to predict the types of challenges my son may face due to his difference. Now let me be clear, I am fully aware that this is an exercise in futility, but that certainly doesn’t stop my imagination from running rampant. Here are a few of my more specific musings.
Setting: Pre-school. Circle time.
Teacher: “Everybody join hands!”
My son: Experiences some variation of ‘uh oh’/embarrassment/fear
Random fellow pre-schooler: Responds with some variation of “I don’t want to touch his nub!”
Setting: Pre-school. Kindergarten. Grade 1. etc.
Teacher: “Let’s all count on our fingers!”
My son: Makes it to 7 and has run out of fingers.
Setting: Middle school/high school.
Literally anything. Playing an instrument. Gym class. Social isolation. Middle schoolers are scary.
Setting: His wedding.
Priest/Marriage commissioner: “You may now place the ring on his left ring finger and repeat…”
(Ha, okay, clearly he and his future wife will have discussed a Plan B for this one :p)
I could go on, but I think the point has been achieved. The funny thing is, I actually believe in my husband’s and my ability to raise a confident, assertive, independent son who will be able to handle the types of situations that he will inevitably find himself in. It is probably going to take everything in me to slow my roll and not interfere, helicopter, or overprotect, but I will not do such things, because I wholeheartedly believe that it is a parent’s job to raise an independently functioning human. From the get-go, we will do everything in our power to instill qualities such as perseverance despite challenge, inherent self-worth, and confidence in who he is. His left hand will be a part of his identity, but it will not be his whole identity… not even close.
At this point, I think that I have achieved a decently healthy attitude to combat my late-night musings, but that did not happen overnight. In fact, over the last couple of months, there have been a few incidents where individuals much younger than I have made me check myself and re-evaluate my originally negative/anxiety-fueled perspective…
Shortly after our 20-week ultrasound (prior to the start of summer holidays from my job as a psychologist in the school system), I found myself chatting with a fifteen-year-old student whom I very much enjoy catching up with whenever I find myself at his school (the kid seriously always has the best new Netflix recommendations!). On a whim, I decided to tell him about our unborn son’s situation to get the valuable perspective of a boy in high school.
Me: So, my baby is missing some fingers.
Teenager: Really? Like, for sure? Which ones?
Me: Yes for sure. He has two on his left hand. The pointer and index. The rest don’t exist.
Me (clearly still in a state of non-acceptance): So like, what do you think when you hear that? Do you think he’s going to be bullied?
Teenager (in very matter-of-fact tone): Everyone gets bullied.
Hmm. Well there’s a novel idea. I have ten fingers and that certainly didn’t stop me from experiencing bullying. Solid point.
Me (even more clearly still in a state of non-acceptance): So, like, would you be friends with him?
Teenager (without missing a beat): I don’t know. Depends what his personality is like.
Double hmm. An even more novel idea. A person would choose a potential friend based on his/her personality rather than the amount of fingers he/she possesses. Similar to the idea that we don’t choose our friends based on any single characteristic… hair colour, skin colour, height, etc. (and if you do, you should do some critical thinking about this!). Truth bomb. Ah, the straightforward wisdom of a high schooler. I have kept this simple sentiment in mind every time my brain wanders to all the possible scenarios my boy will encounter where he may be judged. So what?! We’re all judged. Guess he’s going to be more like the rest of us than I thought.
But what about in elementary school when kids have yet to refine their social graces and may be more apt to stare… or question… or point it out in a rude way? Well, I conducted a little experiment. The subject: Elle, my niece who is three months short of her third birthday. We were able to get our hands on a picture book called Uniquely Brave by Trace Wilson, which features a child with a limb difference (like the author, the main character is missing his left hand!). I actually felt nervous the first time I sat down with Elle to read her this book. What would her reaction be to a character with one hand? We read the book through.
Me: “…the end.”
Elle: “Read it again!”
We read it again. And again a third time. No comment about anything hand-related. We took a break to do another activity and a little while later Elle asked, “Can you read the bear book?” The bear book? “What’s the bear book?” I looked at my sister, Amy (i.e. Elle’s mama), questioningly. Then it hit me… “The bear book” is the limb difference book! The story involves the main character rescuing a ball from a cave with a bear in it. She decided that the most defining detail in the book is the bear! Interesting.
I took the book home that night, and approximately a week later, Elle came to visit my house and promptly requested that I read “the bear book” again. This time, after reading the first page (“There once was a little boy who only had one hand”) Elle immediately remarked, “I have two hands!”. SHE NOTICED! It only took six reads! This sparked a simple conversation where I told her that yes, she indeed has two hands, with ten fingers, and her baby cousin has two hands with seven fingers. We then resumed reading the book.
A few weeks later, at her weekly group sing-along class, the leader sang a song involving ten fingers and ten toes. While I wasn’t personally there to witness this, the story brought a tear to my eye when my sister later recounted it. The leader held up one hand and asked how many fingers were on it. Amidst the group chatter, Elle said, “Auntie’s baby is missing a few fingers.” The leader actually acknowledged her, but didn’t respond appropriately (hopefully because she didn’t hear what Elle said), so Elle tried again: “Auntie’s baby only has two fingers on one hand.” Unfortunately, the leader still didn’t hear her as there was now prompting from parents and answers being shouted and the leader proceeded to count to five. My sister validated Elle’s comments herself and the class carried on. I sure wish the instructor would have heard Elle over what I’m sure was a resounding, “five!” from the other tiny participants, but the sentiment remains. This little human didn’t think of missing fingers as anything other than a fact. I’m betting that most children are no different. Yes, they may notice the difference and even question it, but that’s okay… encouraged actually. Because following the answer of “I was born that way”, which I hope my son will, one day, be able to confidently deliver, the curious child will likely move on and think nothing more of the boy with seven fingers. Or just of “the boy”, rather.