Friday, January 25, 2013

Don't Compare Your Children

You hear it from the moment you learn that you’re pregnant with your second child.  You hear it from friends who’ve already been down the more-than-one-kid path. You hear it from child-rearing books.  You hear it from your mom.  You hear it from that little voice that whispers truth to you from the back of your mind.

Don’t compare your children.

You hear it.  You try your hardest to listen. You fail.  Miserably.  Well, you know what I say?  That’s OK.

Practically from their moments of conception, my two children could not possibly have been any different from one another.  In 2002, on our first anniversary, Bill and I learned that our first child was on the way.  Though not high risk, and certainly not as difficult as it could have been, the pregnancy was by no means easy on me.  I had severe morning (and afternoon…and night) sickness for nearly eight months.  By the end of the third month, I had lost twenty pounds.  I was an emotional train wreck, which was a difficult row for someone who is a self-described “robot” to hoe.  Virtually every hour that wasn’t spent working, throwing up, or crying was spent sleeping.  I was a mess.  I hated every minute of being pregnant.  Every minute.  Isn’t that a terrible thing to say?

During a snowstorm on Christmas Eve, two weeks past my due date, after an extremely intense twelve hours of labor (starting with the very first one, my contractions were only a minute apart), I was left with the most beautiful little creature I had ever seen…all six pounds, nine ounces of him.  As soon as we found out we were expecting a boy, we decided upon the name Joshua.  It fit him perfectly.

Josh (about nine months) with my dad (a little more than nine months)

The first six years of Josh’s life were medically tumultuous, to say the least.  Immediately after birth, he had a fever, and his pediatrician was concerned at the “perfect roundness” of his head.  After a head ultrasound and ten days of antibiotics, he was deemed healthy and released to finally join us at home. 

By the time Joshua was two years old, he’d seen a neurosurgeon, a geneticist, a cardiologist, an endocrinologist, a gastroenterologist, a physical therapist, a dietician, and an ENT (an ear, nose, and throat specialist…not a tree-like creature from Middle Earth; as cool as that might have been, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have told us anything). Doctors checked him for a variety of conditions: craniosynostosis, osteogenesis imperfecta, a hole in his heart, cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, and more that I can’t even remember.  Aside from needing physical therapy for a muscle condition in his neck and tubes in his ears, no tests ever indicated that he needed any treatment.  The general consensus seemed to be, “We think something’s wrong with him; we just don’t know what.”

In kindergarten, we got a scary surprise in the form of Josh’s first asthma attack.  It was followed by a more severe attack a few months later that landed him in the hospital for three days.  Doctors finally determined that the asthma attack was brought on by a severe allergy to dogs and exacerbated by undiagnosed bacterial pneumonia, so they gave him antibiotics to treat the pneumonia.  He had a massive allergic reaction. After yet another visit to the hospital and a switch in medicine, we got him back on the right track. Thankfully, though his asthma and allergies still plague him from time to time, his medical issues have slowed way down.

Fast forward to 2008.  After purchasing our first home, and after many, MANY requests from Josh, Bill and I decided the time was right to have another baby.  Given my less-than-desirable experience with my first pregnancy, I had been in no hurry to try all of that again.  However, that spring, we learned that we’d been gifted with another blessing.  Josh wasn’t going to get the sister he had requested, but he was OK with that.  He enthusiastically requested that we name the baby Anakin, since he was on a gigantic Star Wars kick at the time.  As much as we hated to disappoint him, we politely declined.

The pregnancy was an absolute dream.  I had not a minute of morning sickness.  Not one.  My hormones and emotions were completely in check.  I had more energy than I had when I wasn’t pregnant.  The only pregnancy symptom I had was an insatiable craving for fries.  I actually enjoyed being pregnant.

During a snow storm on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, three days before my due date, after an extremely easy 45 hours of labor (yes, you read that correctly), I was left with another angel…all five pounds, fourteen ounces of him (I seriously had beautiful newborns…stunningly beautiful).  We had settled on the name Owen.  Good choice.  He looked like an Owen.  Plus, it pacified Josh, once we reminded him that Luke Skywalker’s uncle’s name was Owen. 

Owen (a whopping two hours old)

Aside from a battle with RSV when he was eight weeks old, as well as some trouble with eczema (which, sadly, both Josh and Owen have inherited from me), Owen was remarkably healthy.  Shockingly healthy.  I didn’t know what to do with a baby that I didn’t have to cart around to every specialist within a 150 mile radius.  I was relieved not to have to take him to the doctor every two weeks just to have his weight checked.  He grew and thrived…he was even chubby!  Josh had never had so much as a lick of fat on him.  I distinctly remember going to Owen’s one year checkup and having the doctor say, “I’m glad you can see how I am when it comes to treating a more ‘normally’ developing child.”  Truthfully, I didn’t know whether to be offended or relieved.  I guess I was a little of both if I still remember it after all this time.  I just couldn’t believe how very different our second experience had been.  Nothing was the same.

Don’t compare your children.

Owen met most of his milestones at basically the same time that Josh had met his.  They rolled, crawled, stood, and walked at virtually the same time.  However, when Owen was about 18 months old, I became concerned that he wasn’t talking nearly as much as Josh had at that age.  I knew that it was a difficult comparison to make, because Josh has always been wildly verbose (to put it respectfully).  I kept trying to convince myself that he just didn’t need to talk that much, because Josh was doing all of his talking for him.  No matter how hard I tried, though, I just couldn’t shake the concern.  At Owen’s 18 month checkup, I brought up the subject with our pediatrician.  He made the magical comment.

Don’t compare your children.

The doctor told me that Josh spoke more than virtually any child that he knew at that age, so comparing them was fruitless.  He asked if Owen could say a dozen words.  I confirmed that he could, and that he could also name all of his colors and shapes, as well as most letters and numbers (something Josh hadn’t come close to being able to accomplish at that age).  The doctor talked me down from my worries, convinced that Owen was fine...maybe even advanced.

At around two, Owen started walking on his tiptoes.  WAY up on his tiptoes.  We’re talking ballerina en pointe style.  I had no idea how he could possibly maintain his balance walking like that, let alone how he didn’t exhaust himself. My calves would have been on fire. Walk on those tiptoes he did, though.  I brought that up to the doctor also, but after a physical exam, he believed that Owen’s toe-walking was more the product of habit and some tight ligaments than anything else.

Don’t compare your children.

Owen continued to grow and thrive, but he grew distant.  He never really looked people in the eye.  He didn’t play with kids his own age.  However, as someone who has battled looking people in the eye for her entire life, and being an introvert myself, that didn’t really resonate with me.  At his three year well-child check, the doctor commented that Owen wasn’t really engaging with him during the exam.  He started in with a barrage of questions: “Does he play with other kids?  Is he loving?  How have his speech and toe-walking gotten?”  After about ten questions, I just blurted out, “I know what you’re getting at.  You can say it.”  One of my absolute favorite things about our pediatrician is that he is direct, and I’ve always responded in kind. He doesn’t beat around the bush, but that day, he was treading very lightly. That was when the possibility of Owen having autism was first addressed.  Though we wouldn’t have an official diagnosis for another four months, I suppose I really knew that day.

Don’t compare your children.

These days, Josh has developed into a relatively healthy, growing ten-year-old.  He’s even a little bit pudgy around the middle.  He hasn’t been to the doctor for an appointment other than a standard checkup in over two years.  My sickly little boy has grown and adapted into a healthy big kid.  My darling Owen, who – up until his third birthday – virtually never went to the doctor for anything other than a physical, now spends a large portion of his life at appointments with doctors and therapists.  I keep thinking that perhaps if I’d been more vigilant – if I’d trusted my gut in some areas and opened my eyes wider in others – we may have been able to address his issues sooner, which could have only been to his benefit.  I think I spent so much time trying to adopt that age-old adage that I failed my child somehow.

Don’t compare your children.

I’m gonna say that it’s just not that simple. Go ahead and compare them a little.  That’s why benchmarks exist…so you can know when something’s not quite right.

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