When it comes to being competitive, I’m on the extreme end. Doesn’t matter the topic, I love to win. When we decided to have a family, I was ready knock it out of the park. I was going to WIN at being a mom. From pregnancy to delivery, breastfeeding to solids to all the milestones to follow. I was ready to put my all into this next phase, being a mom.  

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Plans go out the window

My blood pressure skyrocketing was the first chink in my chain. I developed severe preeclampsia at 26-weeks and c-section was a must for both of us to survive. My daughter was born 14 weeks early weighing only 1lb 1oz and couldn’t breathe on her own. Breastfeeding was not an option for months. In fact, being my daughter’s primary caregiver for the first 4 months of her life wasn’t even possible. She was a sick baby with many obstacles to overcome. So far, I was definitely not winning.

Adjusting to the world

After 126 days in the NICU, our daughter was finally able to join us at home. I saw my opportunity to recover and “get back on top.” It was early December (read flu season), so other than leaving the house for doctor appointments, we laid low until May of the next year. During that time, I did my best to stay connected with friends whether through coffee dates or text messages. My best attempts at connection kept me sane during this period of survival mode. What I wasn’t prepared for was how the normal mom-chatter would affect me.

“Is your child sitting up yet?”

“How much does she weigh?”

“What size of clothes is she in now?”

“When are you starting solids?”

“How often does yours nap?”

The list of questions goes on, I won’t bore you. You all know them. Harmless questions! But they weren’t harmless for me. As a lifelong achiever, always ready to compete, I knew my kid would *ace* all the milestones. Non-achievers might call this twisted, but I’m just being honest.

Preemie or not, a play-to-win mindset will not get your far in motherhood.

Trying to win a losing game

As weeks passed, it became clear my daughter had some developmental delays. I saw friends’ babies, born around the same time as my daughter doing so many more things than my little girl. Thankfully, her physical therapist would remind me of her adjusted age and I’d regain hope.

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But before long, babies of other friends born months after my daughter (closer to her adjusted age), were passing her, developmentally. The feelings of hopelessness began to return. Some days I’d push her to achieve, other days I just wanted to quit. All the while, friends would check in, asking more questions.

They were truly harmless questions only meant to connect and see how we were doing. Since she started out so rocky, it was all coming from a loving place! But those questions began to break me.

So not “winning”

I found myself leaving playdates and sobbing the whole way home. Or unable to respond to a text message because the reality was far too painful to share. Friends commenting about frustration they encountered as their littles developed would tear me a part. Before long, I’d reached a place of complete shutdown, not wanting to leave the house. Feelings of failure and the inability to rescue my daughter from this pit filled me. I hated our situation and I hated prematurity for causing it.

Thankfully, while still in the NICU, I got connected with a group of other NICU/preemie moms. A network of moms who understood how I felt and the struggles I would experience as a new preemie mom was at my fingertips. I’m grateful I have them to help me balance the “normal” with the “prematurity.” But let’s be honest, what’s normal anyway?

What God taught me

As time passed and stress over my daughter being behind was at an all-time high, God worked on my heart. As a competitive woman, watching her not top the charts, or even reaching them, weighed heavy on me. Failure is something I run from; if I’m not going to do it right, I just won’t do it. But what do you do when that’s not an option? I can’t give her back or just say, sorry I’m not going to be her mom because she’s behind.

I’ve spent a lot of time in prayer over this entire situation. Begging God to change my heart and help me to let go of these incredibly tight holds over something that truly doesn’t matter. He showed me my friends who were asking these questions weren’t trying to hurt my feelings or show me how they were winning. All they are doing is trying to connect. And isn’t that all we try to do in life? Find common ground and build upon it. So why wouldn’t we do that as moms?

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As I peeked my head out of my hole of “preemie mom”, I began to see I’m not the only mom who struggles. We are all freaked out that we might mess up our kids. We are given curves and norms to help, but not for us to worship. Someone will be at the top, someone and the bottom and a whole bunch of others in the middle. Our children are not just statistics. They aren’t simply the percentile of a curve.

Finding peace

I’ve learned to take that information with a grain of salt and to take myself less seriously. I have found it so freeing to laugh and play with my daughter rather than stress over which milestone she’s reaching that day. She’s taught me she will do things in her time. As I let go of all the “shoulds”, I get to see the real her, not her number. When I don’t focus on the numbers, or milestones or curves, I stop worrying about how we measure up. I’m not concerned with winning.

I’m not sure I would have learned this great lesson without the battle with prematurity, but I’m grateful God has used this hardship to help me grow. By overcoming this need to compete to win, I’m a better mom. And I’ve learned I have a pretty cool kid.

I know I’m not alone in this competition. We all ask the questions and the ones that sting for each of us are different. For me, I must remember where it comes from. I don’t want to compete with other moms, I just want to be in relationship with them. We do that by sharing common ground. Let’s encourage each other and let our kids be kids. We won’t let them fall behind, but will agree they are all more than the numbers on their charts.