Comparison is not my friend, though we are very familiar.
I find she’s more like a monster, and on some days, she threatens to swallow me whole. I have to be careful about Comparison. When she comes around, I have to guard my heart.
She was always near in the weeks after my son’s birth. You see, James was slow to gain weight. At his two-month doctor’s appointment, we found that compared to other boys his age, he was very small. In fact, he was so small that he was in the first percentile for his weight. (Isn’t it a little sad that we begin our lives being compared to one another as a measure of normalcy?) Our pediatrician labeled him an “outlier” and kept a cautious eye on his development.
I constantly stressed over James’s weight. We were breastfeeding exclusively, and I wanted to keep it that way. I loved the bond that breastfeeding created. I believed nursing provided more than just food. I believed it also gave my son comfort, security and a tangible expression of my love. I knew that supplementing with formula was an option, but I’d heard that it often cut the breastfeeding relationship short, and I was determined to breastfeed as long as James needed it. I felt in my gut that this was the right thing for us. He was the picture of health in other ways – so active and alert – but I was constantly comparing his physical size to the size of my friends’ babies.
Many of my friends had babies whose weight soared above the 90th percentile. I saw pictures of their delightfully chunky babies and compared their sweet, chubby bodies with James’s small frame. I compared the mothering styles of my friends to my own. What was wrong with my baby that he gained weight so slowly? What was wrong with me, his mother, that I couldn’t make him gain weight faster?
James and I slogged through those early months painfully. Though I had a deep conviction I was doing the right thing by my son, I constantly worried about how much milk he was getting. I nursed him every two hours, if not more frequently. My friends talked about clogged milk ducts, the struggles of milk oversupply and the rigor of nursing their babes every 3-4 hours. I longed to have those troubles. I let the incessant nagging of Comparison steal my joy during that precious, fragile time.
Comparison likes to sneak in when we’re most vulnerable, and boy, was I vulnerable. I let her sneak in through the cracks of my uncertainty. She fed on my fear. And she grew to be my constant companion.
Despite the presence of Comparison, we made it through those difficult first few months. James continued to grow slowly, and as he grew, I saw more and more of his personality emerging. He loved to make noise and constantly wanted to move, whether it was trying to climb up my shoulder or army crawling across the floor. I learned his quirks and his preferences, his favorite ways to be held and the toys that best captured his attention.
It seems obvious now but as time passed, I realized he was just his own little person. I realized that he was unique, not only in how he was physically built but how he was mentally and emotionally wired. My friends’ babies grew, too, and from a distance, I began to see that they had their own personalities, their likes and dislikes. I realized trying to fit my baby into normal wasn’t necessarily good or healthy.
I think for new moms, and probably for doctors, too, it gives us a sense of reassurance when we see a baby falling into the normal range. Whether it’s sleep, eating habits, size or reaching milestones, we want to feel like we’re hitting the mark. But we can’t measure our sense of worth by our children’s behavior. Just because they fall outside of the normal range does not necessarily mean something is wrong. Different does not have to equal bad or failing or falling short. Sometimes different is just . . . different. That’s all.
I had to recognize that James’ being different, being small, did not make me a bad mom. In fact, with time I came to realize I’m actually really good at being James’s mom. I know him better than anyone else. He trusts me more than anyone else. James and I both know I have what it takes to love him well.
As this truth sank deeper into my heart, I became more confident as a mom. I found myself more secure in who I am and in who James is. That sense of security meant less fear, less uncertainty and overall, less room for Comparison.
Comparison shouldn’t have a place in our relationships, or in how we view each other or ourselves. I wish I could go back and tell my fearful, insecure self that everything would work out. But I can’t do that; I can’t go back in time.
What I can do is hold on to this truth for the future: I am enough. My son is enough, just as he is. It’s okay that he’s different than other kids. Those other kids are different in their own ways, too. I know there will be times to come when I am tempted to believe I don’t have what it takes. And my fear and uncertainty might leave the door open to Comparison. But my hope is that when Comparison comes knocking again, I’ll realize that I’m better off without her.