So I make an appearance at this party over the weekend. Lovely party, lovely people. Granted, I wasn't feeling awesome, so I may have been slightly touchier than usual. I meet several new people and the universal icebreaker is,
"Congratulations. When are you due?"
I think it's so cool. Instantly, I have something in common with millions of people. Then said strangers (who happened to be a mother and father of 2) out of nowhere launch into their "birth stories" - the unsolicited, unwelcome stories of how their two little ones arrived in this world. And trust me, the stories didn't go, "And it really wasn't as bad as we thought it was going to be." And this is by no means this first time this has happened to me, either with birth stories or tales of parenting that will challenge even the strongest of stomachs.
Imagine if you will, that after meeting someone who has recently been diagnosed with MS , I immediately respond with:
"Oh my God. It totally sucks. I had seven relepses in the first two years. None of the medicines worked for me. Pretty soon I couldn't walk without a cane and one arm was totally paralyzed. And the constant nerve pain and pain from spasticity - It's so unbelievably awful."
C'mon. Really?!? Can you imagine me saying that to some newly diagnosed person who has barely learned to pronounce "multiple sclerosis?" Of course not. I would never do that, because that would be unbelievably cruel and insensitive, right?
No matter what facade these people are trying to maintain, I know one thing with 100% certainty:
They are absolutely terrified.
I also know that they are looking to me, the MS Veteran, for hope and reassurance. New MSers are desperate to talk to other MSers - they need to know that someone else has come before them on this crazy journey. They need to feel that they are not alone and that, somehow, it is going to be alright.
Of course, the difference here is that there are a lot of wonderful, positive emotions associated with finally becoming parents, but let's be honest: We are also terrified.
So what is it about so many Veteran Moms (and Dads) that, upon finding out you are pregnant, makes them immediately want to terrify you further, rather than reassure you? What good does that do? Is it some sort of hazing ritual?? Nothing anyone says can possibly prepare you for the things these people are describing related to labor, childbirth and parenting in general, so why bother scaring first-time parents with the horrific details, which does nothing but keep us up at night worrying ourselves sick.
I can't tell you the number of people who, after hearing our good news, have launched into the unsolicited, gruesome, terrifying stories of their own childbirth experiences. Not just strangers - people that I consider my dear friends do this, too. And with nothing to compare it to (my melanoma surgery was pretty barbaric - does having my head ripped open and put back together like Frankenstein count?) I try to sit there politely and listen, but honestly I wonder what their agenda is. Are they somehow looking for my sympathy? They sure as hell can't be looking for camaraderie and the trading of war stories. Um, hello? I haven't yet been to the war you people are talking about!!!
I have to keep reminding myself that these Moms and Dads must mean well, that they must be truly happy for us and they aren't actually trying to keep me up at night tossing and turning, certain that every awful thing that happend to each of them will, in fact, happen to us. I also have to remind myself that, much like MS, pregnancy, childbirth and even parenting are hugely different experiences for everyone. Poll ten people, get ten entirely different stories.
Nevertheless, if you are a Veteran Mom or Dad, please, I beg of you - for the love of all that's pure and holy - save your terrifying, gory, horrific war stories for after we First-Timers have our little ones safely in our arms. Then you can "initiate" us or whatever it is you are doing and we can all trade our gruesome details till the cows come home.
Just as I was once a terrified, clueless MS Newbie, please try and remember you were all once terrified Newbie First Time Parents, too. And anyone going through such a major life change needs allies and people on their side. We are counting on your wisdom and experience. We're going to need all of you Veterans to turn to when we have 5 million questions about this new person coming to live with us in a few short months.
MS, children, family drama, money problems, issues at work - it doesn't matter what the issue at hand is - mainly we are all just looking to feel like we're not alone. Sometimes all we really want to hear is:
"It's okay to be scared. I was scared, too. But everything will be alright. You are going to be just fine."