Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Woman with Cigarettes in the Stroller

Awhile back, I was reading a post that someone wrote about infertility and some of the difficulties being experienced.  The post really affected me and I have been turning it over in my mind for a long time.  I am not linking to the post here, because although I disagree with what was posted, I understand that this woman is very obviously hurting and I do not wish to turn it into a big internet argument.  I just feel like I have to get something off my chest.

In the post, the woman was very angry and saw a woman with a baby in the doctor's office.  The woman with the baby had a pack of cigarettes in the stroller.  The author of the post proceeded to write several paragraphs about how unfair it is that "someone like that" gets a baby when she does not.  When I viewed the comments on the post, I found not one dissenting voice among them.  Every person who commented agreed with this woman.  They all said things that encouraged her to be angry or validated how she felt to an extreme.

My immediate reaction was sympathy for this woman and the pain she is going through.  Because I remember feeling like that.  Sometimes I still feel like that.  I have a family member that I would love to tell you about.  I am pretty sure I could convince 90% of the world population that this person is unworthy of having a child.  And yet, she has one.  And it is so hard for me to act in a supportive way sometimes when all I really want to do is call her out on it.  These people are family, so the story will most likely never be told on this blog (well, you never know, they could do something to really tick me off just as I am logging on some day).  I read a lot of infertile blogs even though I am not an infertile and I hang on their first beta numbers like they are my own.  To me, there are two types of mommies in the world:  the Ones That Have to Work for a Family and the The Ones That Don't.  Though I haven't had trouble getting pregnant in the past, I have had immeasurable difficulties carrying a pregnancy to term and getting to take a baby home from the hospital.  Therefore, I fall under the Ones That Have to Work for a Family.  That really sucks sometimes; I so fervently wish that it would have just come easily.  I wish Matthew were here with me.  I miss the family that was supposed to be every single day of my life.  I miss the person I was supposed to be.

But here's the thing.  The person I was supposed to be was actually incredibly ignorant, like the mom with the cigarettes in the stroller was perceived to be.  I started smoking at age 16.  By 19, I was a heavy smoker and sick of it.  But quitting was really hard.  When I found out I was pregnant at 22, I didn't know what to do, whether I could be a parent.  I smoked while I figured it out.  I was almost 14 weeks pregnant when I quit.  And I will have to live with that for the rest of my life.  I would never have knowingly hurt my child.  I was just ignorant and alone and scared and I didn't get it.  When you smoke, that is your coping mechanism for everything you are going through.  Stressed?  Smoke a cigarette.  It is an addiction, and a nasty one.  They say it is more addictive than heroin, and even today, cigarettes are still my heroin.  Whenever I get anxious or stressed, there is still a piece of my mind that says, "Go to the gas station and buy a pack of cigarettes."  If I didn't have my daughter and had never seen a premature baby, I can assure you I would still be a smoker today.  I was not motivated to quit solely for my own health.  Oh, and when my son died?  I went back to smoking for three months.  I quit when I quit the birth control pill so that we could try for my daughter.  And folks, my daughter was born a year to the day after I quit smoking.  

Even having struggled with the addiction myself, I judge mommies that smoke.  When I smell a cigarette on a mom with a baby in the NICU, I get angry.  I feel like shaking her and screaming and not letting her touch her baby.  I am proud to say that once I understood, once I really got what smoking can do, I quit.  As a 22 year old pregnant girl, I just couldn't visualize that what was happening to my body at 8 weeks pregnant was going to turn into a real live baby that could be damaged by my choices (and not just smoking.  all choices.).  When each of my children have been born, I have had a moment where I'm like, "Holy shit ya'll! A real person was just pulled out of me!  A real baby!"  When you can't visualize the consequences of your choice, it makes it more difficult to do the right thing.  Or perhaps these NICU moms have a medical diagnosis for their child's premature birth and are then able to shove their smoking into a different category so that they do not associate it with the 2 pound infant laying in front of them.  I just see red because, how can they NOT get it at this point in time?  Seriously.

But here's the thing again.  There are many, many women who smoke during pregnancy.  It is so sad, but it's true.  My grandmothers smoked through a collective 9 pregnancies and never had a single complication.  And today, most women that smoke don't experience a single pregnancy complication.  When nothing bad happens to them, they are able to continue assuming that everything will turn out alright if they choose to continue smoking.  It is ignorant.  It does make me angry.  The same way that it makes me angry when a woman who is 5 weeks pregnant practically takes out a billboard to announce her pregnancy because she just cannot conceive that anything would ever go wrong.  Yet, I do not think that these character flaws make her unworthy of having a child.   

Sometimes, for those of us who've really had to work for it, it is difficult to remember that there is not a limited amount of fertility to be handed out.  There is not a limited number of babies in the world.  I did not lose my son so that some drug-addicted mother could keep hers.  It seems like it works like that sometimes, but it doesn't.  Last year during my first year of nursing school there were two girls who got pregnant and managed to glide through the year and deliver perfect babies right after finals.  I was reminded of my own unsuccessful attempt at nursing school and pregnancy and it hurt.  I left without a degree and without a baby.  Even now, trying to time my next pregnancy so that I can still graduate this spring is a subject that produces a lot of anxiety, anxiety that those two girls could never understand.  

No one gets through life with a free ride, never ever experiencing any difficulties.  Sooner or later, we all have difficulties.  For those of us that have had them sooner, it can be hard to look at other people who get seemingly free rides and are being ignorant.  Yet, I wholeheartedly believe that the woman with the cigarettes in the stroller does not deserve our condemnation sight unseen.  I do not know what she has been through.  I do know that quitting smoking is very hard, and it can produce mood swings that are so violent you feel as though you are going insane.  Insane.  Perhaps she chooses to smoke simply because she just doesn't get it and because she can't cope without the cigarettes.  As long as I don't catch her smoking in the car with her baby, I can leave her be.

I do believe that the Ones That Have to Work For It are, as a group, better parents.  I know I am a better parent than I would've been otherwise, just not a perfect parent.  But sometimes we are all guilty of "not getting" what another person is going through.  I'm sure I have posted things here that other people don't get.  I just hope that I am always somehow able to see around my own emotions and biases. And guess what?  None of the Ones That Have to Work for It are going to end up being perfect parents either.  Even if you are smart enough to be a non-smoker.

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