Comparative Pain

I’m about to get deep, y’all. You might want to turn off the TV and get out your ADD meds for this one. I was watching Reverend Al Sharpton speaking at the 50th anniversary March on Washington (yes, this white heathen woman DOES like The Rev) and something he said made me have something to say, that involves saying the word “shitty” a lot.

I tell a lot of people, including all you lovely folks, about The Boy being early and spending 9 weeks in the NICU. So, a lot of people know what happened, and that, you know, it was a pretty shitty thing to live through. Because of that, I find that when other friends have birth trauma or kids in NICU (which happens waaaaaaaaaaay too often) but their experience is less shitty, like, they only spent a week in NICU instead of 9, they seem to feel like they shouldn’t be allowed to complain to me about their birth trauma or their NICU stay. Like, because my experience was shittier, they shouldn’t complain about their slightly less shitty experience. And they often say apologetically “But I know you had it so much worse.”

Fuck that noise.

See, here’s the thing. There is always someone who had it worse. I know people whose kids are permanently disabled from their prematurity. I know people whose preemie died. Did they suffer something shittier than I did? You bet. Does that mean what happened to The Boy was no big deal? Of course not. The NICU is shitty. It’s shitty if your kid is there for an hour, and it’s shitty if your kid is there for a year. Having something shitty happen to you is shitty, and no matter how much shittier someone else has had it, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t shitty.

AND, I feel like it’s uncool of me to belittle another NICU mom’s pain just because she has it less shitty than me. I think I should be sympathetic and try to give her the support she needs, and not say “Well I had it worse, so you should just suck it up.” So, when a mom says to me “I know you had it worse” in that apologetic way, I always say, “Hey, even an hour in the NICU is shitty.” Comparing our pain to see who’s had it the most shitty is stupid and pointless and creates walls between us. It makes more sense to acknowledge that we’re all struggling, and try to understand the flavor of each other’s struggles, and work together to support each other.

What does all this have to do with The Rev? Well, during the March on Washington this year, he said, “We need all of us together. These bogus arguments about ‘Well, they didn’t suffer like us’ or ‘They are not as bad as us.’ The most insane thing for sick people to do is to lay up in the hospital debating about who’s the sickest. We all need to unite and get well together. We should not be comparing pain. We ought to be strategizing and coalescing for all of us to have equal justice under the law and equal opportunity.”

It was like The Rev and I were sharing a brain.

See, lots of us face challenges in our lives. Some of us have bigger challenges, or multiple challenges, or different kinds of challenges. Arguing about whose challenges are hardest is stupid and pointless and it keeps us apart. It makes more sense to acknowledge that we’re all struggling, and try to understand the flavor of each other’s struggles, and work together to support each other through whatever those struggles are. And that goes not just for NICU moms, but all of us whose lives could be made just a little bit easier if we support one another.