The first time I felt it was 9 days after Mila was born.
We brought in our 7 something pound baby to the doctor for her first check-up after being discharged from the NICU a few days prior.
We were anxious to see what she weighed, because like a lot of babies, she lost some weight in that first week. We sat down in the room and the nurse started asking some questions.
She asked, “Does she make vowel sounds, like ahh, ohhh?”
I thought, “What?? Vowel sounds?”
I had an instant feeling of panic- My baby is already not meeting milestones! No she isn’t making vowel sounds! I barely see her eyes (except in the middle of the night) let alone track her vocalizations!
She had a traumatic birth, was separated from me immediately following, and had hours and hours of testing and poking and prodding in her first days of life. She had scans and X-Rays, Ultrasounds and IVs.
I was just so thankful she was in my arms, breathing.
I covered my anxiety with a joke, “Umm, no. I didn’t know I was already supposed to be doing Phonics with her.”
The nurse smiled and acknowledged the ridiculousness of the question, especially after what Mila had been through, but the wheels had already started spinning. Mila had failed the first test, meaning I had failed the first test.
My obsession with milestones increased as she got older and as more things were expected from her.
It began to worsen around 6 months. Mila wasn’t as verbally expressive as I had read she should be. The spiral began. I am probably one of very few people who is not a Speech Pathologist that can explain to you what reduplicated, nonreduplicated and canonical baby babbling is and when babies are supposed to do it.
It didn’t stop just at speech. I was constantly looking for signs or symptoms of a problem, developmental delay or this or that diagnosis. Instead of enjoying my daughter during the day, I was obsessing about utilizing her awake time in the most productive ways – essentially running a Speech therapy bootcamp from our basement. Googling, panicking, researching, seeking reassurance. The cycle went on and on.
Clearly, a large amount of this is related to the wiring of my brain – this is not how I wanted to be spending my days. We have worked through this extensively in therapy and have talked through it at length with my husband.
The thing about OCD and anxiety in general is that their enemy is uncertainty. It wants control and reassurance.
“Just give her time!” and “Wait and see!” are prescriptions for extreme distress.
For me, it is not simply about Mila being “advanced” or “gifted” or “better than” other babies. Sure, seeing the letter boards and long captions about everything a baby her age, or worse, younger, is doing that she isn’t causes me anxiety, but for me, it is much deeper than that. While comparison does steal some joy, it is about more than being ahead of or on track with the pack.
It was, and is, a mechanism of control. A way to keep my hands wrapped tight around the steering wheel, confident in the false assurance of my baby’s canonical and non-reduplicated babbling! This must mean that I have done it right, that Mila is okay, and everything is going to be okay always and forever!
As silly as it sounds written out, if it wasn’t true at some level that I felt that way, then why would I feel despair and panic over simple things like Mila not pulling up to stand?
Life and parenting are full of uncertainties, but in my mind, having Mila meet each milestone exactly as she should served as a guarantee, a certainty that she was going to be okay.
So, if her meeting her milestones means she is going to be okay, then not meeting them must mean the opposite.
Rationally, I can acknowledge both ways of thinking are incredibly wrong.
Mila could meet or fly through every single milestone before age 1, giving me a sense of peace and control, but yet still face a significant health crisis or regression or diagnosis down the road.
The amount of uncertainty is infinite.
Her doing certain things is not a safety blanket or a guarantee that she will be the best, the smartest the healthiest, the safest baby then kid then well adjusted teenager then responsible, faith filled adult that leaves a legacy for generations.
I just want certainty. I want certainty that my baby is okay and will be okay forever.
But unfortunately, no one can give me that. Sure, I hear reassurances that she’s fine and her doctor’s not worried, but I don’t mean that kind of okay. It’s bigger than that. No one can tell me with complete certainty my child is going to be “okay” and no milestone can, either.
Having a baby and loving her is the most painful, scary kind of love. A love that rips my heart out and shreds it and makes it explode and beat harder and feel bigger and more powerful all in the same day.
I have learned how much weight I have been giving these milestones, and more than that, I have learned and been reminded that my daughter is so much more than a milestone.
This all came full circle 2 weeks ago at my daughter’s 9 month well-visit.
I had to answer “No” again to some of the questions.
She isn’t babbling like the charts say she should, and she’s not close to crawling yet.
She’s not saying Mama or pulling to stand. She rolled at 8 months.
She has a low frustration tolerance and a low-medium work ethic, and honestly I don’t see us meeting some of those any time soon.
But yet, she is the greatest little human being there ever was.
They didn’t ask me these things, but,
she chooses between 2 books at nap time by kissing the one she prefers. She can’t wait to see the Owl on the next page and will look at you expectantly when you don’t HOOOOOO! quickly enough.
She lights up a room with her 2 teeth beaver smile, will wave at you to get your attention, and when that doesn’t work, she will clap or raise her hands “SOOOO BIG!” or screech.
She will build the suspense playing peek-a-boo, holding the blanket over her eyes for what feels like 17 minutes before she drops it and grins, “here I am!”
Her smushy, red sleepy face is the best sight in the world every morning, and she immediately will direct you by pointing at the fan and the window and the lightswitch to where she wants to go.
She uses the mirror in our living room to keep tabs on you, to make sure you’re still watching her play.
Her cheek is the plumpest, squishiest, most delectable place to kiss.
She is sweet and silly and sensitive, and even if she never walks or never talks or never pulls to stand, I will love that little girl with my whole entire heart.
I have learned that this is about more than milestones.
It’s about control and certainty. Each and every day, as long as I live, I will have to do the work of opening my hands to the Lord, the anchor for my soul, and not resting on the “reassurance” that everything is okay, but falling face first in front of my only certainty – Jesus Christ.
A “good” day where she performs or does something new cannot be my source of peace- that is simply a false sense of control. Everything in life can change in the blink of an eye – the only way through this parenting journey will be to lay myself down on the only thing that won’t change.
Milestones have taught me a lot. Yes, I have learned more about the development of a baby between 0-12 months than I ever thought possible, but I have also had to take a long trip into the ugly and dark places of my heart. The places that turn to certainty and security and milestones into an idol. Motherhood has taught me more about myself that I ever thought, and highlights many areas of weakness.
I will be continuing to fight this weakness daily. I wish it was as simple as acknowledging it and letting it go, but realistically this is something I will need constant work on
The lesson here is really two-fold. One is that parenting, like it or not, is perhaps the most uncertain path. You are raising human beings with their own wills and souls and decisions and personalities. I can’t even control a baby, let alone a teenager down the road. Clinging to temporary certainties might bring temporary relief, but ultimately not the security I long for. That security will be found in one place.
Secondly, my daughter is wholly loved, regardless of what she does or doesn’t do by a certain age. God has knit her together perfectly. Every quirk and every part of her personality has a purpose and makes her uniquely her. Those are the things I put on repeat- in my mind, in my heart, out loud. She is my daughter, no matter what, and I love her for exactly who she is, and she is so much more than a milestone.