There are a few amazing blog posts out there about what to say or not to say to a preemie parent. Here’s one of those statements that I would absolutely include on my version of a “what not to say” list:
God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.*
We’ve all heard this phrase before and many of us have probably even used it to comfort someone in times of trouble, loss, or grief. My own experience would suggest that it may not be the most comforting phrase to use in a traumatic situation. Even before I had Jack, this phrase never sat well with me. I didn’t understand why God would choose to give some people more heartache or pain than others, whether they could handle it or not. After our traumatic birth experience and the following stressful NICU time with Jack, this phrase was one that was not well-received by me, but I kept quiet because I knew whoever said it meant well (I hope). All I could think was, “Why did God choose us to handle this? Why not someone else?”
About a year ago, I got into a discussion it was mentioned that I seemed angry and was it possibly because I felt I was given too much to handle? My immediate response was “No,” yet I could feel myself get angrier by the second. I’ve been honest and said it many times, this experience with prematurity was not what I signed up for when I chose to be a parent. But, I AM handling it (and pretty well, I’d like to think). While this journey is not at all what I expected, it IS being handled. I’ve made sacrifices, like leaving my career and not leaving the house for days on end, and struggled with desperation and PTSD. But, again, I’m handling it and I’m actually enjoying it at this point. Jack is such a joy to be around! Sure, it wasn’t great that I missed out on the third trimester and didn’t get to take my baby home for 112 days. And it was distressing to think that my life was also at risk. Those things sometimes make me sad. But they don’t make me angry. But what IS awful is that Jack missed out on a third trimester and a healthy start, which is so unfair for HIM (more than it is for me), and will always, always make me angry. He was given more than any tiny human being should ever have to handle – he wasn’t comforted or held by parents every night when he needed comfort the most, he was left every day for the first four months of his life, he had tubes shoved down his throat and blood drawn from his head. I could go on and on…and yet he is only 2 years old. So I ask – is this what people mean when they speak this phrase? That God gave him this journey with prematurity? That God really thinks Jack (and other premature babies like him) can and should handle all of this?
Premature birth at 28 weeks
Interrupted development of his brain, lungs, skin, etc.
3 heart defects: PDA, VSD, PFO
Hypotension, Acidosis, Hyponatremia
112 days in the hospital
11 days intubated on a ventilator
Almost 8 months with a feeding tube
Over 20 shots and/or vaccinations in less than 2 years
Chronic Lung Disease
2 years of Occupational Therapy
1.5 years of Physical Therapy
1 year of Speech Therapy
Diuretics and Steroids
10 months of respiratory support
Twice daily breathing treatments
Apneas and Bradys
So, God gave Jack ALL that to handle? Really, we are going to put that on 2-pound baby? What kind of God does that? (Please know that I believe in God…I just DO NOT believe what this phrase implies). Of course, we all know that Jack has handled all of that, and most of the time with a smile on his face. And because he is such an amazing, strong little boy, he could probably handle even more. But, he should not have had to handle anything close to it. And because he has "handled" so much already, has he hit the quota and we no longer have to worry about what's next for him? I can only hope. I get that God might choose an adult to handle tough, traumatic things. But a baby? A fragile, premature newborn? I just can’t comprehend it. So no, I’m not falling for the “God won’t give you more than you can handle” phrase.So yes, there is anger. It’s not at what happened to me, but what happened to my child. Anger that this little boy was given more than any human being should have to handle. Was I given too much? Maybe, but I’ve handled it and would again and would handle even more if necessary. But he...he was given too much to handle, at 2 pound and even now, at 2 years. And that’s all I have to say about that. Amen.
*By the way, “While this phrase sounds very positive and affirming, you will not find ‘God won’t give you more than you can handle’ anywhere within the pages of the Bible. It simply doesn’t exist.” (from http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2009/07/20/everyday-theology-god-wont-give-you-more-than-you-can-handle/)