02 July 2014

Two Different Girls

The first difference I notice between my two girls was their hands. Their hands and their feet.

It’s a weird thing to notice, I know, but it’s true.

Eleanor’s hands and feet look like mine, just littler. Like God was holding the “shift” key when He was making baby-sized hands.

Abigail’s hands and feet are wider, her fingers and toes shorter. When she was born, I didn’t know they weren’t normal. There are lots of special looks that babies’ have, like the recessed chins, the chubby cheeks, the barely-there eyelashes. They’re baby characteristics that are eventually traded in for more defining, person-specific characteristics. I thought Abigail’s appendages would mature, just like the rest of her little baby self. It turns out it’s a Down syndrome-thing. Like her little moon eyes when she smiles.

Abigail on the left and Eleanor on the right. Ignore how much better of a job the nurse did of capturing Abigail's than I did of getting Eleanor's. Notice how much taller and thinner the hands are? How much thinner the fingers? Notice how high the arch in the foot? How high the little toe dots are from the foot?

My girls are different. But while everyone’s kids are different from one another, the world considers the ways in which Abigail is different from Eleanor to mean she’s inferior. There is a wildly popular song out right now called “All of Me” and the chores says, “’Cause all of me/loves all of you/…/All your perfect imperfections.” That’s how I feel about it. I love Abigail’s cute feet and moon eyes. I love the way she says, “trwe” to mean “three” and how we communicate in our own little sign language that no one else gets, modified by the limits of her fine motor skills. Her little things the world declares imperfections – they are the quirks that make her who she is. And I love them because I love her.

It’s hard to explain the differences. In part because the way Abigail does things is my normal. I didn’t realize how passive she was as a baby until Eleanor. All the doctors and therapists were and are so amazed at how amazingly Abigail progresses, how strong she is, how great she is at problem solving. I don’t fully realize how all their disclaimers, for a kid with Down syndrome, truly impact the statement. Abigail is very strong for a kid with Down syndrome. But now I am realizing now how large the gap between her and typical still is. I can already tell, at less than two months old, how much more…typical…Eleanor is. Even the way she coos is different than the way Abigail cooed. Eleanor sounds like my friends’ babies, moves like my friends’ babies. It’s like an adult, but with the limitations of a baby’s size and coordination. Abigail does everything a little different. And I’m realizing day by day that she’ll probably always do things a bit different. Just like her little moon eyes, she’s probably not going to outgrow her passive, withdrawn, yet somehow flirty, nature.

The older Eleanor gets – she’s 7.5 weeks – the more I notice that holding her is like holding other people’s kids when I only had Abigail. She’s strong – she bears weight on her legs, she really tries to hold her own head up, she moves her head to study the world around her. And cognitively, they are already very different. Eleanor strives to get my attention, she imitates my emotions, and she’s already trying to smile. She even laughed her in sleep last week. She also looks proud of herself when she does a particularly good job at something, like holding her head up or holding her own weight.

Abigail never seemed pleased with herself for hitting a new milestone: sitting up, pulling to stand, walking for the first time. It was like she didn't realize what she'd done. She was a quieter baby, a better sleeper, wwwaaayyy more flexible. Eleanor is more sensitive to touch, fussier, and clingier (and I thought Abigail was bad at the time).

Really the best way I can explain it is that Abigail is a manual and Eleanor is an automatic. If you take your foot off the pedals of a manual, your car will just sit there. It waits for direction, for momentum. In an automatic, if you take your foot off the pedals, your car will creep forward a bit. Propelled toward movement by something internal. But they are both still cars. And they still take you from point A to point B. And therefore, they have more in common than in differences.

* * * * *

It does feels a bit unfair to compare the two girls’ developmental timelines because Abigail had a delayed start due to her heart condition.

You see, Abigail’s heart defect meant that her heart had to work significantly harder just to keep her alive. All of Abigail’s energy was poured into just staying alive, so she didn’t have enough left over to stay awake, let alone practice holding her head up. I was reading through old posts and looking at newborn pictures of Abigail in preparation for this post, checking to make sure my memories were accurate. And I realized that Eleanor at one and a half months is very similar to Abigail at about five months.

But it actually makes a lot of sense. Abigail had surgery at 2.5 months of age. Give her a few weeks for recovery, then give her a month and a half to grow? That puts her at about five months of age. If you deduct the time Abigail spent in “heart failure coma,” the girls are actually surprisingly similar developmentally. They even weigh about the same at those two ages.

Abigail at five months of age, Eleanor at one month.

In some ways, I hope this post is a bit confusing and even a bit contradictory. Why? Because that's how I feel like my life is when I try to analyze it. "My girls are so different! Except they are more alike than different!" "I am noticing differences already! Except they are developing at the same pace sans the heart surgery!" Oi. And getting new experiences changes the old experiences. Like, I thought Abigail had a lot of hair. Until I met Eleanor. I thought Abigail was fussy. Until I met Eleanor.

But I'm relishing the differences. Seeing Eleanor grow is a heart-filling experience in itself, plus remembering it against Abigail's childhood gives me a chance to re-live the best parts of the past. Getting to know my girls, differences and similarities, is the best part of being a mom.


Amelia Bentrup said...

I love the automatic vs. manual transmission. And, your right...this is somewhat confusing..but that is what makes it good.

And, I think just about every parent thinks their first kid is fussy/hard/difficult until you get another kid that is fussier, harder, more difficult, etc.

Aunt Ellen said...

Loved your post and I agree with Amelia - automatic vs manual transmission - great analogy! They have a a talented mom/writer raising them - one who defines "loving mom"...Aunt Ellen