Normal is such a bad word for it, implying if you deviate then you are abnormal; wrong. Average is just as bad, it sums up boring and event-less lives. Expected means rules and ideal, well we all know things are never perfect. But for the sake of words, normal, is what we imagine life being like and what by and large the majority of people go through.
I think it makes a huge difference as to the specific trauma you have been to, what the outcome was and the lasting effects, besides those emotionally. If you have a physical or mental daily reminder, it will be a lot harder to move on. Even if you don't, it is sometimes underestimated how your life is shaped as a result. It can impact on relationships, working abilities, faith, personal views, goals and beliefs. It makes you reevaluate your life and it's meaning. After my father's health took a turn for the worse, he went from being a traditional agnostic cynic to practising Buddhism, haunted by the idea of mortality and knowing how close he brushed it. Conversely, my mother who was more of a believer before has since cut all ties with faith as she cannot reconcile that the cruelties in life have any place with a divine plan. Practically, their lifestyles changed as my father took on less work although my mother has now ended up taking on more, which at first she found positive but has since put a strain on them. At the beginning, the trauma brought us all closer as a family but as time and recovery went on, my parents' relationship came under pressure. They both had very different takes on things and were both dealing very differently and in quite insular ways, and consequently would take their frustration at coping out on each other. It was quite sad to see that something that had initially shown how much there is to live for was beginning to drive a wedge.
Eighteen months later, when my daughter was born prematurely it brought everyone closer together again, and thankfully has stayed that way. Having this second situation so soon was a shock and I think my parents were united in feeling helpless, the way that when my father was ill, my mother, sister and myself were all very close knit as wanting to take care of him and each other. However, as well as this renewed show of support, it has also made me feel isolated in different ways. I have now been through something that none of the close people to me have, and there is nothing comparable. They don't know and can't imagine the pain I went through, both in Neonatal and then PICU. I imagine it must be a little how my father felt; feeling numb to everyone else and suddenly being part of a 'secret club' that your loved ones cannot join. I think I would have coped a little better if I hadn't so shortly after neonatal returned back to intensive care when Wriggles had pneumonia. It both triggered the raw memories and drowned me in a world of hopelessness, fear and fragility. I just could not connect with anyone or anything, and my world completely stopped and hung in the balance until Wriggles began to show signs of fighting the infection, and finally came round from the sedatives. During that period, a host of incredible friends, my mother and mother-not-in-law saw Wriggles in that state, but whatever they felt was a fraction of what I did.
And unfortunately that is something that survived much longer than any infection or hospital stay. After bringing Wriggles home that time, I remained on a high alert for a long time. I began to flounder, losing concentration and motivation and would frequently hear the noise of the ventilator; a very specific pattern of beeps. It is a noise that I will never ever forget. I hear it far less now, only when I consciously think about it or when I am very stressed out or upset. But there was a time when it near constantly rang in my ears and all I could think of the moment the crash team burst into the room. I found it very hard to disassociate my beautiful baby from the vulnerable patient, and swung between a fierce pride of how far she has come to despair that she had ever experienced all the things she had. I felt very alone as a mum. Not only would I frequently have panic attacks, especially in public and when talking to other parents, but I was convinced they knew I was pretending to be like them. Of course I wasn't, but the feeling that I was a fraud to their circle of lovely twosomes was overwhelming. I wanted to shout from the rooftops about what we had been through and paradoxically forget it all.
It is coming close to a year ago now, and thankfully I am a much better place. Times, cuddles and giggles with my daughter, counselling and medication has helped to clear the fog of my mind and separate reality from fiction. It has not gone, but just been reorganised. I still crave talking about it to try and achieve some understanding, although now it feels like a bad dream. Every now and then I do dream about a similar situation and wake with a start and a sick knot in my stomach. What I have found difficult is making people understand that it has changed and shaped my views on life. Everything is very now, and yet I am very consious of the past. It will always stay with me and on bad days can shoot me down like it was yesterday. People feel uncomfortable when you talk about hurt, human desire wants to make things better. But sometimes you need to admit pain and to have it acknowledged, rather than have it shrugged off with "but it's ok now." Yes, it is ok now. But you can't just erase the past in a sentance. Time is a great healer, and everyone has their own clock. What may be months for one is years for another. I have found it easier as times goes on to talk with other parents and realise that I am 'just another mum', which for me is bliss. I am becoming at peace with the fact that moving on is not denying what took place, but a new page so to speak.
I feel 'normal' on the surface, but I know that truly inside me is our story. And that is not a normal one. I would not say I am an 'abnormal' mum or person as a result, but definitely changed. I don't know what happens next or how the next few years will pan out. I know that it will be different to how I imagined pre-children, and I know I will think differently and see the world differently. But I hope that in my 'new normal' it stays stable and only goes upwards. I am not convinced that anyone's life has the decency to follow a straight line of normality without a little deviation. Trauma or inconvenience, it is impossible to plan 100%.