As a mum of a 7 year old daughter and 4 year old son, I know that parenting can sometimes be filled with guilt- Did I do this right? I know I certainly did that wrong… And now that we have an angel baby as well, I have found that you can’t escape guilt when a child passes.
On the first day we were in hospital an absolutely amazing midwife told me “Stevie, no matter what, please do not feel guilty, this in no way is your fault”. I said, “I know” and I meant it. I knew and felt 100% it wasn’t my fault and I wondered why she said it. The next day she said again, “Now remember it’s not your fault”. Again I said, “I know” but as the day went on that started to slip from me and what she was worried about started.
My head was telling me the truth- it wasn’t my fault, there was nothing I did that caused this. Meanwhile my heart started to feel that terrible nasty monster called guilt. I started thinking,
Who’s fault was it then? It was MY body that couldn’t keep him in. It was MY body that couldn’t keep him safe.
I knew I couldn’t change it and I knew I would have done just about anything and I mean ANYTHING to change it if I could. But at the end of the day I was responsible for him, and my body gave way. It was irrational and I knew it, but it didn’t stop the feelings and thoughts.
At Elliott’s funeral we stood in a circle around his coffin while immediate family said heartfelt words to him and told him how much we loved him. Among my words I cried “I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep you safe”.
Later my husband said he didn’t like that I said that, he hated knowing I held responsibility over it… but I felt it. I was sorry. So sorry. More sorry than I have ever been and sorrier than I will ever be in the rest of my life.
I hated so much that no matter which way you looked at it, my body was the only reason he was born too early. He was perfect, there wasn’t a single thing wrong with him. He was even bigger than expected. There was no sign of infection, nothing amiss in all the bloods and swabs they did. My membranes just ruptured, no rhyme or reason, and he was born.
I’ve come to terms with this now, and my heart and mind are on the same page again. The words “if love could have saved you, you would have lived forever” ring in my ear letting me know that I did all I could.
The guilt didn’t stop there though. We got home and the comforting feeling that we were “bringing Elliott home” was replaced with the reality that his ashes weren’t the same as a baby. I started to think about every second in the hospital. I realised what a state of denial we were in before, where it felt like our baby was in my arms or someone else’s just asleep. I felt guilty for those moments where our bodies were in survival mode and we didn’t feel sad. I felt guilty for the times between the uncontrollable crying where we laughed.
How could we have laughed at a time like that…how could we laugh when our still baby was in the room?
I thought about the minutes I didn’t spend with him. I thought about the 30 minute shower I took because it felt so good and I didn’t want to get out. Why was I so selfish- why didn’t I have a 5 minute shower instead? I realised that when I was eating dinner I wasn’t looking at him. I thought about the couple of hours I slept each night and asked myself-why didn’t I do more to make myself stay awake when I could have slept when we got home. I felt guilty for every single second I didn’t look at him, hold him, kiss him. Every single second I won’t have but could have.
I never knew the gravity of one second until Elliott was born and now I know it can hold the weight of the universe.
The guilt spread outside of the time in the hospital. Sometimes I watch my other two children having fun and it truly pains me knowing Elliott will never have this, never do this, never share this with his sibling. I get washed over with overwhelming sadness and loss. Then I feel guilty for not just enjoying and being happy to watch these two amazing beautiful children.
On the reverse there are times when I am so happy and I have a lot of fun and joy. Then I feel guilty for not being sad because he hasn’t been gone for that long and I should be sad all the time for him. It’s like I can’t win, no matter what I feel there is guilt lurking waiting for me.
I’m trying my best to adopt the “whatever you feel is ok to feel” attitude. Accepting that being happy doesn’t diminish my grief for him and the sadness for our loss. Accepting that being sad at times of happiness doesn’t make me ungrateful of my other two and doesn’t diminish my love for them. Realising there will be lots of other moments that I will feel that joy even if this one right now isn’t it.
We missed a half a dozen events in 8 weeks. I couldn’t even stay for the first birthday party of my niece, who is like a daughter to me. Each invite that comes up I think I’ll be ok to go, but then it’s just all too much and too overwhelming, sometimes for different reasons. And every time I missed one, no matter how much I understood in my head that this time is so important to take care of ourselves and to not put pressure on ourselves to go to things, I felt guilty for missing them.
Then there’s the struggles of parenting through grief. There’s times when you feel you literally have nothing left but yet you have to somehow find some non existent strength to get up and parent. We are so very lucky to have two healthy children, and there’s nothing I’m more grateful in the world for. But there’s been times when I’ve just wanted to crawl into a hole by myself. So the guilt fills me that I should be cherishing every breath my children take not wanting a break from it.
There’s been times where I’ve totally lost my s**t. I once snatched a board game out of my daughter’s hand, literally threw it and screamed “I just need some bloody help around here!” before storming off to my room and slamming my door shut. All because I was trying to do something at that time, had listened to an afternoon of my children bickering and when I asked her to get a different game they could both play and she looked at me at just said “no”. I cried in my room feeling rotten and like the worst parent in the world. And my guilt got worse that I couldn’t bring myself to go out of the room and talk to them.
There’s even been times where my children have been crying over something seemingly small and for a small instant before I go to console them I think “please not now I can’t do this right now”, because I’m tired and exhausted. Of course, no matter how much I do, how much I console or help put them back on their feet, I feel guilty that I first thought about myself.
A friend told me I need to stop whipping myself over and over. She told me there will be minutes of happiness with my kids that I’ll lose but I’ll get those minutes at another time. I might miss an event but there will be another which will still be a great memory. Another reminded me parenting can be hard at the best of times let alone the worst. And we all lose it, but as long as we try for the most part and love our children that’s what matters. I got reminded that I was only human. And a human who just lost her baby.
I’ve really discovered how awful guilt is. It’s a nasty traitor to your wellbeing. It sneakily and destructively sabotages your thoughts. It eats at your soul. I hate it, I know it, I can recognise it and yet I can’t kill it. So instead I work very hard, very often, to keep it as restrained and controlled as I can. I have to make sure my logic among other things get a kick up the butt to work and fight when I see certain guilts sneaking into my heart. I have to tell myself I’m only human. I have to remind myself that I’m hurting and grieving. I have to tell myself you are trying your best, doing the best you can right now. I have to tell myself things I know to be true over and over again until I once again feel they are true. And I have to try to forgive myself.