Like most people, I have always had a rocky relationship with guilt. I really wish I could just break up with guilt permanently and be done with it. Unfortunately, that relationship just won’t end. Several years ago I called a truce with guilt. I accepted the mistakes my younger self made and then I moved on. The past is the past, right? So why continue to feel guilty about things I cannot change? I am not the same person I was 5, 10, or 15 years ago. I have learned from my mistakes and have become a better person.
But what happens when you feel guilty about something you didn’t have control over? I had control over my actions in the past, but not the death of Elliot. Shouldn’t there be less guilt over something that was out of my control? Under normal circumstances I would not feel guilty about something I did not do, or had no control over. I called a truce.
Elliot’s death was not normal. When a baby passes away, the natural sequence of death from one generation to the next is completely thrown off. I was supposed to die before Elliot.
As soon as I heard the shocking words “I am sorry. There is no heartbeat,” I learned just how ruthless and volatile guilt can be. It latched on again and even today refuses to let go. No matter what I tell myself, it is always there.
At first, I was consumed by my guilt for not being able to save Elliot. My body failed her in the worse way possible. I was so angry with myself for “allowing” this to happen. I thought Ben would be so angry with me. This was all my fault so he would end up hating me; I was sure of that. I hated myself in those first few hours, before I really understood what was happening. My baby had died. It was my job to help her grow and to protect her. I felt that I had failed so horribly as a mother. I know better now. And of course, Ben does not hate me. I know I did the best I could, and Elliot did the best that she could. Her death really was out of my control. It would not have mattered if I skipped that last pedicure, or didn’t try acupuncture as a way to induce labor naturally. For the most part, I have worked through this guilt. I think it will always linger. But I don’t feel as consumed by it as I once did.
Since guilt doesn’t give up so easily, I have found other things to obsess over. No matter what I tell myself, the guilt is still there. Maybe by releasing it into the universe, it will release its hold on me. I can’t go back and change anything. I should just focus on the positive things, right?
There is a constant inner dialogue between guilt and reason in my mind –
I feel guilty that not everyone in our family was able to meet Elliot.
But time and location would not allow this. You have found other ways to share Elliot with everyone.
I feel guilty that I did not take Elliot up onto my chest as soon as she was born. I wanted to do this when she was alive. I should have done skin to skin regardless.
But her skin was so fragile when she was born. It was better to have her cleaned and wrapped first in order to protect her skin.
I feel guilty that I did not sing to Elliot when we were in the hospital. I just didn’t think of it.
But you read to her and told her how much you love her as she rested in your arms. She heard you sing to her when she was alive. It is okay that you didn’t do it that one time.
I feel guilty that we didn’t take more pictures of Elliot when she was born, by herself and with others.
But you do have some photos and you will cherish those forever. It was hard to think about anything beyond what was happening at the time.
I feel guilty that we can’t see Elliot’s face in the photos with Ben.
But you still have photos of them together. It was so late and you both were too exhausted to think about these things. You were focused on Elliot being in your arms and soaking up every one of those moments.
I feel guilty that we didn’t try to wash and dress Elliot.
But remember, you were trying to protect her delicate skin. She was warm and comfortable in her blankets.
I know I am not alone in these feelings. I know other loss parents, especially mothers, constantly struggle with guilt. At some point, we have to try to let it go. I know Elliot isn’t upset with me about anything. So maybe I shouldn’t be upset with myself either.