Hello, My Name is Guilt

May 1, 2013
My first Mother's Day. Also Day 63 of Tucker's NICU stay. We got to take off his CPAP gear for 2 minutes of this picture.

My first Mother’s Day and Day 63 in the NICU.

I pushed the elevator button for the 7th floor. The doors opened, we stepped off and started the familiar walk past the waiting area of balloons and flowers. We didn’t need to stop at the receptionist desk, they knew us. We stopped giving our parent code two months ago. We did not have to show our hospital bracelets. The ones we still hadn’t taken off, they were the only sign that we had a baby and they were worn and tattered. The receptionist immediately buzzed us in to the scrub room. And then she said it. “Happy Mother’s Day!”  I smiled. It was my first Mother’s Day.  It was also Day 63 of Tucker’s life in the NICU. On a day that I should have felt overwhelmingly maternal, I felt something else.

The day was special of course; there were footprints and picture cards that Tucker’s primary nurses had so thoughtfully made. There were Mother’s Day cards taped to his isolette that my husband had given the nurses the night before to “plant” throughout the day, made to look as if Tucker had mysteriously left them. I was, at times, happy and sentimental. But there was something else. It was just under the surface of my thoughts, nagging me in the still moments of that day. That familiar thought that creeps into every preemie mother’s mind when she spends a day with her baby in the NICU.

You know her, probably all to well. Her name is Guilt. And she is chatty. She makes you believe that you, and your defective womb, are to blame for your baby’s struggle. She won’t leave you alone in the NICU or even after you come home. She tells you things like, “he wouldn’t be suffering if you could have carried him longer.” She convinces you that your body failed this baby. She whispers to you as you watch your 2 year old in physical therapy, “she wouldn’t need therapy, if you had known those were labor pains, silly.” She mocks you in the waiting room while your baby is in surgery, “your faulty uterus is the reason he is in that operating room”. She invades your memory and blames you for the loss of your angel.  She is relentless. She can be brutally harsh.

And she’s worn out her welcome. Come to think of it, she was never welcomed in the first place.

It is time for us to let go of preemie mom guilt, forever. This Mother’s Day is the perfect time. Let logic take over when guilt creeps in. Logic, by definition is, “the interrelation of facts or events seen as inevitable.”  Say what? That’s right, it says inevitable.  The inevitable outcome of your preemie’s existence cannot be changed by the amount of guilt you carry. In fact, guilt can really be a pesky intruder to our lives. It can start to bend our perspective of reality. So together, let’s show guilt the door and let her go. Give logic a chance. She’s a nice girl.

Logic will tell you that you are not to blame. Logic will tell you that there is no way you could have known the issues that would develop with your difficult pregnancy. Logic will tell you that you carried your baby as long as you possibly could. That his early arrival was inevitable given the facts you knew in that moment, at that specific moment in time. Logic will whisper to you at therapy, “look how awesome your preemie is, because you give him everything he needs to succeed.” Logic will tell you what your doctor, friends, husband and family have been trying to convince you of for a long time-it is not your fault.

If you need a little more nudging to help you let go, connect with other preemie moms to talk through your guilt and together, make the decision to mark guilt off the invite list. Or consider therapy to help you surface and release the guilt. It can be overwhelming at times. Every preemie mom has her own history and journey with guilt. We all have felt it. Let’s make this the year we don’t give her a place in our lives. You did everything you could to get your sweet baby safely ushered into this world. There wasn’t more, in that moment, you could have done to change the outcome.  Don’t let guilt creep in this Mother’s Day. Take the day and cherish the gift of being a mama, without fault. Make peace with your womb and let go of the guilt. You rock. Happy Mother’s Day.