This photo is exactly how I first saw Callista, though the screen on my digital camera showing the photo Rob took before she left the operating room for the NICU was much smaller.
Guilt is a tricky thing. It’s something owned only by you, and no one else can touch it. No one else can soothe it, no one else can share it. No one else can talk you into letting it go.
I’m not even sure we can talk ourselves into letting our own guilt go. Just when I think mine has left, it drops by for a visit.
The day my triplets were born is a fog. I don’t remember much about the day, and most factual details I do remember is courtesy of others’ memories they’ve kindly shared. The things I remember are my own feelings.
Fear. I knew my water had broken the second it happen. I knew it even though I’d hoped I was wrong. I knew what it meant.
Pain. I had to focus on not lashing out on the nurse who did her job and kneaded my just-operated-on belly.
Purpose. I asked repeatedly until I was finally introduced to the breast pump. I welcomed my new chore with fervor.
Guilt. It drove everything else. It sprang from the fear. It helped sidestep the pain. It fueled my purpose at the pump.
There are few things I remember saying that day. I joked with Rob about his last chance to offer a suggestion for Toby’s name (he wasn’t sold on Tobias/Toby, but he never could think of anything “better.”), and I spelled out the names we’d chosen so he could share them with doctors/families/whatnot in case I couldn’t (spelling isn’t Rob’s thing). I repeatedly asked during the operation if I was doing okay. I had an overwhelming fear of bleeding out on the table courtesy of the gaping wounds left behind by three missing placentas. I’m not sure if the cause is medically accurate, but I know the bleeding is a thing. I was scared, and I kept asking for reassurance that I wasn’t currently dying. I told the nurse anesthetist that I felt like vomiting during said operation. Not scared-vomit feeling but actual, I’m-about-to-puke feeling.
But the thing I most strongly remember and the thing I know I said the most that day was “I’m sorry.” It tumbled out when I heard they were admitting me and beginning delivery preparations.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
At 28 weeks gestation, there’s an 80 percent chance of survival. Statistics say one thing, but experience says another. I’d mourned the loss of a friend’s 28-weeker just months earlier. Statistics didn’t mean anything to me that morning – that perfect, beautiful boy did.
Even if they survived, what life sentence had I just handed them with my failure to stay pregnant? What health issues would prematurity cause? What social issues? What if one were healthy and the others weren’t? What if one wasn’t healthy and the others were? How would my failure to carry them further affect their relationships with each other?
The births came four hours later, and the fears started being ticked away. They survived their actual births. Each fair (and later, good) health report in the days that followed helped ease some of the fear and guilt. Then each poor health report stoked the flames. For weeks, I was continually
surprised amazed by their survival. For months, I feared developmental standstills or setbacks. I still fear ADHD or ADD caused by premature birth.
I’ve let go most of my guilt. Looking back, I can’t see where I could have done better while pregnant. I honestly did my best to safely carry them. Once that ended, I did my best to make up for where my previous best fell short. In truth, I don’t know that I’ll ever give up that mission.
I don’t know what to say when I encounter other mothers with guilt over their own infertility/miscarriage/pregnancy/birth-related traumas. I don’t know what to say because I’ve tasted my own guilt, first with infertility and two early miscarriages then later with premature birth, and I know the uncontrollable urge to apologize, confess and own my role in what happened. My own guilt was eased and lessened with time thanks to good health, and I thankfully don’t know how it would have been different with different outcomes. Our guilt is personal, though, and while I know my own, I don’t know anyone else’s. So while I can’t say, “I know how you feel,” the best I can offer is “I know how I feel,” and turning the spotlight on yourself isn’t exactly proper etiquette when supporting a hurting person.
So I write this here, hoping my words might reach someone who would find camaraderie in my words, advice in being a friend or just extra empathy for humans in general.