Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Guilt of the Preemie Mum

Motherhood and guilt, it would seem, go hand in hand. If you type "mother guilt" into google as I just have there are reams and reams of articles about the guilt that comes with being the mother of a child.

Having a premature baby, however, can bring us into a whole different relm of guilt, because, in our minds, as mother's we have fundamentally failed the first rule of motherhood. "Keep your baby safe until its time to be born".

I do not think I have met a mother of a premature baby who has not felt, very keenly, this acute sense of guilt. "It is all my fault", "I am responsible for this". It is a very difficult emotion to deal with. Sometimes it can be reinforced by comments from doctors, nurses, midwives, family or passers by! Once you have had a baby you become public property and advice and comments come from all directions.

I recall a fellow mum of a premature baby seeking advice from her GP about her baby's reflux. And he said, somewhat off-hand "well its your fault for not keeping her in long enough". He did apologise, thankfully, and it wasn't until he discussed the issue with his wife, who yelled at him, that he realised quite how hurtful his comment had been. He had merely been matter-of-fact, that the reflux was severe as the baby had been premature, but hadn't realised that the way he said it was accusatory, and very unhelpful.

When I was towards the end of my NICU journey with Joseph I had copped a few comments from different sources, and was feeling very sorry for myself and talked to my favourite nurse about how guilty and how responsible I felt. One of the nurses sat and listened, and she gently said "I've only met one woman who could really say it was her fault. She had had a number of premature babies, and each time she'd pierced her membranes with a knitting needle, so unless you have done that, move on, it is not your fault".

What also helped me was meeting other mothers of premature babies. Would I say to one of my friends "this was your fault?" and the answer is a resounding no I certainly would not. I wouldn't say to a pre eclampsia mum "this was your fault" as it quite clearly is not. Pre eclampsia is a pretty indiscriminate finder of folk, thin, fat, normal weight.... None of us knew when we decided to get pregnant that this was our future, or any of the other complications that can cause prematurity.

On my travels I found this piece about mother guilt . The last point is just perfect, and I want any of you struggling with guilt to read this and change your self-talk.
Change "Guilt" to "Regret"
A simple semantics change could make a big difference. "Try substituting the world 'regret' for the feelings you now label 'guilt,'" Adams says. "Regret requires no expiation--simply the realization that you did the best your could in the situation..........."
 I regret that I had pre eclampsia and that Joseph had such a tough start as a result, but I am no longer guilty.

This wasn't my fault, and it wasn't yours either.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Kylie, for such beautiful and helpful words. x