The sum of all fears

I was lucky. I've said it before, and I will say it again. I was lucky to have had the level of care I did in my pregnancy with A. I was lucky to have had Dr. Best then, and for the subsequent pregnancy too. I was lucky, because in the end I was left with no guilt. I was worried a lot in that pregnancy, and Dr. Best took me seriously every time. Every time. There was nothing we could've done. Nothing anyone could've done. And so when A died, when he was born, when we went home without our baby, we were sad and we were crushed. But I didn't feel guilty.

I can't tell you anymore whether I appreciated the significance of the not feeling guilty right from the get go. I can tell you that one of the first things Dr. Best said was that it was not my fault. He was very emphatic about that, though I told him I couldn't find fault if I wanted to. I understand now that he has seen too many women blame themselves, and I love him all the more for trying to care for me in this way even as I lay there still pregnant with my dead son.

I can tell you, though, that once I was functional enough to find the keyboard, once I found the world of bereaved blogging, I knew. I knew how incredibly lucky I was every time my heart broke for another mother feeling guilty. Guilt over the betrayal of one's body. Guilt over decisions. Guilt over listening to medical professionals who turned out to have been speaking out of their asses. Guilt over a stray remark, over thoughts. Guilt, guilt, guilt. I wanted to take it all away. I knew I couldn't. I didn't know how they did it-- the grief was terrible, overwhelming, heavy enough. To think about others out there having guilt piled on top of the whole shit pile? But it seemed cruel. It seemed too much. I know, and I knew then, that we all carry what we have, that we do it because we have to, because there is no other way. And yet I still feel sad for anyone having to carry the extra burden. If that is you, I am sorry. I am so sorry.


We talk about fears often. There is a good discussion happening on our discussion board now on that very subject. Sometimes we call our fears our crazy. Nothing wrong with a good shot of crazy, if you ask me. But see, I don't think of my biggest fear as crazy. I think of it as a very rational response to my experiences. Can you guess what it is? I bet you can. It's not a thing, really, it's a feeling. I am afraid of guilt.

When I became pregnant with the Cub, I told Dr. Best I needed to cover my ass. I needed to know that every little thing was been checked and rechecked, that everything humanly possible and impossible was been done. Before I was pregnant, when we were gearing up to try again, I told Nurse Kind that I didn't think I was broken exactly, but that another loss would break me. By the time I was pregnant, I knew that wasn't true. I would live and I would function, because, DUH, I'd have to. But please, oh please, I didn't want to think about having to lift the guilt too. 

We got lucky, and the Cub came home with us. Though the aftermath of that pregnancy is still messy and complicated and still doing a number on my head despite over a year of therapy. But even in the here and now, in the non-pregnant world of mine, my biggest fear, I think, is still guilt.

I shudder to hear of a death of a child. Any child. Anywhere. And I'd be lying if I said I never think about some stupid ass accident or some horrible disease taking one or both of my living children away. Or my husband. Or my sister. Or my parents. Oh, I'd be lying. But I'd also be lying if I said those were my worst fears.


Last year JD had a whole load of business trips, some on the long side. His business trips mean various things for the family schedules at different times, but they nearly always mean having to get Monkey from gymnastics at least once right around the time of Cub's bedtime. Which means having to take him with, and can mean him doing a command performance as one of his favorite characters-- Crankasaurus or worse, the Drama Prince-- upon our return home. There's exactly one escape hatch from Drama Prince bedtime, and that is if he falls asleep in the car on the way home. Unsurprisingly, driving back I tend to glance into the rear view mirror, trying to see whether we have liftoff.

So this one time I saw Cub losing his epic battle with the sleepies just before the light where we hang a left, not two minutes from our house. He wasn't out yet, certainly not out enough to be transportable to bed, but it was a matter of minutes. So I drove the long way around. Straight through that light, left at the next, three blocks up, back on the parkway, around the roundabout, take the fourth street, straight, left, and finally right onto our street. You know what I was thinking about the whole time I was driving the extra oh, I don't know, 2-3 miles? The whole barely five minutes of it? While also, I note, having a conversation with Monkey about, I think, her new and improved bar routine? I was thinking, see, how stupid it would be if we got hit by a drunk or sleepy driver while taking the little detour. I wasn't, notice, thinking that while I dragged the Cub with me to pick Monkey up, even though had JD been home, I would've gone by myself. But for that tiny little detour? Yeah, baby, I was. I decided it was because the extra drive wasn't strictly necessary. I didn't have to be there-- I was doing it for convenience. And sanity, but you know, mainly for convenience.


A couple of months ago I was trying to catch up on my reader. I'd fallen hopelessly behind, but now I was trying to come back to blogging (again... sigh). A few weeks before I did the "mark all as read" thing, but since then the reader began accumulating posts again, and so I was trying to scan through those. One caught my eye, a post from a bereaved mother about an acquaintance of hers, and I read every word of it. I could tell from the start it wasn't going to end well-- can't tell you exactly what it was but my spidy dead baby sense was tingling like crazy. Sure enough, it ends with a dead baby. Dead toddler, actually. Which would be horrific any day of the week. But the toddler, see, she died in a bathtub accident. And the thing that made that story so horrific for me, so completely devastating, was the thought of the guilt the parents must now be feeling. Whatever actually happened, whoever was supposed to have been watching the toddler, you know the parents would in the end feel responsible. How could they not? For days I thought of that story, for weeks even. Chill, every time. Frozen horror.

In the world of dead babies on of the horrid things is that we know not very much about our dead children-- likes, dislikes, the sound of their voices, their laughs, often not even the color of their eyes. Not knowing makes the void seem somehow more cruel. Toddlers, they have personalities, adorable little bits of shtick, a sense of humor. To have all of that taken, snuffed out-- must be horrible. But that wasn't what was making me cold and clammy every time I thought about it. I wasn't maniacally hugging the Cub, wasn't imagining what I would do if he was gone. No, I was trying to comprehend how on Earth you get up and make breakfast for your older kids when you should be making it for all of them, and when you don't have to think very hard to feel guilty over her absence.

This is also, I believe, why I was obsessing over that detour-- to differing degrees these two scenarios are about the what if of not being able to escape the blame in my own head. I've told so many bereaved mothers that they are not at fault. And I know had we been hit while taking that detour it would've been the fault of the one doing the hitting, but I also know it would've been hard to convince myself I had to have been there for them to hit.

So I own it-- I am afraid of guilt. I am afraid of the unfixable being my fault. I am used, now, to the weight of grief. I recognize it when it reminds me of its constant presence, when it pokes me in the middle of what had seemed like a harmless conversation at work, at the park, at a store. I recognize it and nod back-- I know you are here, I know you will be here, it's ok. Perhaps I lack imagination sufficient to see myself in that kind of a relationship with guilt. Guilt seems uglier to me, more demanding, it just seems like more. I know we all do what we have to do, and carry what we are given. But I am lucky, and boy do I wish to stay that way.


What is your relationship with guilt? Is it part of your grief or have you too managed to escape it? What is your biggest fear? Is it something you think about a lot or something you do your best not to think about at all?