|By: Mara Stein, PSY. D.|
|Pregnancy, by its very nature, stirs up intense feelings in parents-to-be. You hold ideals, dreams, hopes and fears close to your heart regarding the course of pregnancy and childbirth. You wonder at the miracle growing inside you. You dream of a perfect pregnancy and hope for an easy delivery. You assume that it will occur after nine glorious months. When you deliver prematurely, your dreams are replaced by unexpected and frightening events that violate the way that it is "supposed to be" when a baby is born.|
Guilt. In a society that believes mothers are all responsible, and doctors, vastly powerful, the premature birth of a baby is unthinkable -- it must be someone's fault. So when a mother gives birth prematurely, she may naturally wonder if she is to blame. Although these feelings are intense, and very common, they are rarely grounded in fact. Our desire to understand the reasons for premature birth is natural -- but the search for reasons sometimes leaves us feeling guilt-ridden. No matter the explanation, you may find that you continue to feel angry at yourself for what you believe is a failure on your part -- a failure to have predicted the crisis and averted it.
Premature birth is a crisis. When the emergency occurs, it is normal and natural to wonder if you could have done something different. What if I had known that those cramps were contractions? What if I had insisted that my doctor see me that morning instead of the next day? What if I had not exercised that day? What if the doctor had identified my medical condition sooner?
These torturous questions are attempts to feel some sense of mastery, even if it means blaming yourself for the early delivery! It is a constant struggle to accept that there are things that we cannot control and to cope with the anger that we feel as a result. In order to give up our self-blame, we must also accept that we do not have total power over what happens to us.
Having a premature baby means facing this reality. As parents, we naturally want to protect our children and shield them from harm. Being unable to stop an early delivery, or knowing that delaying delivery might further endanger either you or your baby may leave you with the feeling that you could not "do it right." You feel like a failure at something you see others complete with ease: a healthy, full-term pregnancy. You feel as if you body has let your baby down.
Whether your baby needed weeks or months of intensive care, you are confronted with the loss of your dream. This was not the scenario you had imagined. This was not the baby you had planned. You agonize over what might have been.
As the realities of your child's medical situation begin to sink in, your mind spins with a cyclone of thoughts and feelings. As you are struggling to understand what is happening to your child, you may feel guilty for some of your reactions.
You may feel guilty for feeling that you have lost something when your baby is fighting so hard to survive. You may feel guilty for considering that your baby's death would end her suffering. You may feel guilty for not being superhuman -- for not spending endless hours in the nursery, for hating the breast pump, for needing a break
You may feel guilty for having a "normal" conversation, or for enjoying time spent with other children or a friend. Once your baby comes home, you may feel guilty for sometimes wanting someone else to care for him after all the time he spent in the hospital, away from you. Tormented over the things that we could not control, we struggle mightily to wrench it back. We set standards for ourselves that are impossibly high, as if to make it up to ourselves or to our babies.
Our guilt feelings reflect how angry we are that we couldn't make our wishes come true -- no matter how hard we tried. We wish more than anything that we could have changed the course of the pregnancy. We wish that we could have safely kept our baby (or babies) in-utero longer. We wish that we could protect our babies and prevent them from struggling and suffering. We wish that the myths about parenthood and medicine were true that if we only wished hard enough, and tried hard enough, that we could magically make things better - back to the way that they "should have been."
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