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Question of the Month

Dealing With Guilt - I feel so guilty. How can I get rid of this guilt that I'm responsible for my loss?

Ann DouglasFrom Ann Douglas . . .

The guilt feelings that we often experience after miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death are our attempts to make sense of something that often makes no sense at all -- the fact that some babies die.

I remember going through this very same soul-searching (and guilt-dredging!) process after my daughter was stillborn, second-guessing all my actions during my pregnancy and wondering if I had inadvertently done something that caused my baby to die. Was it the fall that I taken on the stairs early on in my pregnancy that had caused a knot to develop in her umbilical cord? Or was I guilty of harming my baby because I'd spent a sunny summer afternoon doing somersaults in a hotel swimming pool with my other children? I felt that somehow I must be responsible for her death. After all, I was this baby's mother. Wasn't it my job to protect her?

I was only able to stop beating myself up about my possible responsibility for what had happened after having a frank discussion about the circumstances of my baby's death with my doctor and my midwife. Each pointed out that the knot that formed in my baby's umbilical cord could have formed at any time of day or night and that I had no control over those actions, so it was unfair -- and unhealthy -- for me to hold myself responsible for my baby's death. They also reminded me that I had done everything within my control to give my baby the healthiest possible start in life and that I couldn't ask anything more of myself than that.

I hope my answer helps to bring you some peace.
Ann Douglas

Marilyn HeavilinFrom Marilyn Heavilin . . .

I have not met a parent yet who has not felt at least twinges of guilt when a child dies. With my child who died of SIDS, I blamed myself for not recognizing certain symptoms, when my 17 year old was killed by a drunk driver I was certain it was my fault because I had missed that evening's basketball game.

First, I sat down with an understanding, non-threatening friend and shared all of my thoughts. I let that person reason the guilt out with me. Actually, I had observed some changes in Jimmy and even insisted the doctor see him. What I have since learned is that no one can stop SIDS, even doctors. My friend reminded me that I was an extremely protective and cautious mother. I had made sure the doctor saw Jimmy that evening.

With the child who was killed by the drunk driver, my friend listened to my feelings of guilt and then said, "Suppose you had gone to the game that evening; you still wouldn't have been driving the car that Nathan was in. Remember this was the only game you missed all season. You had a legitimate reason for not going to the game. You are a very loyal and supportive mother."

Once my friends assured me there was no legitimate guilt, the only thing left was to forgive myself. I suggest you do this with a friend. You can either speak or write the words. "You are a good mother. You would never knowingly or deliberately do anything to hurt your child. I forgive you." If you write those words, then take the paper and tear it up or burn it. Then write in a Bible or a frequently looked at book, "You are forgiven."

Much love,
Marilyn Heavilin

From Laura Randolph . . .

Something that has helped me deal with guilt is to reword it as regret. To me, guilt has the impression of purposefully doing something hurtful while regret is wishing things had been done differently so the outcome would be different. I try to remind myself that even if something I did caused my sonís heart defect, I did not do it purposefully and I would give anything to know what it was and to be able to go back and change it.

Rewording is a small thing, but after years of guilt, it is the single most effective way for me to deal with feelings you are describing. Hopefully it will be of help to you as well.

Laura Randolph


By Dezign