Thursday, May 28, 2009

Mom Guilt

We've all felt it. We all know what it is. We all hate the moments when we feel it and hate the things we do to bring it on.

Some Mom Guilt is legit. If you beat your kids, you should feel bad about it. If you don't feed them, you should feel bad about it. If you don't change their diapers, you will end up in jail.

But, more often than not, it's the things we are not doing that cause us pain. It's like we think every second needs to be perfectly used and allocated to education and activities to sharpen the mind and give our kids the competitive edge they need to kick ass in preschool.

Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.

There are some days I let my kids watch more than one show or movie. Plural. Sometimes more than that. Sometimes I don't give them organic milk and I cringe as they slurp it down. Sometimes I give them suckers to shut up for the 3 minutes it take to lick that thing down. Some days we don't practice our ABC's, sing nursery rhymes or do flash cards.

I read on the cover of a book at Barnes & Noble last week, "Einstein didn't do flashcards." That was good news around here.

In my mind, my over-critical-of-myself mind, I find that there is so much that I feel I need to do, need to be, need to give. And when I tally up the score, I lose everyday.

Don't worry, I don't have any big weapons out right now.

Like I said before, many days are just straight survival. I don't worry about Ella as much as I used to and I no longer have to hold her in tears for a majority of the day. We've come a long way, in many areas. But even on our non-eventful days where no one throws up and Ella's head doesn't tilt at all, I still worry about her shoulder blades sticking out too far and feeding tubes being pulled out and calories and calories and calories. Did you know that we worry about calories? Not mine, but hers. Every calorie counts. Guess what happens when she throws up an entire feeding? It takes a 1/2 hour off my life.

And so I don't do flash cards. I'm not always fair when it comes to the length of time out and sometimes I yell. But, I still try to love these guys the best I can and sing them silly songs and tickle them till it hurts and let them jump on the bed. And the shows they do watch all have a good message like "the thrill of stealing wears off the moment you get arrested" and "sharing is nice and it doesn't matter if you hate it."

But, other days the guilt is less laughable. In the darkest moments, it can become unbearable.

I remember a particular night in the NICU where Nick was with Ella and I was "taking a break" in the waiting room, looking up information on Pierre Robin Sequence. This was a pivotal day in my life, as I learned that too much information = not good. I was only intending to get some direction and really understand what I was dealing with here. Instead, I found out that only 30% of kids with PRS will get out of it without having multiple chromosome abnormalities, syndromes, anomalies, blah, blah, blah. I should never have clicked on the "How did this happen to your child?" link. I guess I was hoping it would say "It's not your fault, this is a freak occurrence." Instead, it listed hundreds of theories on why it happened. Many of them, putting the blame on the mother.

I felt so sick that I could have thrown up. Too think, all this trauma that my baby was going through I could have caused. I ran to Nick and fell on the floor in hysterical sobs. I had never been that emotional in my life. I kept asking for someone to help me. I wanted to see a psychiatrist. I wanted to be sedated or hugged or talked to, but it was the night shift, I guess. Apparently, the hospital only plans on you going nuts during normal business hours.

Eventually, after many months and many prayers, I began to believe that this was not my fault. That there was nothing I could have known to do or not do which would have changed this. There is peace in not knowing. When the "specialists" were insisting that we go through genetic testing to "get to the bottom of this," I declined. They accused me of being simple-minded and oblivious. I call it peace. I call it self preservation. I call it "learning to deal with my life and make it through the day in only a handful of pieces."

And so tonight, as I watched my best friend in 4th grade share with anger and regret her birth story, my heart broke. Her traumatic rush to the O.R. and the physical pain she felt, left more scars than the one along her bikini line. Our yoga instructor gave some advice that I will keep with me: Have gratitude for that experience and what you learned through it and who you became through it and then tell it you never wanted it in the first place and release it. Tell it to get the hell out of here.

I asked my dear friend, Merriam Webster, to tell me what she thought about guilt. Here is what she said:
1: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty
a: the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy

I love definition b. I mean, I hate it, but I love it that Merriam doesn't dance around the cold hard fact: guilt is often from imaginary offenses. We have made some of it up in our heads. We've blown it out of proportion. It's not all our fault.

I wish I had a story to tell to end this that would bring you all to tears and leave you inspired. I love when I watch a movie and all the loose ends get tied up in the last few minutes. Dang. Nothing. Drawing a blank.

I will tell you this: if Ella did not have this strange thing, I would have never known what a cleft palate was and would not have cared. I would never have learned of the kids in other countries who literally die and are cast off from their families because of their facial deformities. I would never have suggested that "all donations in lieu of flowers" be used to repair cleft lips and palates. We would never have received a letter from Ella's surgeons organization saying "Thank you, Sharon Sloan!" I would never have known about Pinki and I would never have known it only took $250 to save her life. Maybe you would have never known, either.


Lisa Joy said...

Thanks so much for sharing this, Angie. Like any mom, I too struggle with guilt. Like right now, I'm on the computer reading blogs while my son is happily playing in his room by himself. Should I be playing with him? Should I make our day more structured so he learns something? Should he be in preschool instead of home with me? It's all just a bunch of crap, this guilt that gets placed on us to be perfect mothers.

When you talked about your guilt over possibly "causing" some of Ella's problems, I was again reminded of my own guilt over my 16-week-old fetus that died a year and a half ago in my own womb. I heard and read so many speculations as to what caused it, mostly things that would have been my fault and supposedly in my control: I picked up my toddler too often while pregnant, I didn't eat the right things, I exercised too much, blah, blah, blah. The fact is, these things happen. Period. And God gives us the power to walk through them, knowing that we'll be stronger, more sympathetic people because of them.

I'm glad to see the work God is doing in your own life. Keep allowing yourself to be open to the conditioning.

Liz said...

Good NIGHT, Angie! I read this and couldn't help crying. Guilt is so powerful and paralyzing sometimes. I'm really touched by your stories; how honest you are. People need to know that they're not alone with their crazy thought lives.

Your experience with Ella makes my worst days look like whipped cream, and I say that with the utmost sincerity, realizing that you'd rather not have gone through it in the first place. I'm so impressed by your strength and I feel lucky that you share these stories us.

Best wishes for you, Nick and the kiddos. I hope you have a fantastic summer!

Liz (Miller) Elden

BabyonBored said...

This was an extremely moving post. I am praying for my Sadie as well and I have also noticed the "deaf" sound to her speech (although she only says a couple of words but those words have that tone). Sadie starts speech on july 1st and that will make 7 therapy session a week. Let's hope it someday let's us at least feel less anxious.