Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Have you ever blamed yourself for what happened to your child?
I recently finished a book that's taken me months to read, This Lovely Life. A writer friend of mine knows the author, Vicki Forman, and recommended it to me. It's taken me a while to read because I sobbed every single time I read it. Literally sobbed over a book like I've never sobbed before. The author had twins, Evan and Ellie, born at twenty three weeks gestation who each weighed a pound; this is her memoir.
I have to admit, I don't typically want to read books about ailing or disabled children. I've got a few of these books on my shelf that I keep meaning to get to, but then I never feel like it. There are plenty of real-life moments where I get distressed about Max; I don't need that pain in my reading material. But I was sucked into Vicki's book, and then I had to keep going. It is so honestly and powerfully and beautifully told, its emotions all too familiar—the anger, the grief, the disbelief, the resolve, the heartbreak. It is a book worth the pain it may unearth.
One passage in particular choked me up, the part where Vicki is waiting to hear from doctors about her newborn twins and she's thinking about what she could have done differently:
I shut my eyes to the memories and began a ritual then, in my vigilance, that would accompany me during the next days and weeks and even years, one where I rewound the clock to the moments prior to my walking through the hospital's sliding glass doors that afternoon, as if by staying awake and rewinding the clock I could also change it all, have the story turn out differently. The moment I felt those dull pains, earlier that morning. I call the hospital before noon, I don't wait until I am bleeding. Or earlier. Saturday night. We'd been out to dinner and I'd been almost unable to climb the steps to the restaurant. Why didn't I turn to my husband then and say, I think I need to go to the hospital? Why didn't I recognize my pain as signs of labor?
This passage took me to a painful place, one I hardly ever go to. The place where I wonder if anything I did caused Max's stroke. Factually, what caused it was a loss of oxygen during birth. But that hasn't stopped me from thinking the worst. One thing in particular stands out.
In my seventh or eighth month, I spray-painted the medicine chest in our bathroom. The label said you shouldn't do it if you were pregnant. But I was in extreme nesting mode, determined to have the house "done" before Max came along (we moved in here in August, he was born in December). I was super-prego, full of energy and enthusiasm and excitement. I was in glowing good health. And so I repressed my better judgment, put on a face mask, opened the window and I spray-painted that chest. It took maybe five minutes. As soon as I was done, I regretted it. If anything happens to the baby, I thought, I'll know it was this. Yes, I thought that. But I didn't really think anything would happen. Certainly not anything as insane as a baby having a stroke, a bilateral stroke that's the cause of Max's cerebral palsy.
A doctor I once met with told me the only other moms he'd met whose babies had strokes were moms who'd smoked crack during pregnancy. And I thought, Well, that pretty much absolves me of any responsibility. I also thought, Go to hell for telling me that.
I know the five minutes of spray-painting did not cause Max's stroke. I told our neurologist about it years ago, and he basically said it was crazy talk. It is not something I regularly ponder or feel guilty about. But it is the one black speck of doubt in my mind and it will always be there, no matter what the facts are.
I hope, I really hope, none of you blame yourselves for your children's issues.
Photo by leonrw