The Trouble With Mom Guilt

IN THE NICU, WE WEAR MOM GUILT.

It is the one fashion piece we never leave home without. We are draped in it. It is all consuming and it is dangerous. This guilt rests firmly on our hearts and in our heads.

We feel it in our whole body.

“They say it’s a broken heart…but I hurt in my whole body.”

The trouble with guilt is that it won’t go away; it’s always there. We blame ourselves for things that were and have always been beyond our control. My NICU mom friends say it never really goes away. It’s always in the back (or front) of their minds. When they see pregnant women, newborns, or baby’s on facebook it just reminds them of their own guilt. It reminds them of their own failure. Logically, we know we didn’t fail – the goal during any pregnancy is to birth a baby. However, emotionally, it will take some time to really accept the fact that we did not fail.

This may not be your story, and that is perfectly okay!

Many moms have confided in me that they feel like failures and that their bodies definitely failed them. They feel guilty about not carrying their babies to term and not being able to protect them while in utero. I allow them to feel how they feel when they are in my company, because our feelings belong to us and no one can tell us how to feel. Or what to feel. They didn’t need permission, they needed a safe space. Many of us still do.

We feel guilt. Gut-wrenching guilt that eats away at you and drives you to consider doing things you would not otherwise consider. Or do.

All corridors lead to guilt

Remember how, in anticipation of a pregnancy, you would think about all the things you wouldn’t do once you were actually pregnant? You resolved to not eat certain foods – even foods that were not on the ‘do not eat’ list, you were determined to not drink certain beverages – you even gave up coffee or tea. Or both. That is no easy feat. Still determined to get everything right, you decided it would probably be best to trade your stilettos for ballerina flats and that you should not be in charge of changing the kitty litter – because you probably heard or read that cat feces is harmful to pregnant women.

Once you have a premature baby all those things start to haunt you. It’s not uncommon to replay every second of your pregnancy. The guilt forces you to. We think about what we ate, what we drank, the time we almost fell, that time we did fall. Should we have spent so much time at the gym? Should we have just stopped to rest when we felt tired? The thoughts never stop. Our minds are like the energizer bunny. We go over everything and we leave no stone unturned. This is actually harmful to our health, as guilt breeds obsession.

When we see our babies in their isolettes, stick our hands through those too small windows – because we desperately crave physical connection, we are overcome with guilt (and a million other feelings). It follows us and it haunts us, even in our sleep.

Born at 31 weeks, 2 pounds 5 ounces
Caleb at 31 weeks; 2011

Every wire, tube, mask… Guilt.

Every milestone unturned… Guilt.

Every ounce lost… Guilt

Every time we exit those huge double doors at the end of the day/night: Guilt

Every poke, prick, procedure, test, surgery… Yep, you guessed it: guilt.

When you see mothers being wheeled out of the hospital with their newborns in their lap, it stings. It does more than that, it cuts you deep. Then the guilt sets in and before you can do anything about it, the tears come.

You get angry. Then you feel guilty for reacting that way about a new mom going home with her baby. You are happy for her. But you are sad for yourself. And for your baby.

Make the questions stop!

When we are asked, “well, what did you do to cause this?” we die a little more – if that’s even possible.

“Why is your baby so small?”

“Why can’t you bring your baby home?”

My personal favorite: “you are so strong, I would never be able to leave my baby behind. How do you sleep at night?” I don’t sleep. I’m up feeling guilty about not being at the NICU right now. 

Nobody thinks they can until they absolutely have no other choice but to.

Isa Santana
Isa Santana; 29 weeks, 2 pounds.

It’s difficult to not feel the way many of us do; there is no way around the fact that we did not carry our babies to term. But, as I have learned, there is life after premature birth (figuratively speaking). It will be difficult – no matter what your NICU journey looked like. You will have to fight for your sanity, for your peace, for your baby, and probably even for your life . The good news is that we won’t have to fight alone.

There are so many women who have experienced some variation of what you’ve experienced. They know what NICU guilt feels like. These moms know how it feels to have all roads lead back to them when they are candidly asked what did they do to cause their baby to be born ‘this way’. The badge of honor is across their chest and they wear it proudly.

The guilt you feel, they (we) feel it too.

Philippians 4:14 reminds us that we should share in one another’s troubles. Many of my friends sat with me, prayed with me, and cried with me. They took on my pain as if it were their own. God never wants us to face hardships alone.

When you desperately want to turn your brain and your heart off because life is becoming unbearable, those moms know what that feels like. They don’t want you to fight alone.

You know who else says you don’t have to fight alone? God. Joshua 1:9 reminds us to be strong and courageous, for God is with us wherever we go. I know it doesn’t always feel like that, but some days it was all I had to hold on to.

When we are drowning in guilt and hanging on to what feels like and probably is the edge of our lives, God is right there. He is urging us to stay the course. He may not take the guilt away in that moment, but He is allowing us to live in spite of it.

How did you cope with NICU guilt? Do you think it ever really goes away?


Previous posts in the series:

Hurry Up and Wait

The Pressure to Breastfeed


Coping with guilt and everything else that comes with having a baby in the NICU

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2 thoughts on “The Trouble With Mom Guilt

  1. This hits home for me. Thank you for this. Currently on day 15… don`t know what to expect. I feel guilty every day… thanks for writing this.

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