The definition of Guilt ‘Guilt is a moral emotion that occurs when a person believes or realizes—accurately or not—that they have compromised their own standards of conduct or have violated universal moral standards and bear significant responsibility for that violation.’
Another fun part of the grieving process is guilt. I would like to say that feeling guilty every second of the day is a new thing for me since Ollie died, but unfortunately it isn’t. I have felt guilty ever since I can remember, from being a young child I have always felt guilty about something. Sometimes however the guilt is warranted. For example, since Ollie passed away I have found that I overcommit to plans and activities. But when the time comes often my body, and my mind are so exhausted that I physically can’t do it and I cancel. I dread to think the hours of people’s time I have wasted doing this pointless exercise, and it is something I’m addressing. I have a tendency to overcommit and over plan not allowing myself time to breathe and reboot as Carrie Bradshaw would say. There is a constant need to move and to do and to feel and to be, but I never anticipate the need to rest. But sometimes the guilt is not warranted…
I feel guilty about the burden I have placed on my mum and dad, at their age to cope with something like this is a heartache I can barely think about. To helping me pack up Ollie’s bedroom, to helping me move home because I couldn’t stand to sleep in the same room where Ollie died, to paying our rent when my pittance of a maternity salary wouldn’t cover my bills, to holding my hair back whilst I vomited over and over again, to talking to me at 3am when I was so crippled with anxiety I couldn’t think straight, to organising and attending my son’s funeral on my behalf because I couldn’t.
I feel guilty about the constant requests I ask of my friends by needing their continuing support to make it through the days. To complete tasks for me that I can’t find the strength to do, to tell people my son has died on my behalf, to make plans with me, to drink with me, to talk to me. They have lives too and I feel like I am a burden to them getting on with those lives.
I feel guilty about what my body has done to Reece, he is an incredible dad, I could not ask for a better father for my children and because of my body I robbed him of a life with his son.
I feel guilty about not inviting wider family members and friends to my son’s funeral, for not being present to support Reece and for having such a short service to spare people any more pain that they had to endure. I feel guilty that I was unable to attend because I was afraid that I would never recover.
I feel guilty about cancelling appointments with therapists and health professionals and support groups because I am too cowardly or tired to attend.
I feel guilty that I could not save my little boy.
I feel guilty that I am jealous of other people and their babies, that I have to move tables or leave shops or bars or restaurants if a baby boy is near me. I hope that they know on some level why I have done this and don’t think I’m just a rude child hating cow.
I feel guilty when I drink a glass of wine, or eat pasta, or don’t exercise for a day, or eat a cherry bakewell, or have full fat milk in my latte.
I feel guilty when I sleep past 8am or watch TV in bed.
I feel guilty when I spend money on makeup or clothes or hair or shoes.
I feel guilty when I use my credit card.
I think you get the jist… Whilst logically I am aware that guilt is a huge part of the grieving process when we lose someone or something we love, whether that be a person or a relationship, my guilt bearing goes much deeper than that. However being a woman, feeling guilty is part of our genetic make up it appears. It is a scientific fact (according to google) that women feel 30-40% more guilty throughout their lives than men. Excessive and inappropriate guilt is associated with a number of mental health conditions including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (which I have since been diagnosed with)
But since Ollie died, I have learnt that sometimes this immense, crippling guilt that I feel is not warranted. That it is pointless, futile and irrelevant. For example, the blood clot behind the placenta that caused the cord to detach was not my doing and was not my fault. Our doctor compared it to a ‘freak’ accident and that Ollie could not have been saved. Initially that wasn’t enough for me, and to an extent it still isn’t. I laid awake at night staring at the ceiling thinking ‘what if I had just induced him a few days earlier’, ‘what if I had taken asprin’, what if I had asked for my blood platelets to be checked’. But we can spend our lives asking what if and hindsight is a funny thing. It is important to hold ourselves accountable and apologise when we have done something we deem to be morally wrong, whilst those definitions or what someone considers as wrong can be different to another person’s definition generally I like to think that most people’s consciences kick in and they want to do better. The death of our babies was not our fault. We did not know that this was going to happen and therefore could not prevent it. We were unaware of what horror was coming and therefore were powerless to stop it.
I’m the first person to admit that I have said and done things I regret in the past (usually after 3 glasses of wine) but I also like to think that I have made amends for those things and held myself accountable for my actions. I believe in saying sorry, in fact I over apologise, I am constantly afraid of harming someone or coming across in the wrong way. I even find myself apologising to coffee shop staff when I ask for a skinny latte knowing it’s more faff for them to get the skimmed milk out of the fridge or apologising to a friend when I text them more than once about something (sorry I know you’re busy, sorry) or ask them to do something with me, but I cannot apologise anymore for events that were out of my control. Even if events to some extent were in our control, we are often not armed with the information to make choices. For example, if had had KNOWN that my blood was thicker than average and could potentially clot, I would have taken aspirin every day….but I didn’t.
Much like jealously, guilt about certain things is a completely pointless emotion and whilst some people do bad things, I like to think I am generally a good person, like most people are, I think I’m alright. I would never intentionally hurt or harm someone, but remorse is different to guilt although they are very similar. We are all responsible for our own actions and depending on what the situation is, doing something wrong unintentionally does not make us bad people. It makes us human. Please be kind to yourself, the loss of your baby was not your fault.
I’m on month 5 since Ollie passed away and I am only just beginning to accept that this was not my fault and learning to feel comfortable in my own body again. I find it hard to believe that anyone on this earth intentionally sets out to harm their child, whilst circumstances differ and this statement does not fit all, we love our children and would do anything to protect them from harm. And whilst I failed to protect my son, there isn’t a single day that goes by that I don’t think why did you take him and not me? But this was beyond my control. I would have given my life for Ollie to live, but unfortunately that was not an option. I would not wish what has happened to my family on my worst enemy, no-one should ever go through the pain of losing a child no matter what the circumstance. But this has happened, and I accept that he is no longer on this earth, what I am also learning to accept is that just because I laugh once in a while this does not diminish his memory, just because I have one day offline from writing and campaigning for change around the stigma surrounding baby loss does not mean that I have forgotten him, and just because I am doing the best I can to live without him does not mean I don’t miss him and feel his absence every second of the day. I have made a promise to myself that I will live every day of my life to the best of my ability to set an example for him, with integrity and dignity. I apologise to every doctor, every therapist, every friend, every family member, every colleague, every health professional that I have wasted their time because time is precious.
If I eat a cherry bakewell it does not make me a bad person.
If I buy myself a lipstick it does not make me a bad person.
If I ask for help it does not make me a bad person.
If I drink 2 glasses of wine instead of 1, it does not make me a bad person.
If I sleep until 9am, it does not make me a bad person.
If I laugh at a television show it does not make me a bad person.
If I smile for a photograph, it does not make me a bad person.
I could not save my son…..it does not make me a bad person.