The topic of “Carrying the Burden of Blame” for all the pregnancy losses we endured is really personal to me...and pretty much most women I talk to about this subject. It seems especially prominent in women who have tried to get pregnant for a long time and can’t, or who have lost a baby later in gestation, during childbirth, or shortly thereafter. We all feel some level of horrendous, chronic, self-deprecating, gut-wrenching guilt.
Intellectually, I know I am not to blame for the losses we experienced. If it were a family member or friend going through the same thing, it would sadden me tremendously to think that parents could feel responsible for their infertility or for the loss of a child they so desperately wanted. I would explain to them that the inability to bear children is a disease like any other, whether it be cancer, diabetes, or COPD. Everyone looks for a cure, and in this case, the solutions might include IVF, adoption, surrogacy, or even learning to live childless. Yes, sometimes, for one reason or another, it just doesn’t work out.
Though I accept this concept intellectually, acceptance on an emotional level is another thing entirely. As irrational as it may seem, the guilty sentiment stays with me, like an appendage I can’t cut loose from my body. I am reminded of it constantly, even though I want nothing to do with it.
My husband has never truly understood why I carry this burden with me, particularly after we’ve finally had two children to call our own. I have tried to explain to him that this feeling lingers with me because, when I evaluate all of our circumstances, there is only me to blame. In other words, it was my body that had a difficult time getting pregnant. It was my body that failed to keep our growing baby safe. Let’s not beat around the bush here. It was my fault.
He would argue that it was an act of nature, which of course it was. He would say that there’s nobody who tried harder than me to get pregnant, stay healthy, and live my life with caution until I was able to safely bring a healthy child into this world. And he’s right. So why do I continue to harbor this burden? Why can’t I seem to shed it from my body and wear a new skin that’s free of guilt?
I attribute it to an underlying maternal instinct that is so strong, almost nothing can overcome it. Much like mothers who would fight to their deaths to save a living, breathing child, I think this is where I see my failure. I would have been willing to die for my unborn child, too. But instead, the baby was ripped from me, far too early and not yet ready to make it on her own. From the moment I found out I was pregnant, I had hopes and dreams for the child I carried. I had names selected, images of kissing her goodbye on the first day of school, getting a mani/pedi together, and even a wedding in her future. I had ideas for holiday cards, and they included my husband, me, our dog, and finally, the baby we’d been wanting for so long. I had a Christmas stocking bearing her name, ready to be hung on the mantel.
Too often, my womb had become more like a tomb—a place where my child met the end of her life, rather than flourishing into an earthly life that could be shared with us. With every miscarriage, I felt as though I let down my unborn child, and a part of me died, each and every time we lost a baby.
Fifteen years ago my seemingly perfect little world was shattered by the loss of our first pregnancy, when at eighteen weeks gestation I was told our baby no longer had a heartbeat. The virus I’d had was tough on me, but it had literally killed our baby. The waves of guilt came crashing over me. Ever since then, my time has been spent trying to reconcile this emotion. I preferred being blissfully ignorant that life could contain such tragedies, and especially, that I could be “responsible” for them.
I have decided that the guilt was linked to my unresolved grief. The thing that has finally brought me to a place of peace has been my faith. I decided I could no longer hold onto this blame. My life and all the experiences in it were divinely chosen. Perhaps to my disappointment, I am not really in control of everything. Learning to welcome both the good and the bad, to actually be thankful for it all, has taken me more than forty years.
The now wiser version of me sees God as the driver; I simply sit behind the wheel, following a path specifically created for me. There will be unforeseen obstacles and unexpected blessings. I am now grateful for them all. I comprehend that there were gifts delivered to me amid the pain, and only in recognizing these gifts could I see the bigger purpose behind our baby loss journey. Understanding the losses of our five children in this way allowed for a new perspective on how I grieved, and as a result, it has eliminated most of my guilt.
I recently had the opportunity to practice what I preach. Not long ago, I was diagnosed with early stage melanoma. The old me would have reacted in quite a panic, obsessing about my future health and all the things that could go wrong. It doesn’t help that I did cancer research for years, and at one point, even worked in sales for a pharmaceutical company that, at the time, sold the only FDA-approved drug for the treatment of melanoma. On a regular basis I had witnessed patients dying from their disease.
My husband would tell you that I am a professional worrier. I’ve worked hard in the past few months/years to do away with that title. While I took the necessary steps to aggressively remove the melanoma, I was proud of myself for the remarkable calm I felt on the inside. I accepted my diagnosis, did what I could, and have put it behind me. What happens next is not up to me.
Today, I carry a much lighter burden of blame. I am certainly not perfect and the full relinquishing has yet to come. However, I have travelled far enough on my journey that, at the very least, I can find some peace in every day. That accomplishment alone has been a great relief.
To learn more about Stacey Urrutia and her story, please visit her blog at www.makingangels.com, or read her book, Making Angels: A Story of Blessings on Our Journey to Have Children after the Heartache of Infertility, Miscarriage, and Late-term Pregnancy Loss, available by clicking here.