Moms deal with a lot of guilt. It’s inevitable, even in storybook perfect circumstances. There is always a balancing act of obligations (partner and children, work and home, friends and family). We all have moments where we feel we come up short – and then, the guilt. In memes and comics we make light of it and connect with others going through similar things.
But loss mom guilt is a unique experience. And it is harsh.
1. Our baby died.
No matter the circumstances, no matter how illogical it may be, we all blame ourselves in some moments. We failed to keep all our children alive. It’s hard to emotionally reconcile being a “good mom” with this fact. It also intensifies fear for our living children. We know what it’s like to have a child die, and that makes separation anxiety worse and illness scarier.
2. Our body failed.
Every action during pregnancy or parenting has been rehashed in our brains to determine what, exactly, we did to cause this. Even if we know we had no control over what happened, we still carry the guilt of not being good enough – of not having a body “built for this.” Our body issues are so much more than how we feel and what we look like.
3. We have to balance grief too.
We still have all the balancing act that regular moms have, but we have the added weight of grief. Women who experience pregnancy or infant loss often have other small children to care for – those born both before and after loss. During the time when children are the biggest sponges, learning so much and needing so much attention – we have a huge cloud of grief enveloping us. It’s very easy to fall apart – especially in the early months after a loss. Falling apart sometimes feels like a luxury we can’t even have.
4. We aren’t the moms we planned to be.
I don’t know about you, but I had a vision of the type of mom I wanted to be. Easygoing, calm, and supportive while maintaining my own life as an adult woman. The death of my first child radically changed any expectations I ever had, and there’s no way to ever attain the vision of motherhood I had before. It’s not a question of planning better activities, or being more “in the moment,” or getting my body back, or succeeding at work. There is fundamentally no way for me to be the mom I dreamed of, because I’m not the person I was before. Now it’s an ongoing challenge to figure out what kind of mother I want to be from here, but projecting too far into the future sends me into a panic, so I mostly avoid it.
5. We are the cautionary tale.
When we finally show up at baby showers or birthday parties (in some cases, years after our loss), we come as fear personified. The example that yes, sometimes things go horribly wrong. Yes, tragedies happen. Yes, babies die and somehow we have to keep moving.
6. Brutal survivor’s guilt.
It hurts to go on living when your child is not. Every moment of joy brings a twinge of guilt that they are not here experiencing life. Words like bittersweet become the norm, the best we can hope for in many cases.
Why lay this all out?
If you are a loss mom – you aren’t alone. I constantly work to manage my guilt. Even when it isn’t logical or reasonable, it happens and I have to emotionally deal with it. Sometimes talking it out with my spouse helps. Other times I really need to talk with other loss moms. And then there’s distraction, my good old friend. Food, television, chores, work, whatever can move me from this moment to the next.
If you’re not a loss mom? Consider yourself incredibly lucky. Although your mom guilt is valid, please understand if a loss mom friend is not able to connect with you over more typical “mom guilt.” It isn’t because we don’t want to empathize and be a good friend… it’s because we have extra guilt and it’s pretty damn heavy.