What Did I Do Wrong?

It would seem that new moms are eager to blame themselves for an unfortunate roll of the dice. After all, as mothers it is our sworn duty to protect our children—no matter the cost. If a baby is born premature or with some disability, we somehow blame ourselves—but it doesn’t necessarily mean there was anything that was done wrong. This is the roll of fate at times. Thank goodness for the amazing care babies receive in the NICU! We don’t always have a good reason for why one baby decides to come at 32 weeks, but another has to be coaxed out at 42.

Let me just say that prematurity is one of about a gazillion things parents can blame themselves for that don’t go the way we had planned. Of course when you found out you were pregnant the image in your mind was of a perfect baby. Sometimes they don’t come out that way—sometimes we don’t realize their differences until much later, and then we wonder what we did wrong all over again. Indeed, that ideal baby that takes form in our heads throughout pregnancy—doesn’t actually exist! Finding space to accept a child just as they are can take time and sometimes a lot of soul searching. We are each unique in our own way.

I think there can be this sense that if we just knew what we did wrong, or why some part of our child’s experience is not perfect—then we could somehow fix it. But that’s a false sense of security. You can’t actually undo a birth defect or difference—you just have to learn how to move forward—cleft lip, club foot, six fingers, ADHD, not the gender you expected—whatever. Sometimes surgery or treatment is useful, sometimes babies and parents just have to learn how to adapt.  Babies are amazingly resilient. In all likelihood you probably didn’t do anything wrong to cause whatever is not perfect with your baby. There’s a certain roll of the dice at play in baby making.

I’ve watched a baby with a very tight tongue tie—figure out how to nurse, when I thought for sure she would need help. I’ve watched jaundiced, preemie babies struggle to stay awake long enough to get adequate nutrition. But their mothers persevered and eventually they got through that tough time. Two babies at once? Don’t think you could do it? Neither did the parents of twins—until they had to, because there just wasn’t a choice. You don’t really know what challenges you can take on—until the situation comes up and you have to figure out how to deal. (Ah—labor is very much like this, but that’s for another post).

With a bit of luck, the challenges of parenting can help you come to a place of empowerment. I sometimes look at my incredibly energetic boys (one of my own personal challenges) and say to myself—“I’m just not cut out for this”. At other times I can say—“If I can take this on and not lose it—I can do just about anything!”

Love your babies and take the best care of them you can. Forgive yourself when you are not perfect – I guarantee that no matter how well put together that other parent seems, they are not perfect either and we each have our difficulties and challenges.