The Olive Tree

Denika Anderson, MA, SBD

full-spectrum doula serving the Twin Cities & western WI

theolivetreedoula@gmail.com | (612) 865-3778

  • The Olive Tree on Facebook
  • The Olive Tree on Instagram

© 2019 Olive Tree Doula, LLC & Denika Anderson

Guilt

When you lose a baby, at any point during pregnancy or after birth, you invariably experience a dizzying range of emotions. Shock, rage, sorrow, numbness, denial, relief; you name it, you'll probably feel it. And, to some degree, these are all healthy parts of grief.


There's one emotion, though, that I doubt is ever healthy: Guilt.


Yet, nearly every loss mama I've talked to has felt this. They've all felt personally responsible for their baby's death.


I can almost guarantee that's not true.


I know I felt it for a long time, and I sometimes still do. When I was pregnant with Oliver, I was taking Valium every day, as prescribed by my doctor. I had hyperemesis, and the unrelenting threat of vomiting at any moment sent me into a constant panic. We decided, together, that I would be healthier if I weren't so anxious about vomiting that I couldn't eat, so I took a very low dose of Valium at least once a day. She assured me that, while there were some increased risks of birth defects, the increase was a fraction of a percent, and that I still had a 97% chance of having a healthy baby.


It was only after losing Ollie that I learned there was about a 1% chance that my daily Valium caused his bladder outlet obstruction.


And I instantly felt the guilt come crashing down like an anvil in an old cartoon.


Now, remember: My increased risk of birth defects from that Valium was less than 1%. The chance that my meds caused Ollie's birth defect was about 1%. This was all, almost certainly, chance. But still, I believed it was 100% my fault.


Maybe if I had just been better at managing my anxiety. Maybe if I had just accepted my hyperemesis. Maybe if I hadn't taken my meds so often. Maybe if I had just been stronger. Maybe if I had just been less selfish. Maybe if I had just loved him more.


It took ages (and a lot of therapy) to accept that I could not have done any better for him than I did. I tried to manage my anxiety in the most effective way I could, so that I could keep my body healthy enough to carry him. I talked with my doctors and, together, we made an informed decision based on a thorough analysis of the risks we were taking--risks that were, objectively, very small. I put him above me, choosing to knowingly and willingly put myself through hyperemesis, and all the other challenging parts of pregnancy, to give him life. I loved him so deeply and so fully that my first thought upon considering this medication regimen was, "is this safe for my baby?" I made the best choices I could for him, and he died anyway--not because of my choices, but despite them.


We only ever do the very best we can.


In case you haven't been told this yet, it is not your fault that your baby died. No matter what. Even if you had to make an impossibly difficult decision to end your baby's life, that wasn't a choice made lightly--it was one made because every other possible outcome was worse.


And, might I gently suggest that the most honoring thing you can do in your child's memory isn't feeling guilty for their death.


So, feel every emotion that hits you. Feel the shock, and the rage, and the sorrow, and the numbness, and the denial, and the relief. And when the guilt hits, give yourself some room to feel that emotion too. But remind yourself that, even though that feeling is so common in loss that it might as well be universal, it is almost certainly not true.


You love your baby, and have only ever given them your very best.

9 views