My 32-week appointment was exactly like all my previous appointments. Strong heartbeat? Check. Measuring on track? Check. Weight gain? Double check.
“Only eight more weeks to go!” my midwife announced cheerfully.
“Ugh. I was hoping you’d say there was some sort of mathematical mistake, and I’m due, like, tomorrow. I’m so over it.”
She laughed. “I’m afraid not. It’s the final stretch. Hang in there. And try to enjoy this time.”
As I rubbed the remaining sticky gel off my belly, I felt huge and uncomfortable and ugly and sad and bitter. Enjoy this time? Enjoy this time?! I had hated every minute of pregnancy, and it was only getting worse. How was I going to get through another two months? I wanted to cry at the very thought of it.
Five days later, my water broke. Eight days of hospital bed rest later, I gave birth to a teeny tiny premature baby.
Motherhood immediately brought on an onslaught of emotions that I was fully prepared for: joy, frustration, fear, compassion, anxiety, empathy and, of course, love. I felt each of these down to my bones, sometimes all at once. It was overwhelming. But I also knew it was normal—normal and hormonal. I didn’t let myself drown in the flood of these emotions. I stayed afloat for my baby.
But the one emotion that managed to knock me on my ass time and time again was the one I didn’t see coming.
It was guilt.
From the moment my 34-weeker entered this world, I felt a compounding and soul-crushing sense of guilt. It was as if my body had gotten fed up with all of my moaning and groaning throughout my pregnancy and said, “You want to be done? Fine, you’re done.” I was convinced my selfish thoughts had manifested into the too-early birth of my child. I know it sounds ridiculous, and my doctors confirmed that my water breaking was just a freak thing, completely beyond my control. And yet, the guilt. Oh, the guilt. It was on my mind almost as often as my fantasies of a full night’s sleep.
I felt guilty when they told us our baby would go directly to the NICU. I felt guilty every time I visited him there. I felt more guilty when I wasn’t there, even though I was either pumping or frantically trying to get my home ready for him (I hadn’t even had my baby shower yet). I felt guilty that he had to come home on a breathing monitor because the doctors feared his lungs hadn’t fully developed. I felt guilty that he was too small to latch.
I felt guilty about all of it.
My son is now 5 months old. He is healthy, happy and friggin’ perfect, not just in my eyes but in the eyes of medical professionals as well. But the guilt is still there every day. It seems each time I decide to forgive myself for some parenting shortcoming, big (like having a premie) or small (like not reading to him before bed), there is something brand new to feel guilty about.
Here’s a list of the nonsense I have felt guilty about so far today, and mind you, it’s only 3 p.m.:
– I didn’t kiss my husband goodbye when he left for work this morning. Come to think of it, I don’t think I kissed him goodnight last night, either. Guilt x 2.
– I didn’t take my dog for a long enough walk at lunch.
– I dropped the baby off at his babysitter’s still in his pajamas.
– I dropped the baby off at his babysitter’s—period. I have major guilt lingering about going back to work. I thought I forgave myself for that one. Thought wrong.
– I’m working from home, but I’ve done more housework than work-work.
– I haven’t done enough housework.
– I spent $60 on a custom baby book from Etsy and haven’t filled out a single page of it. Not one.
– I haven’t switched out my seasonal clothes because I’m too lazy.
– I stopped pumping.
– I can’t afford to buy my little guy adorable plaid shirts and cardigans for the fall—like the ones you see baby boys wearing on Pinterest—so he wears a variety of hand-me-down Carter’s sweatpants on the daily.
– I bought myself a coffee from the fancy coffee shop when we have a perfectly good coffee maker at home.
– I haven’t worn makeup in months. (I’m not kidding.)
– I haven’t worn my hair down in weeks. (I’m also not kidding.)
– I haven’t set foot in my gym since I’ve given birth, but I refuse to cancel my membership because I’m totally going to start taking spin. Next week.
I can remember a time when guilt wasn’t even a part of my thought process. When I was only in charge of myself—before another human relied on me for everything—I didn’t think twice about those pricey new boots or that second glass of wine.
Perhaps guilt is synonymous with motherhood.