“The x-ray is back. It looks like your son does have a fractured skull.”
The doctor’s words shouldn’t have come as a surprise—my son’s head was inflating like a balloon and it didn’t take a neurosurgeon to know that something was wrong. Looking at the thin line snaking its way across my baby’s x-ray photo, I felt sick to my stomach.
It was my fault we were here.
I dropped my son.
It was a day much like all the others—unremarkable in its usual blend of dirty diapers, baby giggles, and goldfish crackers. But on my way to the bathroom to scrub dead ladybug guts off my 1-year-old’s hands, the unthinkable happened.
The baby who had been casually perched on my hip suddenly transformed himself into a tiny Cirque du Soleil performer. Tumbling backward out of my grasp, he spun and twisted through the air, his head striking the ground with a nauseating thud. His gut-wrenching shriek echoed around my apartment and my stomach filled with dread.
That night was spent curled up on a narrow hospital bed, the steady beep of heart-rate monitors ringing in my ears. Lying next to a yellow-gowned infant with a misshapen skull, I watched his tiny chest move rhythmically up and down. I couldn’t close my eyes, I couldn’t let him out of my sight. Waves of guilt passed over me.
I felt like the world’s worst mother. I deserved to be called a “bad mother.” I deserved to be looked at with disgust and judgment. I mean, what kind of a mom drops her child? I was supposed to be my son’s safeguard, and I had failed him!
But as I lay there listening to the emergency ward around me, the crying baby in the room next door who had refused to eat anything for 24 hours, the boy across the hall who needed a blood transfusion, and the dazed toddler with a fever, I realized that this experience didn’t make me any less of a mom or any worse of one. As much as we wish they didn’t, accidents happen; life happens.
We heap blame upon ourselves. Amidst the injuries and accidents, mom guilt abounds. Why didn’t we foresee this? Why couldn’t we have prevented this?
But as horrible as we may feel, one-time accidents like this do not immediately transform us into “bad” parents. If they did, there wouldn’t be any “good” parents left.
During our brief stay, the hospital staff tried to reassure us that they “see this sort of thing a lot.” I had expected the nurses to judge me, to lecture me on how I should have had a stronger grip on him, how I should have been a better mom—all the things I was already mentally beating myself up over. But as I promptly broke down in front of the first nurse I saw, she simply smiled and nodded sympathetically: “It happens. I dropped my daughter when she was a couple months old…onto a concrete parking lot.”
It happens. Not exactly the most reassuring of words, and yet it was nice to know that I wasn’t the first mom in the world to drop my baby.
Parenting is a learning process, and like any other aspect of life, it has both good and bad days. As much as we’d like to, we cannot protect our little ones from everything. Even our best attempts will always eventually come up short.
Our kids will get sick. They will get hurt. They are inevitable parts of growing up. It’s in these moments that we have a choice. We can either let ourselves become overwhelmed by guilt, continually worrying over what “could” have happened and what we “should” have done, or we can choose to see it as a reminder. This glimpse of life’s fragility tells us not to take life for granted; it reminds us to savor each snuggle, each smile, and each laugh.
Parenting is full of seconds when we wish we would have held our kids a little tighter or watched them a little closer. There will always be days that we wish we could pause and undo; nights when we sob ourselves to sleep, feeling like failures.
But don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember: Feeling like a bad mother doesn’t automatically make it true.