How An Accident Made Me Feel Like I'd Failed As A Mother

Originally Published: 
mom guilt
Alisha Bourke

First, let me say that this is one of the most honest (and scary) things I’ve ever shared, but hopefully by doing so it can help other mothers dealing with anxiety, depression, and overwhelming guilt.

When accidents involving children happen, people are quick to judge the parents. The hurtful, shaming comments begin flowing immediately — comments like, “These people do not deserve children,” or “I hope their kids are taken away.” Words like these are devastating and add more hurt to an already painful situation, and they still can’t compare to a mother’s internal dialogue after an event like this.

Even now, almost 18 months after my mishap, I get emotional. I choke up inside and feel my chest tighten when I relive the day. I don’t think it will ever be something I can completely get over, and the guilt I live with every day is at times difficult to cope with. When my daughter drives me up the wall and I find myself upset by her behavior, I am overwhelmed by feelings of guilt — knowing all the things that could have been if our incident ended differently.

Our youngest daughter, Anabella, swallowed a small button battery. While my husband and I were cleaning, I left an open bag containing three small batteries on a bench for a moment without thinking. I don’t even remember leaving the bench or turning my back. But when I looked over toward Anabella, I saw my baby on the floor with the bag in her hand as she was swallowing something. I rushed over to her, and instinctively I knew what had happened. I checked the bag to confirm my worst fear — one battery was missing.

In that instant, I became hysterical. Having read about the dangers of ingesting batteries, I told my husband we needed to get to the hospital now. The severity of the situation was lost on him until he searched the internet and read what I already knew. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face, him trying to be calm for me and not show how scared he was.

I kept asking my daughter, “Bella, did you eat one of those? Did you swallow the battery? Where is the battery?” But as any parent knows, getting answers from a 2-year-old is often impossible. She kept saying yes, and then no, not wanting to get into trouble.

The car ride to the hospital felt like the longest ride of my life. My heart was beating out of my chest as I observed my daughter repeatedly licking her lips and playing with her tongue. Every so often her saliva would bubble and my feelings of terror would worsen. In my heightened dramatic state, I imagined the acid from the battery eating away at her esophagus.

When we arrived at the hospital, she was admitted for x-rays almost immediately. My husband went in and held her for the x-rays as I was pregnant at the time. Time stood still as I waited for them to return. I was paralyzed by fear and dread. When the doctor finally called me in, I found our little girl sitting on a hospital bed, scared and confused. The x-ray showed she had swallowed the battery, but it had moved past her esophagus and into her stomach.

We were lucky — the doctor assured us that she would pass it normally in her stool within a few days and everything would be fine. The next day, she did pass the battery and is just as healthy as she was before the incident. We were so lucky.

But this event in our lives was the catalyst that sent me into a downward spiral. I was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety, and struggled to get through most days. Getting out of bed was difficult, I cried every day, and had I not been pregnant, I’m not sure whether I would still be here. I could not stop beating myself up over what could have been. My child could have died because of me, and I believed I was a terrible mother and wife.

It took me a while to build up the courage to ask for help. The first doctor I saw blew me off — he gave me a referral to speak to someone and wiped his hands of me. Then my midwife recommended a counselor who would come to my home for little to no out-of-pocket expense, but I had to go back to the doctor to get a new referral to see her. The doctor I saw the second time was amazing — he spoke with me for over an hour about mental health issues and assured me that asking for help did not make me a failure or a bad mother. He gave me hope and validated the very dark, debilitating feelings I’d been experiencing. Over the course of a year, the counselor visited regularly. Having an objective, nonjudgmental person to confide in was what I needed, and it brought me back from the depths of depression and anxiety.

Living through this experience made me realize that mom guilt is very real, and no one should ever be alone with their problems. Parents need compassion and support, not shaming. Even if you’re afraid of judgment and criticism, bottling up your feelings will only make things worse. Today, we are so fortunate to have our beautiful, happy, healthy thriving 3 ½-year-old daughter in our lives, and I will forever be grateful that she is still here lighting up our world. But without the support system I found, I would not be able to appreciate what we have now. I would not have overcome my despair. And for those people who helped me find my way through it, who treated me with kindness, respect, and love, I am forever grateful.

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