The Thing About Guilt

The past few nights I have had a lot of trouble sleeping. It seems to be a combination of very vivid and intense dreams, a baby who has been whining in his sleep (teething, I think/hope) and anxiety. At first I couldn’t pin down what I was anxious about. Things have been going incredibly well lately. The baby is happy and healthy. My husband and I are happy and healthy. Life is good. Which is probably why I had to do some serious digging, at 2am, to figure out why I was unable to sleep. Why I was so panicked.

My husband is leaving for two trips out of state in the next 10 days and that in and of itself is stressful. But that’s not the problem. The last time I spent a night alone with Eli was just before his injury. And while I know that the two don’t have anything in common, some part of my brain made that connection. And I’m feeling increasingly scared to be alone with the baby. I feel like…I don’t trust myself.

And I know it’s silly. I stay home alone with him all the time. I am a good mother, I love him tremendously. But I also still carry a tremendous amount of guilt with me for what happened. It’s the thing that I’m learning about guilt- I’m not really in control over it. Because even when I wash my hands of it and say I’m done living in that moment and done blaming myself, I wake up at 2am unable to sleep until I piece together why I feel like puking and why my heart is racing and why I can’t sleep anymore.

I am afraid for my husband to leave, not because I can’t care for my child alone, but because I’m afraid something bad will happen again. That my judgment will slip and I won’t have anyone there to act as a voice of reason.

I feel scared. I feel unprepared, like a teenager watching someone else’s baby overnight. And the fact that there are 2 separate trips, filled with 2 separate separations is causing twice the anxiety.

I just want to be past all of this. I want to no longer have such vivid images of my child falling off a bed. Of him pale and sweaty, minimally responsive on a hotel bed while I yell at a 911 operator to tell the ambulance to hurry. I want to forget all the times I apologized to my child while we waited for the ambulance, while we drove to the hospital. I want to forget holding an inconsolable child, one in so much pain, one who couldn’t stop vomiting, even with prescription anti-emitics. I want to erase all the moments, all the tears, all the terror. And no matter how hard I try, how resolute I am to move past this and enjoy all that’s before me, I still can’t.

I think about it less and less each day, but the memories are crisp as ever. The sounds, the images, they’re all there, waiting in the back of my mind for something to trigger them. A trip out of town was all it took for 3 nights of insomnia to swallow me whole.

I think the most difficult part is knowing that I never really get to forget it. The neurosurgeon told us that there’s no way to know if there will be any long term issues related to the injury. Eli is so young now that we really can’t assess it. So now, as we watch Eli try to master standing and walking, we’re all wondering how much of his slowness in this milestone is from the injury (as the neurosurgeon suggested) or just his development/temperament. And if in 5 or 10 years he has trouble in school or trouble with memory, we’re going to wonder if it’s from the injury (also as the neurosurgeon suggested). Or if he has balance or coordination issues, or ADHD or any other thing, we will always wonder. We can’t ever leave it behind because there’s a huge question mark lingering over the future and no way to know what will happen or why.

I remember the scariest part of that day was wondering if I had damaged my child. If I had forever harmed him and changed his future. And the most frustrating and scary part is that I still don’t know the answer. And so even though I want to forgive myself and promise to try, I know that these memories and these fears will always be there. Will always be haunting me. Will follow my son his whole life. And that is, by far, the most terrifying.

8 Responses to “The Thing About Guilt”

  • mom:

    Oh Katie, please cut yourself some slack. You are a fabulous mother and Eli couldn’t be in better hands. Just continue to love him and he’ll continue to thrive.


  • purplebreath:

    The answer in in your own words. You don’t have control over it, you will always be left to wonder.

    There is nothing productive in questioning why Eli’s development is taking the path that it is. Knowing the cause of something will not change the reality of it. Will Mary’s daily intake of milk be enough for her bones? Is it (my non-organic brand) enough to cause her to have a premature hormonal development? Did Zac’s antibiotic use lead to the enamel being missing from his molar? Will his other teeth come in okay? I didn’t push for speech therapy when I probably should have–will that decision have life-long effects?

    You take each day, each lesson you get…and you run with it. You do the very best you can that day and start again the next. This amount of guilt you are keeping is too much. Don’t let it (the guilt itself) change …everything. Use the lesson but shake off the rest. Take off your hair coat before it gets in the way. He’s marvelous. You are too.


  • Cheryl:

    Firstly, hugs for you. It’s a hard thing to work through, the guilt and it’ll take time for you to realise on all levels that you don’t need to carry that. Eli, is doing great, he’ll get there. As an example I give you my nephew, days away from being One – doesn’t roll, crawl, bum shuffle, pull to standing, or walk. His parents are unconcerned. Eli is still doing great. At the one year development check we just had all they’re looking for is that baby can pull to standing using furniture and begin to babble.

    You are a great mum and you just do the best you can. Eli is a super little boy from all I can see and read. Try to worry less and enjoy more.

    Hugs, xxx.


    purplebreath Reply:

    @Cheryl, I like this response better than mine. haha


  • Lauren:

    I’m not going to phrase this as a question, because it’s really none of my business, but I hope you’re seeing a therapist as you’ve mentioned in the past. And if you’re having trouble connecting with one, showing him/her this post might be a great idea.


    Katie Reply:

    Ha, yes, I am. We were off this week because of Memorial Day (appointments are on Monday), but I have a visit scheduled next Monday. It’s definitely something we’ll be discussing. Thanks.


    Lauren Reply:

    @Katie, glad to hear it. Hope it’s helpful and that you have more peace of mind soon. :)


  • kimybeee:

    i will just say that as an anxiety sufferer i am having a tough time lately too! anxiety has no time table or reasoning – it just creeps in and makes a mess of your head and you can’t change it. it is the invisible miserable lol i know you try to keep your meds to a minimun, but my meds keep me sane. lately all i want to do is sleep – i am in a funk and will crawl out of this eventually and be fine for a long time.

    i don’t think any mother can ever completely forgive themselves for any harm their child suffers. just love your little man and try not to worry too much about what happened.


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I'm Katie, a 30-year-old, wife, mom, former teacher-turned PT, who also had brain surgery in November of 2007. This blog chronicles my daily life, from mundane to crazy, often with far too much detail. Sit down, get comfortable and stay for a while.
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