"Maternal guilt is one of the most powerful emotions you will ever feel," my doctor said. My doctor has a really great way of saying things in a way that is both empathetic and very matter-of-fact. It's one of my favorite things about her. "If you're not careful, it can control your life. But you have to remember that you didn't do anything wrong. The goal of your pregnancy was healthy baby and healthy mom; if we hadn't induced at that time, we would not have achieved that goal."
I sniffled and snorted into the wad of tissues in my hand. I'd successfully made it through 8 months of doctor's appointments without crying in front of my doctor, an achievement I'd silently, and proudly, repeated to myself in the most difficult moments of my pregnancy. But there I was, 9 days postpartum, crying hysterically in an exam room as my doctor comforted me.
On my birthday, I was up in the wee hours of the morning. When I finally got Forrest to go to sleep, I carefully lowered him into his swing in the living room. As I looked down at him, I was overwhelmed with sadness over the fact that, if things had gone the way they should have, he would still be inside of me. I cried because it was three days from his original due date and despite my best efforts, he'd been born early and small.
And of course, I cried because in the recesses of my brain, I still felt guilty about Forrest being born early. If I'd eaten healthier... if I'd worked out more... if I'd paid more attention to my symptoms... I repeat the same things over and over again in my mind. I was just so bad at being pregnant; if I was better at it, Forrest would be bigger, stronger. We'd be able to breastfeed without a fight every time. I wouldn't have to force feed him every two hours. I wouldn't have to wake up at 4am to pump.
I've always struggled with guilt. I jokingly tell people that because I went to Catholic school for so long, my dog can look at me wrong and I'll feel guilty for hours or even days. I feel guilty for things I did 10 years ago and even over things I didn't even do. As much as others try to assure me that preeclampsia wasn't something I could have stopped or that some decision I made months earlier didn't make it happen, I still can't shake the feeling that because of me and my decisions, Forrest didn't get the absolute best start.
There is, of course, one more dimension to this: I miss being pregnant. I never thought I'd say it because pregnancy was, over all, a kind of miserable experience for me. But I genuinely miss being pregnant. I miss having Forrest with me all the time. I miss feeling him kick and knowing that, no matter what, he was safe as long as I was. I miss the sureness of pregnancy. It felt like it would last forever, but it ended too early for me.
And it secretly drives me nuts when I see women hit 36 weeks and start begging to have the baby. Having a late preterm newborn was hard. Those last four weeks make a huge difference: babies born before 38 weeks are poor eaters, their mouths aren't big enough to breastfeed, they aren't coordinated enough to breathe and eat at the same time, they don't have enough fat to regulate their body temperature or blood sugar, they are at extremely high risk for jaundice. I wish more than anything I'd been able to make it to even 37 or 38 weeks.
Forrest's due date is a hard day to reach. My entire pregnancy, I listed this date with a sureness, with a level of comfort. I was sure he would be born in late October or early November. October 23 was a safe number, a date I looked forward to. Today, I'm going to work on not feeling sad about it, on not dwelling on my perceived faults. I'll celebrate with my little guy his would-be birthday.