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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Guilt

As Kayla's birthday draws nearer I can't help but think about the day she was born.

As with most births it was a joyous occasion to be welcoming our first child and the first grandchild on both sides. But these last 3 years when her birthday approaches I can't help but feel a bit of guilt. I kept telling myself that at each birthday it'll get easier and I'll be able to let it go and not blame myself anymore, but I'm still not quite there yet. I'm afraid I'm always going to have this guilt weighing on me too.

We didn't know for sure Kayla would have Down syndrome, but knew there was a possibility because of the results from the AFP. We declined the amnio. I was afraid of the needle, afraid of the risk of miscarriage, afraid of the results. If I had the amnio and it confirmed it then I couldn't go the rest of my pregnancy hoping she would have the typical 46 chromosomes.

We also didn't find out the gender even though we had a few 3-D ultrasounds. We wanted to wait until the birth to find out; although we both hoped for a girl. I had a quick labor with Kayla (she was born 45 min after arriving at the hospital). I only had to push a few times before I felt her body slide out of me. I immediately leaned forward and saw we did indeed have a girl and at the same time heard Joe say "It's a girl!"

They placed her on my stomach and I looked into her face...and I knew. I just knew she had Down syndrome. And this is where my guilt comes in.

In that instant I felt completely detached. This wasn't my daughter I was holding. Who was this stranger? I felt like my heart stopped beating, like I couldn't breathe, like I was looking down on this scene and it wasn't me.

What happened to that instant bonding you hear mothers are supposed to have with their babies? Why didn't I feel that? I kept wondering. Why did I not feel like that instant motherly instinct and love? It didn't seem fair - Joe was walking around with a big smile on his face you couldn't wipe off, beaming like the proud father he was. I had just given birth to my first child so why wasn't I elated? This is what I have so much guilt over - remembering these feelings. Feeling like I missed out on something.

Then there is the guilt I feel for how I told my mom about the Down syndrome. She and my sister were at my aunt's house. Joe called to tell them we were headed to the hospital. They threw some clothes in their luggage and hightailed it to the airport praying they could get the next flight out on standby. They arrived at the hospital (after a 1.5 hr drive from the airport) about 7 hrs or so after Kayla was born. I heard them coming in the hallway. I was standing up holding Kayla and when they walked in the room I quickly handed Kayla off to my mom. After a long hug and congrats I turned around to walk back to the bed and said, "They think she has Down syndrome." My mom's reaction, "What?!" My sister asking, "what's Down syndrome?" My aunt whispering something to her. Do you know how bad I feel about that?

Mom I don't think I ever told you, but I'm sorry. Sorry for breaking the news to you that way. It wasn't fair when you just arrived, just held your first grandchild in your arms for the first time and I couldn't even give you the pleasure of 5 happy, wonderful minutes. I had to get the words out and do it fast because I thought you would know just by looking at her. I had to tell you before you could question me. But it wasn't fair for you not to get to know her first.

The third night we were in the hospital Joe stayed the night at our house. After everyone left I was really alone for the first time. Alone in that hospital room with Kayla. I got up to go to the sink and wash my face and brush my teeth. And I lost it, for the first time I just started sobbing. I was so worried one of the nurses would come in for their frequent check-ups and see me crying. I wouldn't know what to say. I didn't know exactly why I was crying, I just knew I didn't want anyone to see me like that. What if they thought I didn't love my daughter? What if I had to talk to someone? Could I go home the following day if I was such a mess?

No one expects to leave the hospital with your baby having something "wrong," having a diagnosis. So what was I to do with this child? I didn't know anything about Down syndrome, what was our life to be like? And why, oh why, was I so sad?

She was born on a Tue, we left the hospital on Fri. The following Fri we got the call from the pediatrician that the results from her blood test were in and yes she did indeed have Down syndrome. I didn't need a blood test to tell me though; I still knew just by looking at her. But as soon as I heard Joe on the phone confirming the results I broke down and sobbed again. He came in holding Kayla and we just stood there hugging and crying. Then do you know the first thing I asked him? "Do you still love her? You're not going to leave us are you?" He must have thought I was crazy. "Of course I still love her and no I'm not going to leave either of you, why would I? Why would you think I would want to? She's my daughter, I love her no matter what." My next question, "What are we going to do?" His response, "Love her and raise her the best we can." Then we went and laid down on our bed...all three of us.

After a bit Joe called his mom to tell her the news. After they got off the phone she called back a few minutes later. I could hear her crying through the phone, but I could also hear her tell him, "I just wanted to let you know I love you, I love Michelle and I love my granddaughter. Nothing's going to change that." She didn't know it, but I really needed to hear her say that. So thanks, MIL.

My mom, stepdad, and sister were still visiting but had gone out that day to give us some time alone. They were gone when we got the phone call. So when they came back home I told my mom, and again, the first thing I said was, "You still love her though don't you?" Pretty much the same response from her, "Oh Michelle of course I do! She is my granddaughter!"

When I called my dad later his response was almost like a "so? what's the big deal?" He asked me what does it mean? And I couldn't really answer that question - I didn't know.

I had finally come to realize why I was asking everyone if they still loved her. I think I couldn't allow myself to admit that I was completely in love with this child until I knew that everyone around us still loved her. I had to know that the important people in our life were going to love her no matter what and once I knew they did I could finally open my eyes and see my daughter. My daughter. Not the Down syndrome. But it still weighs heavily on my heart that I coudn't see this from the moment she was born; all I could see was her diagnosis and worry what everyone else thought. Even now I'm a crying mess writing about it.

If you didn't read this far that's ok; I know it was long. I just hoped that by finally writing it all down and getting it out I can slowly start the process of healing and of forgiving myself. Then maybe, just maybe, I can look back on her birth and not be sad about my reaction and regret those first few days.

36 comments:

chelle said...

awwww sweetie! I have tears in my eyes. Your honesty is amazing! I do not think you have anything to feel guilty about. You had a lot to come to terms with and a lot of emotions to work out, all the while work with post-pregnancy hormones and post-partum stuff!! You have more than stepped up to the plate and became the best mom ever for Kayla, you are her advocate and cheerleader, guide and teacher!!!

Kris said...

Aw, Michelle. I have tears rolling down my cheeks, and I'm sitting here sniffling.

I think it's pretty amazing that you can be that honest with yourself. What an amazing mommie you are to have faced that fear and that uncertainty and become the mommie you are today.

Life doesn't come with guarantees, and sometimes we're hurt and disillusioned because things don't work out "perfectly", i.e. in the way we always expected them to be. Kayla is a precious gift, and maybe you weren't 100% prepared for it at the time. Life is about growing and changing. Your child will touch the world in a special way, and you have a part in that.

Nisa said...

I love you, Meesh.

Jess said...

{{wiping streams of tears off self & computer & desk}} Oh, you are so human! You have NO reason to feel any guilt. So many moms go thru this exact feeling, after giving birth. Its an overwhelming surge of so many emotions rolled into absolute physical exhaustion. Griff & I had a long talk about the "if's" when I was pregnant & we decided against the amnio, if the bloodwork showed anything. You can never doubt yourself & decisions. All the guilt & doubt only draw more emotions, when the bottom line is that it all rests in God's hands. Its so good to confront & recognize all those emotions. Let it out! Then beat them down. You are an amazing woman whom I admire so greatly, and the best, perfectly chosen Mama, for Kayla.

Jennifer said...

I just read this post and you have nothing to feel guilty about. on my blog many months ago I posted a very similar post. Go take a look the post is called my deep dark secret. I didn't feel the cheer the bond the joy at first, I had post partum and didn't even know it!! your story sounds very much like my own.

Anonymous said...

Michelle, more moms hide their feelings and would like to express what you just did but are afraid to because people may perceive them as "bad mothers". When your cousin Brian was born, I was exhusted from pushing two hours, my husband wasn't there, he was TDY in Spain, and the doc had to use forceps to get the baby out. So, did I bond right away? No, in fact, after they brought me back to my room and brought my son to me, I held him for a second and then gave him to your mom to hold. Brooke Shields didn't bond right away with her 1st daughter! When we get pregnant,women, all dream of these perfect little babies-so, to feel like you did after Kayla was born is perfectly normal. When we arrived in your hospital room, I noticed that Kayla may have DS, yes, my heart broke for you. Did I fall in love with this beautiful daughter of yours. YES! Did I know alot about DS? NO! I learned, via the internet, all I could and it was overwhelming at 1st. I saw how you and Joe were handling it and knew everything would be alright. Yes, you will have many challanges to deal with but I know you will get thru them. Kayla grows more precious and beautiful each and every day. Love, G-Aunt Debbie

Tracey said...

Oh hon, no one can explain what it feels like to truly give birth. You went through what so many moms go through right after birth - doubt. But you blame the DS for the doubt, which may or may not be the whole reason. Shoot - I had doubts cuz my first born was a boy! Gimme a break! I was wondering if I could raise a BOY as well as a girl. Well, I got over it. And it seems as though you have too. You know what? I think most moms will confess to having a sobbing breakdown sometime in the first weeks of their children's lives. Hormones, expectations, etc. Kayla is such a beautiful, smart and funny little girl. You're doing a great job!

K.T. says peace said...

Every mom has felt that way at somepoint in their children's lives.You are a great mom,I can see it in every blog you have written,and although there are plenty of doubts that come with the birth of a child with any disability,there are the same doubts for mothers who have children who have no disabilities.No one expects someone to be perfect all the time.Although, I, even feel the societal pull to always be optimistic or else I am a bad mother.....but I do not feel that -that is specific to me(or at least I hope not)You have dedicated a whole blog to your beautiful big blueberry eyes,Kayla,you can see you love her more than anything else and you are allowed one weak moment(or more) just like anyone else in this world.(Sorry if this seemed like alot of rambling-I tend to do that sometimes.So here is my point You dont have to be perfect.Just love her and it looks to me like you accomplished that a long time ago.)

PEA said...

I could tell that your post came straight from your heart...like the others, I have tears running down my cheeks. Listen to what the others have said in their comments...there's not much more for me to add. They are right, just because we give birth, it doesn't make us instant mothers. The bonding can sometimes take a long time and no amount of guilt can change that. Kayla was born with DS...that in itself was a huge adjustment you and your family had to make...I don't think that it was that you didn't love your daughter the instant she was born, I think the fear and insecurities you had about her having DS is what took over at that moment. You were also worried about what the others would think. The fact is, she's a human being and made more precious for having DS...you and your husband are doing a marvellous job raising her and you can tell she is well loved. She's a happy little girl and that's all you can ask for right now!!

Christina said...

Michelle,

You should not feel guilty at all, even though I perfectly understand you. I also had some tough thoughts in my head as I got the diagnosis for Vincent. But just remember that Kayla is your special edition, just like Vincent is mine. And we are just faced with the situations that we are strong enough to handle. When God was shaking his magic 8 ball to find good parents for Kayla and Vincent he got us as the perfect parents. Initially he probabloy shook his head and said "Oh No", but the more he thought about it, the better we seemed. He thought that everyone can love a "normal" child, but to love these kids he looked for someone extra strong, supportive,loving and caring - that is how we ended up with our little special editions!
Don't let the negative thoughts get you, we are all in it together :-)

Jennifer said...

That was a great post and I knew it took courage to put that into words. I can only imagine your emotions being a new mother. You look like your doing a great job. Your daughter is so beautiful and I'm sure she has a beautiful heart thanks to you and your family!!

Much More Than A Mom said...

Michelle, there's nothing i can say beyond what everyone has already said but I had to leave a comment. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your story. You are an inspiration.

Michelle said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone for taking the time to respond! I guess I just feel that I missed out on that "bonding/attaching/euphoric" feeling you're "supposed" to have right after birth/in the hospital. So whenever I think of those first few days I can't help but cry for what I can't get back. But Kayla doesn't know that we didn't exactly bond at first sight :) I guess it's one of those things where you don't talk about it because you think people are going to look at you and think, "What is wrong with HER that she couldn't bond with her own child after birth?!" It's such a relief to know that this happens to moms sometimes, just not something that's talked about. And who knows, I'm sure the Ds played a big part in it, but I might still have not bonded with her right away for one reason or another. So thank you again.

Anonymous said...

RAW EMOTIONS.. The unknown, fear and guilt..They are your thoughts at that moment in time..You are Human and Entitled to those raw emotions and your reactions..After you said, Kayla may have DS..I did not fully understand how I was suppose to "comfort" you..Later that night(early morning) I cried on Aunt Debbie's shoulder and asked "why God". When I was pregnant with your sister, I had the "amio" done.. Why? because I was considered "high risk" (at the age of 35!!!) I can not answer the "what if's" I love you and Joe(you are my Hero's) and my "little Kayla".Her Big Blueberry eyes and her personality that keeps going and going!! :) Here is a line from a movie I saw and which I liked.. " I will love you (kayla) Forever and Always, Always and Forever.. Love Mom/Grandma... When Aunt Debbie had Brian(her first born)and after the delivery they gave Brian to her to hold, she(debbie) did not want to even hold him!! She was not happy or excited and asked me to hold him and I remember thinking, "wow" and how shocked I was with her response..But, hey , after pushing for almost 2 hrs, I would have felt the same way!! We are humans...:) Thanks, Michelle, for sharing your "guilt" with us because we all have the "guilts", the emotions and etc..This brings us closer together and helps us to relax our shoulders just a little...

MIL said...

Meesh, I Love You!!

Beck said...

Michelle, I was very moved by that post - so moved that I started writing you a comment, it got very long and so I turned it into an email. Check your mailbox!

Catch said...

When we give birth Michelle our bodies go through so many changes and hormones and emotions play such a part in it.Let go of that guilt..you are a wonderful Mommy. And you have a beautiful little girl. Sweety dont carry this around in your heart..Im sure you were scared...and not knowing what to expect. Those are frightening circumstances....they play a lot of havoc with us. Be kind to yourself Michelle....your a great Mother!

Tara Marie said...

Michelle, as the others have said, you have no reason to feel 'guilt'....you are human and every experience we have is real at the moment it happens...sometimes we have past experiences to help guide us, but most times the first time is the moment that just sticks the hardest. I do know that if Emma Sage was my first child, my emotions and reaction might have been quite differently than it was with her being my fourth birth [5th child].

What is most important is that we are always truthful with ourselves and allow ourselves to be real.

Miss Kayla is an amazing gift and I'm so thankful that you are her Momma.

RNP said...

Michelle, what an amazing story...

I, much like TM, already had four children when Miss E arrived so this was not the experience I had, but did share some of your emotions.

You are an amazing mother-and Kayla an amazing daughter. I am so thankful that our paths crossed.

I hope you don't mind, but I am sending this peace to Queen K. I think it would make a lovely book entry....

Hugs from Michigan :)

Kari said...

~hugs~ Michelle I completley understand your feelings. I too suffer from quilt and occasionally have an emotional meltdown when I look back and think about the day Tristan was born. I also just blurted it out to family members and had concern that they would not accept and love him as I knew I already did. As for your comment on how you immediatley became detached from Kayla at the moment she was born. Well that happens often to Mom's that give birth to healthy and Typical babies. I have had friends tell me they were dissappointed because they didn't instantly feel the Mother~child bond. I think it is just a reaction your brain can have once the baby is no longer inside of your body. I can't tell you if it will get easier or not. I consider my birth story traumatic and I don't think I will ever get over it. I think that day I was the most frightened I have ever been in my whole life (Of course I know it was all for nothing)I mean when I hear someone has given birth to a new baby with DS I always smile and think to myself "oh another lucky one" I often think to myself "what did I ever do that was so wonderful that I deserve this amazing boy" That's where the guilt lies how could I have ever had those horrible emotions and fears. How and why did I not know how fabulous he was at the second he was born. These are normal emotions. Welcome to Holland" says it all. The first time I read that I was so relieved to know someone else understood.

Kari said...

Michelle I just wanted to add~ Thankyou so much for sharing this I know it must have taken alot out of you emotionally just to write it. I hope it was as therpeutic for you to write it as it was for me to read it :)

Anonymous said...

awww mimi! I had tears in my eyes. Your Little one is a blessing from God! All Mothers go through that not feeling a bond. When I had Katie I felt so guilty also about not feeling
this bond. I always heard from my Mom that it was the most beauitful thing to feel. I cried since i felt like who is this stranger when I first held Katie. The bond comes later when you and your little one gets to know each other. My sister-in-law went through the same thing.Alot of Mothers have felt that way.After Little Gary I had Post partum kinda bad. at first when we got home from the hospital i would go to the bathroom and cry because sometimes i didn't feel like holding my little boy that i couldn't wait to have!We all go through the guilt feelings. But you don't have nothing to feel guilty about you and your little angel have a strong bond now. Thats what matters. She is a happy little one, also with the most beauitful smile!

Yellow Mama said...

It's okay. Healing always takes admitting feelings and turning them over to the One who loved you so much, He was willing to give His own life for you. I recall Peter, who had "feelings" of denial...Jesus set him up as a pastor and leader of the early church. Then in Acts...he preaches a sermon which was the beginning of the church.

In other words, don't let your feelings keep you from seeing the wonderful things God has in store for you. It's not what you've done or felt in the past, it is who He wants you to be...that is how He sees you. Smiles

queen serene said...

Michelle, thank you so much for writing this. You have given us all an incredible gift.

It took time for me to fully bond with Thomas. What I felt at the very start was that protective thing, I would call it an instinct, where the "strong" has the drive to protect the "weak." Thomas was so little, so vulnerable. I couldn't stand seeing him get poked and prodded and hurt. So I did feel that instant attachment in that way.

But bonding with him as an individual took time. It's taken time with all my babies, in fact. I can be devoted to them as a baby--as a needy, naked, little person who needs to be cared for-- but still not devoted to them as a distinct individual. There's a big difference.

When there's a diagnosis of DS, that whole aspect of bonding to a PERSON (not just a needy infant) gets pushed to the forefront all too soon. We're given this prediction for their future and forced to confront some vague set of possibilities and often painful stereotypes, all at once.

We don't have to do that with typical children. If, at birth, someone handed us a list of what their challenges and weaknesses would be (or worse, a list of "maybes, probablys") we would freak. But we don't get that list. All we get is the innocent little baby, and we can feel the bond of mother to child -- the primal bond of protectiveness and concern -- much more easily. The person-to-person bond develops in good time.


I think that if your family members did not give you that outpouring of love, you would have discovered the mother-child bond right from the very start, in a different way. You would have realized that you were willing to fight for this child. I felt that very strongly when one of my family members reacted with near-horror at the diagnosis. When someone or something threatens our child, even in a figurative way, our defenses rear up.

Anyway, thanks for wading through this long comment, and thanks again for writing. I hope you'll submit this to the _Gifts_ book.

mum2brady said...

Michelle - a teary start to my morning! Like the others have said, you have no reason to feel guilty - I'm sure you've read a hundred birth stories with dx diagnoses, and you know the whole range of emotions we, as mothers of chromosomally enhanced children, feel :) I think it is a process we all go through, for some the grief and acceptance phase is over relatively quickly, for others it takes more time, sometimes it's delayed! I cried for about 20 minutes when I got the dx after Brady was born, then was totally fine, then spent his entire 3rd year bawling (of course I blame the school district for that one ;) I thank you for sharing your feelings and experiences, because I think that sometimes people are afraid to let themselves feel, as if by feeling the feelings they feel (say that real fast) they are showing that they think less of, or love their child w/ds differently. To be honest, I think I do love my child with ds differently, a little deeper, a little more intensely than my other children, not more, just differently :) Brady and I share a very special bond that is a little different than the bonds I have with my other kiddos - not sure what it is, or why - it simply just is :)

Kayla and you are amazing, and you are such a great mommy and advocate for your darling girl! Thanks for sharing her with us!

Hugs!

queen serene said...

p.s.

The fear of rejection is an undeniable power that all of us feel. It can't be wished away or sidestepped. Your worry that others might reject Kayla was part of that, because our children are so bound up with ourselves. In fact, I think your fear of Kayla being rejected is strong evidence that you already felt a strong tie to her.

Angie said...

wow, thank you for sharing your truely honest feelings. i can definitely relate to many of the things you talked about.

Michelle said...

Thank you again, everyone, for your kind comments. I do feel better for knowing I'm not so alone in these feelings. I'm trying, really I am! to let go of this guilt and put it past me and move on! It did feel better writing it down and getting it all down. So thanks once again!

Naomi said...

The way you broke the news to your mom is the exact same way I broke it to my mum.

Callum was 5 weeks early, mum was supposed to be here for the birth. I called her in England when I was admitted, woke her up, she ran around booking flights, 2 hour trip to the airport flew for 11 hours and then the first thing she heard when she walked through the door was "they think he has Down syndrome" and then me just sobbing and sobbing.

You have nothing to feel guilty for, you're a great mom to Kayla.

Tammy and Parker said...

Michelle,

I wish so much that I had made it out here sooner.

One of my very good friends who has a now 13 year old with Ds told that no matter how I felt if I found out that Parker did indeed have Ds was OKAY! She wanted me to know this because when she found out her son had Ds while still in the hospital she quietly climbed down to the bottom of the hospital bed in order to be totally hidden from view.

She said her first thought was: "We'll never be able to take a family photo again."

13 years later and this woman loves this child with an amazing intensity.

I didn't have a problem with the Ds, but found myself not allowing myself to bond intensely with Parker because we didn't know how long he would live. And I foolishly thought that if I didn't bond too intensely then if we lost him it wouldn't hurt so badly.

You are not only an amazing mother but have been an amazing online friend to me.

Thanks sweetie.

Amber said...

you need to forgive yourself, sweetie. It is OK. My heart ached reading this, as I could hear the pain in your written words. Forgive yourself.

Julie Julie Bo Boolie said...

Oh please forgive yourself. Please. Even those of us who give birth to "normal" (and I use that term VERY loosely as I think that all children are exactly who they should be) children don't always feel that bond right away. I swear I didn't connect with Sarah until the first time she smiled with me.. she was 3 months old. So there is nothing to feel guilty about.. NOTHING.. you are a perfect Mommy to this perfect child.. you were chosen.

Hugs

Julie

Cathy said...

Thanks for giving me the link to this post. I felt very similar things after Lauren's birth, as you have read. I think how you told your mother when she first came to the hospital was completely normal. You needed her support, your mom to lean on. Very natural. I hope someday we are able to let go of the guilt. I understand it now, can intellectualize it, explain it but it still makes me feel guilty.

Karen said...

I had not read this post before, but you know what struck me - what a wonderful family you have, so loving. What a fantastic husband. It's actually pretty normal to feel detached after giving birth in any circumstance. I was happy but not elated both times, I actually felt it was all surreal and happening to someone else at first, probably all that pushing and shoving that had to go on first. Michelle, you rock. You are a fabulous Mum and Kayla looks so full of happiness and joy. What more could you ask?
xxx

Finding Normal said...

I'm crying as I read this. For both of us. I was so scared of my own kid, scared that if I loved her and she died, I'd never be the same. So if I didn't get attached, it'd be better. She stole my heart anyway, but I look back at pictures from those days with such sadness. She was so stinkin cute and tiny and I didn't enjoy her. I held her because I had to, not because I wanted to. I wish so badly that I could rewind and tell myself to just enjoy it.

Mom24 said...

I love your honesty. I think with the way our culture is, there's no way you could have felt any differently. After all, the constant message is that DS must be so bad you must abort. That's terrible, and of course you're going to pause and have fears and have mixed feelings. No one could ever doubt how very much you love Kayla, it's extremely evident.

Try to let go of the guilt. You don't deserve it.

Does it help to know when I found out I was pregnant for the third time I was an absolute basket case and even briefly thought about alternatives? It was crazy talk, but it was fear, fear of the unknown, which is exactly what you were experiencing. Of course now I wouldn't trade my third for a million dollars and I'm super-blessed to have him.