“I must not have been careful enough.”
“Maybe I just don’t deserve a baby.”
“Of course it was my fault, I was the one who was pregnant. ”
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has experienced a miscarriage, stillbirth, termination due to diagnosis of a fetal abnormality, or infant loss who did not spend some time worrying that she had done something to contribute to the loss. And by some time, I mean usually quite a bit of time.
I know I did this myself and I think it’s probably an inevitable part of the process of grieving a perinatal loss. As a species, we like to make sense of our world. Being pregnant or having a new baby is a huge responsibility. When we are the one carrying the baby or caring for the baby, it’s pretty compelling to believe that we have control over what happens on our watch.
Drinking coffee or small amounts of alcohol, having sex, riding in an airplane, eating soft cheese, deli meat or non-organic food, exercising, not exercising, thinking too much or too little about the pregnancy or baby, feeling too positive or not positive enough about the pregnancy or baby are all often mentioned by women as possible causes of their loss.
Although medical advice may caution us about some of these issues during pregnancy, it is rare to have them actually contribute to a loss. But, despite what we are told about the evidence, sometimes it just feels better to blame ourselves rather than to acknowledge how little control we actually had over something so important.
Pregnancy and giving birth can feel like a time when we are granted special powers. Our body steps up to do amazing things in the way of hormone production, shape shifting and perceptual changes such as a heightened sense of smell and taste. We are tasked with the mind-blowing job of growing a new human and are usually given plenty of advice on how to do it. All of these factors help set the stage for believing we must be responsible for what happens. If we’re not the ones in charge of things going right for our pregnancy or baby, who is?
And then something goes so horribly, painfully, wrong. Despite all of our strength and intentions, we couldn’t stop it from happening. We search the world for a loophole to reality or a chance for a do-over and we come up empty. What does it mean about us? If it turns out that we aren’t Superman, who could make everything safe, are we Lex Luthor (the arch supervillan) who did something awful to make everything go wrong?
Maybe accepting our part in what happened involves coming to terms with how, despite all of our strong wishes and abilities, when it comes to certain medical realities, each one of us is a perpetual Clark Kent with no phone booth in sight. We only ever had a few things under our control, and none of them were enough. If we could have made the world spin backwards and saved our baby, we would have. It just wasn’t ever an option. Unfortunately, great responsibility doesn’t always come with great power (to mix in a Spider-Man reference).
So when your brain leads you to do the review of what happened and why, maybe you can try to keep in mind who you’re actually dealing with- a loving, heartbroken person. You’ve already been through a lot and beating up on yourself isn’t appropriate or helpful. Start trying to speak to yourself gently, as you would to your best friend if she were going through the same thing.
Think about what you need. Is there any information that might help you to logically or emotionally understand what happened? If so, you may want to try to seek it out.
If not, or if the information is not that clear or helpful, work on accepting the story you have with the knowledge that you have. Part of this acceptance is to acknowledge the limited or total lack of control you had over your loss.
As you do your review, don’t forget the parts of your story where you went to your prenatal appointments, took your vitamins and did your best to care for your pregnancy or baby. Don’t forget any sweet moments you had while pregnant or with your baby. And definitely remember that your desire to understand is because of your attachment to someone very dear to you. That ability to attach doesn’t come with the ability to fly or change the past, but it’s a huge part of being an imperfect and loving human.