Gratitude and Guilt
For so many of us the Holidays are a tricky time of year. In the lead-up to this Thanksgiving, I’ve certainly been feeling some ambivalence. My daughter was born two years ago on November 23rd, so as she approaches her second birthday a healthy and vibrant girl, I have a lot for which to be grateful.
…And I also have this voice in the back of my head that pesters me. You should always be a grateful mother! Why do you struggle so? Aren’t you glad you finally got what you wanted?
You see, my husband and I struggled with infertility for six years. I say “we” struggled, but really I took the brunt of all the “treatments.” Then, in early 2016, we were ready—spiritually, emotionally, and financially—to take the final leap in our fertility journey, IVF (In-Vitro fertilization). We decided to give it one shot, and if it didn’t work out, we’d move on with our lives. Low and behold, the whole process from start to finish went textbook perfect. I was pregnant and so grateful to become a mother!
Though I wasn’t naïve about the challenges of parenting, there’s just no way of knowing how hard it would be. The first time I felt that subtle current of guilt (Am I grateful enough?) was during the three months of nausea and vomiting at the beginning of my pregnancy. Later, on Thanksgiving Day 2016, the current became a tidal wave of guilt. That was the day after Maya was born.
I labored hard for more than a day, only to end up having an emergency C-section. And then my baby was whisked away by the neonatal specialists when she started to turn blue in my arms. Maya had meconium aspiration and ended up spending the next fifteen days recovering in the NICU. I knew (and will always know) how lucky we were in so many ways—that she was conceived to begin with, that these life-saving technologies exist, that she recovered fully.
But I had fought so hard to have this baby, going through years of treatments, growing her in my body for more than forty weeks, and then struggling (what seemed to be) interminably to give birth to her. To then feel so helpless, to have no control over what would happen next, to have her taken from my arms in the first few minutes of her life, was soul-crushing. So, on Thanksgiving Day 2016, I celebrated briefly with my family in the hospital room where I lay recovering and then I cried and cried and cried. The idea of what I had wanted so badly was not matching up with the reality.
Fast forward a year to Thanksgiving Day 2017, and I truly was grateful for the little one having her first birthday and already becoming a strong-willed, curious toddler. Nevertheless, the shrill voice of guilt and shame was loud that day (Why can’t I handle this?). Maya was teething and cranky and we had a house full of family expecting a happy birthday girl—and then a Thanksgiving dinner. I hid with Maya in her room for a couple of hours – again crying – while my (actually) patient and understanding family finished preparations for the meal and gift opening.
I’m not sure what will happen this Thanksgiving Day. Two years of parenting has taught me to plan, but not to set rigid expectations. However, I know I’ll still be feeling both deep gratitude and a niggling current of guilt. As I look back over this past year, it hasn’t been easy, but the moments of pure parental pride and joy have come more frequently. Yesterday, Maya initiated a game of hide-and-seek with me for the first time. I was bursting with love and joy.
Yet, the cruel voice of guilt and shame still visits at times, like when Maya and I have been wrestling with a respiratory infection for weeks and it feels like we’ll always be tired, sick, and cranky. I realize that I probably shouldn’t feel bad about not enjoying these times—because, honestly, who would?— but the voice persists. You should be grateful you even have a child! And I should. And I am. I’d never go back. Maya is my greatest love, my favorite person, and raising her is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done.