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Fuel to the fire of a mother’s guilt

The guilt surrounding Ryley’s early birth amazed and overwhelmed me.  It hasn’t diminished in the 9 years since he arrived.  Why didn’t I listen to my body? Why didn’t I follow my instincts? Why did I let an arrogant doctor convince me I was just a paranoid pregnant lady? Why didn’t I tell anyone the IV was bleeding and painful? Why didn’t I ask more questions? What could I have done differently? What should I have done differently? The why’s can go on forever.  And I’m a pro at beating myself up. 

I’m an avid online news reader….CNN, Time, Yahoo….There was an article a few weeks back in NYTimes about parents suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder following a premature birth of their child, and subsequent NICU stay.  I realized about five years ago that I needed to let myself grieve over what happened with Ryley, and that in spite of the amazing outcome we had with him, I had to deal with the PTSD that was the result of having a micro-preemie and spending 93 days in the NICU.  I’m an adult.  I can wrap my brain around having emotional issues and resulting psychological issues.  But in the midst of my news-reading the other day, I was stopped in my tracks.  It said, “A new study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that children with symptoms of post-traumatic stress had poor function of the hippocampus, a part of the brain that stores and retrieves memories.” (CNN article) Oh my….something new to worry about and feel guilty over.

Now, logically I can tell myself that there is no way Ryley consciously remembers ANYTHING that happened to him when he was a baby.  Our brains just don’t retain those memories. But I can guarantee that coming into the world three months early, then spending the next three months being constantly poked, prodded, tested, stuck with  needles, shoved under lights and beeping machines would be classified as “trauma”.  Add to that Ryley’s brain was in no way ready to deal with any of it.  I’m guessing there’s going to be some effect on him.

We’ve made it past the “danger zone” of his first three years.  We survived his mild asthma, ADHD, and visual processing diagnosis.  We would know by now if there were going to be any other issues, right? So why would I feel even more guilt from reading this article? Because it taps into one of my biggest fears for him….that he would somehow come to consciously remember even one second of those three months, much less have any psychological result from it. It’s a fear that has hounded me from the moment Ryley was wheeled away to an ambulance that would move him to a different hospital, and was compounded on a daily basis until he came home from the NICU.  Now I have confirmation that I have one more thing to worry about, one more thing to possibly feel guilty for. Don’t these writers know when they write something like that what they’re doing to moms  like me? Granted, this article refers to teens and children, not babies. Yet it still started a thought process for me, and added to my already-long list of things to feel guilt over. 

I honestly don’t think I’ll ever “get over” Ryley’s prematurity.  Seriously…here I am, nine years later, with a healthy, happy, active boy, writing about his birth like it was yesterday.  That’s probably my own PTSD outcome. Just this morning, when he walked up to me to give me a good morning hug, I felt myself getting teary-eyed because his head now reaches past my shoulders (go ahead, bring on the short jokes). And then I choked up again when he stood up and whacked his back on one of my vanity drawers.  He was in pain, and I wanted to take that pain for him.  Do you ever stop worrying about any of your kids? I’m thinking it’s not likely.  I can guarantee that you NEVER stop feeling guilty over, stressing about, and worrying over your child who arrives too soon and too small, no matter how old, how tall, how perfectly healthy he gets.

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