I Blamed Myself
I belong to an exclusive group. We are a minority among the general population. We often find solace and comfort in each other. We sometimes only feel “normal” when we are in each other’s company. Once in a while we help each other feel sane. Yet we would do anything possible to leave this group, to renounce our membership and run toward anything different.
Everyone in this group has suffered the loss of a baby.
Beyond the torment of belonging to this club I find I am yet still a minority within it. I am different than most although my daughter too has died. I sometimes feel alienated and foreign to what is suppose to be my own tribe. It’s an indescribable isolation.
I am different because my daughter died during a homebirth.
When we first got pregnant my husband and I hardly considered the option of homebirth. We thought it was something we would never do. As citizens of a brand new city embarking on a new adventure, we prepared to rediscover ourselves and start anew. With our beloved baby on the way we began heavily researching the best way to welcome her into the world. She passed every test and proved to be a low-risk, normal and blissfully healthy pregnancy. Our path eventually led us to homebirth.
When my daughter died I blamed myself. I blamed my body for not pushing her out quickly enough; I thought it suffocated her. I deemed my body a death trap that must be destroyed. I was defective. I should have been in a hospital. I should have felt that something was wrong. My midwives must not have been paying attention. How were there no symptoms? How could this have happened? I deserved to die as well.
It took me a long time to realize it wasn’t my fault. The only way to come to this was to open Pandora’s box and accept whatever I found. I returned to my habit of obsessive research, scouring for answers as to what could have happened. I spoke with every medical professional I could to see if they could give me answers. I questioned the medical examiner that performed her autopsy after we’d received the results. With a trembling voice I begged them to tell me the truth, “Would she have lived if she were in a hospital?” I waited, expecting to hear that it was all my fault, that I’d failed my baby and her death was a result of my negligence. How could I live knowing this? How could I possibly go on? “No.” they said.
It wasn’t my body. It wasn’t my midwives. A full investigation proved there were no mistakes made or ways to have known that this could happen. I met a woman (now a dear friend) through my charity work whose son died of the same thing while being highly monitored in a hospital. The more I searched for answers, the more I realized there were none. Hindsight was the only light that shined on this tragedy and there was nothing we could have done about it.
It wasn’t our fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.
Some people don’t know how to cope with a tragic death without finding someone to blame. Amidst our grief we endured devastating attacks from certain family members. As we struggled to come to grips with our baby’s death we were tormented and prodded to explain to them why she died. We were told we sacrificed her safety by not delivering in a hospital, as they would have. They demanded we satiate them and focus on their grief and suffering. With each jab I found my anger growing and intensifying. As one who would normally avoid confrontation I steeped in my own misery. Teetering between rage and profound sorrow, I found myself mangled like a tortured animal that’d been backed into a corner. I began clawing at anyone who came near me whether they meant me harm or not.
Finally I burst.
I defended our decisions loudly, presenting all the evidence I had explaining why her death wasn’t a result of the location. I wrote a post about it in my blog, which subsequently went viral. I found myself caught in the middle of a war about homebirth. I remained silent as advocates on either end flung daggers at each other, many hitting me on the way. Many of those who were anti-homebirth were using my broken body and my daughter’s death as their soapbox to further their agenda and defend their beliefs. It was shocking to me that none of them stopped to think that this was someone’s life, someone’s beloved baby they were ranting about.
I fell silent again and retreated to mourn my daughter.
In time it became clear to me that most people who are against homebirth have his or her mind already made up. They lump all homebirth scenarios together including those that are unplanned, unassisted and high-risk, none of which describe my own. No matter what evidence I present or what truths I reveal, there is nothing I could ever say to change their minds, no more than a Christian could convert an Atheist or a Pro-choice advocate could influence a Pro-lifer. Most people’s beliefs are fairly solidified and unwavering; if you don’t do things their way you are wrong.
In the end I gave up defending myself. I realized that nothing anyone could say would diminish the truth I’d discovered. They don’t know me nor do they know the decisions that led me to homebirth. They weren’t there when I gave birth and don’t know what occurred. They have nothing backing their opinions but assumptions and a fierce agenda, none of which have anything to do with my daughter or her specific circumstances. I know the truth and I wrap it around me like a life-vest. So I let them yell. I let them judge. I let them attack.
What has astonished me throughout this process is the complete cruelty some people exhibit and in stark contrast the incredible compassion of others. It’s still shocking that complete strangers have been more supportive than my husband’s own family. We have come to understand very clearly what the word family truly means, and it has nothing to do with blood. Love is shown through action and behavior, not genetics.
By telling my story, rather than hiding away from controversy, I have found an overwhelming amount of acceptance and kindness. I have learned how to avoid those that are toxic and embrace those that aren’t. My heart and my mind have opened to situations where I might have been judgmental myself. I have learned to let go of what others may think of me and find strength in what I know of myself. I am an advocate for compassion. I have learned that finding the courage to use my voice and tell my story is mandatory. It is easier to accept the cruelty I sometimes encounter when I think about the people I may be helping along the way. If my story helps one person, it was worth telling.