Is It Possible To Forgive My Doctors?
The idea of forgiveness has presented itself lately within unexpected interactions with people. Last week, I spoke to the daughter of a woman who played an invaluable role in raising me as a child. During our conversation, she told me the unfortunate details of how her mother died suddenly and spoke of the potential medical negligence that may have played a role in her mother’s death. I could feel myself tensing up, the way that I do upon hearing other people’s stories of inexplicable loss. She and her siblings considered pursuing legal action, but it wouldn’t bring her mom back. “After all, doctors are just humans,” she said. I nodded in physical agreement—the sentiment sounded objectively appropriate, especially given the time passed since her mother’s death.
Earlier this week, a woman came over for an in-home consult on some window coverings. During the appointment, she shared some intimate feelings—and disparaging details—about her divorce. When the focus turned to my current obvious pregnancy, I returned the candor. I revealed that my first child died after having suffered a catastrophic brain injury at an unknown time, and the hospital was too willing to suggest, without definitive evidence, that the injury had occurred before I came into their care. As a result, my subsequent pregnancies and childbirth experiences are accompanied by bittersweet feelings and anxiety. As she left, the woman wished me peace in my pregnancy, offering that forgiveness might help me continue to heal. I scoffed, doubtful that I’d magically be released from harboring fear or anger.
However, beyond the conversations, the concept of forgiveness lingered, weighing heavily on my heart. I don’t come by forgiveness naturally or easily—usually, my brain’s cancellation of wrongdoing comes with a lot of time, forgetfulness, or hastily applied perspective. And following suit, purposeful forgiveness was even more so a different story, as it has historically been something I have a hard time affording even myself.
I blamed myself for my son’s death for a long time. I ruminated endlessly on the days before his birth, searching through every thought and every decision I made to determine whether I could have done something different, beating myself up for making choices I didn’t know would yield the result I received. And frankly, if I’d given birth to a healthy baby instead, there would have been no obsessive self-questioning, because no choice I chose in the days before could have causally predicted our son’s tragic outcome. But perhaps, I might not have turned the blame on myself had it not been for the hospital’s defensive—and unprovable—suggestion.
Even still, years later, I have questions for my doctor who delivered my son and then later that day, left the country for a tropical vacation. I have questions for her, despite upon meeting with me after my son’s death, her declaration that I could ask her anything, repeating over and over, “I have no ego.” I have questions for the NICU doctor who delivered the assumption of blame, that it was his professional opinion that the injurious incident that caused my son’s brain death occurred “2-3 days before delivery.”
I am still not ready to ask these questions, and that’s okay. Maybe it’s still too soon. Maybe the wounds that still feel open will heal in their own time. Or maybe some discovery of a narrative or new knowledge will unexpectedly force the hand of my heart. Maybe when I am ready to receive whatever answers they have for me, I will be ready to truly forgive.