A Conversation on Grief and Mommy Guilt
(This article was co-written by Still Standing Magazine contributing authors Larissa Genat And Cheli Blasco)
Larissa is mum to Ariella (stillborn at term in 2013) and Levi (7 months). She is a stay at home mum who enjoys spending time at the beach with her wonderful husband and son.
Cheli is mom to Lucas (6), Gaspar (4), and Luna (who died a year ago at 26 weeks gestation). She is a doula and a homeschooler living with her brood of kids and loving, patient partner in Madrid.
Let’s talk guilt. It seems to poke its ugly, menacing head in on our parenting, particularly in relation to our babies who died.
Q: What kind of thoughts or situations make you feel guilty?
Cheli: Oh… anytime I am being ungrateful. If I’m less than ideally patient with my kids, for instance. Or those moments when they are calling me to come play, and I keep telling them to wait because I am trying to write, or searching the web frantically for pieces and memories of Luna. Then this little voice says: ha! How can you even be so sad about not having Luna here if you can’t even pay proper attention to the kids that are here? Ungrateful hypocrite intent on being unhappy… that voice make me feel guilty.
Larissa: Most of them! When Levi cries and I can’t fix it, I feel guilt that I couldn’t fix things for Ariella. I feel guilty when my husband looks after him so I can write and feeling like I’m exhausted from looking after Levi leaves me with guilt too. After all, last year I desperately wanted to be looking after a baby…now I am… how can I possibly be exhausted when it’s all I want?
Q: What do you think your guilt is telling you? What is the fear underneath?
Cheli: I think my guilt has to do with the fact that sometimes I’m not sure that I can be a good mom to all. Sometimes I feel I have to guard Luna’s space, or life will take over and she might be forgotten. I think the fear is I might lose her. I think the fear also is that now I know I can lose anyone. That children are not protected by love, and every minute is a gift. And anything that is not fully embracing of that gift is a waste. And that is a lot of pressure for a human mother.
Larissa: I think my main fear is that Levi will die and I will not have made the most of every moment with him. That’s why it’s so hard to let others look after him, I even feel guilty sometimes asking my husband to take him! But on the other hand, I’m scared that Ariella will be forgotten or that she is somehow being replaced by her brother. All of last year, I was able to focus on my grief and give her all the time I thought she deserved. That’s all changed now…the needs of my living child have to come first, but how do I continue to honour Ariella? How can I do that without having the time to focus on her?
Q: How do you try to handle the guilt?
Cheli: Haha… I don’t. It kind of just rolls over me. I guess I try to cut myself some slack… try to remember that I can’t be perfect and ideal at all times, or at any times, really… that there is no being perfect and idea, there is just being your best and real.
Larissa: Oh, am I supposed to handle it?? I have to admit that most of the time I try to shove it aside or if that is too hard, I wallow in it. I know that’s not the healthiest way to go about it, but it’s just so hard to do otherwise! But when I can think clearly, I try to be gentle with myself. To let myself fully feel the different emotions but remind myself that as long as I am loving both Ariella and Levi, that is what matters.
Q: What have you learned from dealing with guilt? Or what are you trying to learn from it?
Cheli: I am trying to learn to be patient and forgiving with myself. I am trying to learn to be more present in the moment and less wrapped up in my head…
Larissa: I’ve learned that I am so much harder on myself than on my friends. When a friend tells me she is feeling guilt over similar things, it is so easy to be gracious and gentle. But I beat myself up over it! I’m trying to learn to give myself the same grace that I give to others.
Q: If guilt was a small, fury and cuddly creature, vying for your attention, what would you say to it as you take it in your arms and try to appease it?
Cheli: It doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to look good or be fair. And, most importantly, there is enough love to go around. There is enough love for everyone.
Larissa: I would tell it that I have two arms and that it needs to learn to co-exist with love. I cannot give it my full attention and one day, it will need to learn that it cannot vie for my attention forever. My aim would be to set it free one day.