I knew I shouldn’t have moved those tables all by myself for the potluck at school. I knew I shouldn’t have been working out at the gym when the walking gave me side pains. Mostly, though, I knew something had been wrong the week before when I had gone to the bathroom and seen some thick jelly-like substance on the toilet paper. I had called both of my doctors’ offices, and they had both said not to worry. Could that have been a sign? What was it? I should’ve made myself go in for a checkup. I shouldn’t have listened when they said not to worry.
This was all my fault. I had failed.
My fault. My body. My babies. Me. I’m the one that had to look everyone in the eyes and see their disappointment. The complete and utter failure that seemed to seep from every pore in my body.
In my nightmares, I would be given a choice. Standing in the hospital, a man’s voice from above declares, “You can save one or the other, bot not both.” And I would wake up, sweating and crying, and wondering what I ever did to deserve this torture. I didn’t get a choice to save either of my twins. They are both gone, forever.
There’s a moment that I will never forget. My second twin, my son, was in the NICU, and every single alarm on his isolette was shrieking. I sat in my wheelchair, paralyzed. My daughter had JUST died the day before, but her water had broken. His had been intact up until delivery and so he was going to fight. He was going to live. Just then, a doctor approached me. “Ma’am, I’m very sorry, but I need a decision from you. CPR is not working. We can keep trying, but … I think it’s time.”
My mind circled. Time? Time for what? For the next treatment? For the miracle? No, of course not. I shook, from head to toe. It’s time to stop trying, he meant. Time to let go.
I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself for agreeing to let them stop. I don’t know if I will ever stop wondering if I made the right choice, or if I gave up on the only chance my son had at life. I’m not sure if I’ll ever not think about this moment when I’m alone in my head.
The thing about guilt is that I know I have to be the one to let it go. I can’t imagine anyone blames me for this, it doesn’t seem rational, but my own blame for myself is enough to weigh on my heart. The what ifs alone could drive a person into the depths of despair.
As I travel through this grief journey, I have learned to forgive myself of a lot of things. My floppy postpartum belly that never went back, my need for anxiety medication, my constant worry that my family is not ok. I write it out, “It is not my fault. It is okay. I tried my best.” But, I’m not sure I believe that. Not yet.
I wonder if I ever will. What I know is that I can’t stop trying. I must continue to forgive myself, to know that I did everything a mother could do for her own twin babies. If you are reading this, I hope you can forgive yourself, too. I hope you can see that you did your best.
I’d love to hear what you’ve done to help work through your guilt. What has worked for you? We’ve got this, you guys. Together, we’ve got this.
Christy Wopat is a 4th grade teacher and writer. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband and who hilarious, energetic children, and without her boy/girl twins, Sophie and Aiden, who lived for a very short time in 2009. She is honored to share her words in hopes of breaking the stigma surrounding infant loss and grief.