Monday, February 13, 2012

Freedom from Guilt

This post was originally written for Mormon Mommy Blogs
On July 4th, 2011, I sat on the rocking chair in the nursery rocking back and forth. In my arms I held my sweet Laila, her full dark hair tickling my cheek. In the next room I heard the excited gasps, laughter, and clapping of my three boys. My husband and I decided that instead of going to a large, packed stadium with our four little children, we would watch the fireworks from home. While my boys put on their pajamas, my husband took off the screen to their window and then helped each boy carefully climb out onto the roof outside their window. This was one of the best days of their lives—they were on the roof, watching fireworks, with their Dad! Even one of those would have been a treat, but all three?!
As I sat in the quiet room next door listening to the excited squeals of my boys, my husband’s soft voice talking to them, and felt the warm body of my sleeping baby on my chest, I felt full. Full of happiness. Full of love. Full of gratitude. How could I be so lucky to have this? It felt at that moment life was perfect. My family was perfect and we were just as we should be.
Six months later I sit again in that same quiet nursery, this time with empty arms. I still feel full of happiness, love and gratitude. But now, I am full of other emotions as well. Sometimes there are too many emotions and I become so full of them that they all come spilling out in a mess and I stare at them not knowing how to pull them all back in and make sense of them. One emotion, guilt, spent too many months occupying too much of my heart.
My daughter died of SIDS. She was lying on her belly when she died. As my husband performed CPR I stood in the corner sobbing, “I’m so sorry. I did this. I did this.” At the hospital I endured questioning by a detective. She let me hold my baby while she asked, “Can you tell me the family health history? Was she sick? Did you notice anything different about her?” I couldn’t endure the questions anymore and I confessed, “You don’t have to ask any more questions. I did this. I killed her. She was lying on her belly.” The pity in the detective’s eyes was unmistakable.
For months I allowed guilt to rush through me, taking over my thoughts, and bringing me sorrow. I didn’t need anyone but myself to make me feel guilty. And yet, I allowed comments from others to add to the already burdensome guilt. Comments made their way to me, often with no intention to hurt me, “If you put your baby on their tummy, you will kill them.” I was a murderer. “I got out of the shower and my boys had rolled the baby onto his stomach. I freaked out. It’s just so scary for them to sleep on their tummies.” I was irresponsible. At the doctor’s office, when it was discovered Laila had died on her belly, “OOOHHH. She was on her belly…” The doctor could not meet my eyes. I had become the poster mom for every patient following with a new baby: “I had this patient and I told her not to place her baby on her belly and guess what? Her baby died.” I was to be pitied and judged for the rest of my life.
How could I explain to my non-LDS doctor that Laila was not sleeping? She was unhappy and in pain (she had reflux). When considering how to help her I prayed for guidance and received an answer. The answer was to place my baby on her belly. I knew the risks and I hesitated, ignoring the answer for a few days until again, the answer came, “Put her on her belly.” I placed her on her belly and suddenly sleep came. Laila was happy and rested and I knew it was an answer to my prayer.
Then Laila died.
How could I explain to everyone that I prayed and received an answer that led to the death of my baby? Surely it couldn’t have been an answer from God. But I’ve never doubted it was.
The guilt, so apparent before, is now being crowded out by something more merciful and sweet. Instead, I hear the quiet whispering of the Spirit tell me that Laila’s life was short. I didn’t kill my baby. What I did was make the last few weeks of her life happy, comfortable, and without pain. I don’t know why Laila died the way she did and I still wish at times that she could have died in a way unrelated to my choices. What I do know is that my husband and I have the ultimate parenting partner. We are partners with God, who guides our family and helps us make the choices that are right for our family.
I know that some women will still not understand my choice to put Laila on her belly. I know that some women will still shake their heads and think, “Didn’t she know what could happen?” I also know that I am free from guilt because I know I made the choice that God wanted me to make. I don’t have to defend my choices when I make them with God.
What I wish is not just for an Adrianne that is more gentle on herself, but for all mothers to be more gentle on each other.
In the past, I’ve found myself assuming that just because something is right for my family, it is right for every family. What I wish is that there are more mothers encouraging each other to make good choices based on what they feel is right for their family, and recognizing that God has a different plan for each of us, and maybe that plan includes breastfeeding for my neighbor and bottle feeding for my other neighbor. Or maybe it means immunizing for my older sister and not for my younger sister. Maybe God’s plan involves my best friend having an unassisted childbirth while my other friend has a medicated birth in the hospital.
Does it matter? Not really. What matters is that as mothers, we give each other an added dose of understanding, love, and encouragement. What matters is that we embrace our right and ability to make choices for ourselves, based on the knowledge we have and the guidance that is ours, if we listen, from the Spirit. That’s what matters.
For me, I still hear those comments and there are still moments where that all too familiar feeling of guilt creeps into my heart. But mostly, I am learning to train my ears to hear the voices that matter. Those voices tell me that Laila loves me, that she appreciates all I did to make her short life comfortable and happy, and that God is pleased with the choices I am making for my family.

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