The Thing About Guilt

The past few nights I have had a lot of trouble sleeping. It seems to be a combination of very vivid and intense dreams, a baby who has been whining in his sleep (teething, I think/hope) and anxiety. At first I couldn’t pin down what I was anxious about. Things have been going incredibly well lately. The baby is happy and healthy. My husband and I are happy and healthy. Life is good. Which is probably why I had to do some serious digging, at 2am, to figure out why I was unable to sleep. Why I was so panicked.

My husband is leaving for two trips out of state in the next 10 days and that in and of itself is stressful. But that’s not the problem. The last time I spent a night alone with Eli was just before his injury. And while I know that the two don’t have anything in common, some part of my brain made that connection. And I’m feeling increasingly scared to be alone with the baby. I feel like…I don’t trust myself.

And I know it’s silly. I stay home alone with him all the time. I am a good mother, I love him tremendously. But I also still carry a tremendous amount of guilt with me for what happened. It’s the thing that I’m learning about guilt- I’m not really in control over it. Because even when I wash my hands of it and say I’m done living in that moment and done blaming myself, I wake up at 2am unable to sleep until I piece together why I feel like puking and why my heart is racing and why I can’t sleep anymore.

I am afraid for my husband to leave, not because I can’t care for my child alone, but because I’m afraid something bad will happen again. That my judgment will slip and I won’t have anyone there to act as a voice of reason.

I feel scared. I feel unprepared, like a teenager watching someone else’s baby overnight. And the fact that there are 2 separate trips, filled with 2 separate separations is causing twice the anxiety.

I just want to be past all of this. I want to no longer have such vivid images of my child falling off a bed. Of him pale and sweaty, minimally responsive on a hotel bed while I yell at a 911 operator to tell the ambulance to hurry. I want to forget all the times I apologized to my child while we waited for the ambulance, while we drove to the hospital. I want to forget holding an inconsolable child, one in so much pain, one who couldn’t stop vomiting, even with prescription anti-emitics. I want to erase all the moments, all the tears, all the terror. And no matter how hard I try, how resolute I am to move past this and enjoy all that’s before me, I still can’t.

I think about it less and less each day, but the memories are crisp as ever. The sounds, the images, they’re all there, waiting in the back of my mind for something to trigger them. A trip out of town was all it took for 3 nights of insomnia to swallow me whole.

I think the most difficult part is knowing that I never really get to forget it. The neurosurgeon told us that there’s no way to know if there will be any long term issues related to the injury. Eli is so young now that we really can’t assess it. So now, as we watch Eli try to master standing and walking, we’re all wondering how much of his slowness in this milestone is from the injury (as the neurosurgeon suggested) or just his development/temperament. And if in 5 or 10 years he has trouble in school or trouble with memory, we’re going to wonder if it’s from the injury (also as the neurosurgeon suggested). Or if he has balance or coordination issues, or ADHD or any other thing, we will always wonder. We can’t ever leave it behind because there’s a huge question mark lingering over the future and no way to know what will happen or why.

I remember the scariest part of that day was wondering if I had damaged my child. If I had forever harmed him and changed his future. And the most frustrating and scary part is that I still don’t know the answer. And so even though I want to forgive myself and promise to try, I know that these memories and these fears will always be there. Will always be haunting me. Will follow my son his whole life. And that is, by far, the most terrifying.