Forgiveness & The Road to Acceptance

I’m sure it’s not a perfect analogy, but I’ve often compared the preemie experience to grief.  I didn’t lose a child, instead, I lost the typical course for my child…the course that I had every reason to believe should have been our course.  Similar to someone who has faced loss, I feel like I continue to go through the stages of grief; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression & Acceptance.

As I look through my earliest CaringBridge entries, I see denial pretty clearly.  Owen had such a lovely honeymoon period, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than going home a couple of weeks before his due date.  Even after the worst of it, I still was pretty sure he’d go home in August…even if on the 31st.  Through the NICU I also did plenty of bargaining…let’s be honest, I still do it today.  The fear of the jinx, is really just a form of bargaining.  I won’t celebrate the success too much in exchange for nothing else bad happening is my logic.  Anger, is an emotion that I’d like to pretend escaped me.  Yeah, right.  One look at any of the top read posts on this site will show you plenty of anger.  The truth is, those posts showed nothing compared to the reality.  I struggled with some of the ugliest temper tantrums that you can imagine.  Anger isn’t the word for it.  Rage is.  Sometimes at strangers.  Sometimes at home.  I’ve also struggled with depression.  I’ve so far escaped a clinical diagnosis of either PPD or PTSD, but there were definitely moments, hours and days when I struggled to do anything but feel sorry for myself.

I can’t say that I really felt any of these emotions were stages for me.  I’d say it’s more like they ebb and flow.  This weekend, I had so much to do, I had kids and a husband to love and enjoy.  Life is far from perfect, but let’s be honest, we are in such a better place than we were a year or two ago.  Even still, the fact is, this weekend I was depressed.  I read 4 full novels on my iPhone.  I didn’t want to partake in my life, so I did the bare minimum and basically lived in a make-believe world of books for the entire weekend.

I dropped Kyle off for work this morning and he asked if I was okay.  I admitted that I was sad and I didn’t have a real reason.  As I drove on to my job, I started to think about the weekend and trying to make sense of why.  I came to the conclusion that not writing much lately was effecting me.  Things like the Polar Vortex weren’t in my favor either.  I also came to the conclusion that these stages of grief aren’t really stages at all.  They don’t go in order and you don’t finish one and start another.  Instead it’s a bit of a mixed up mess of good minutes and bad minutes, great days and really shitty ones too.  Slowly…ever so slowly, the good minuets do now outnumber the bad.  I believe that part of the final stage of grief, acceptance, is admitting that the bad days don’t just miraculously end.

In truth, I’ve been working on acceptance for a while.  When Owen was about 18 months and finally had a six month stretch without being admitted to the hospital I finally started explore acceptance.  I do feel like I’m getting closer.  I finally accept that it’s okay that Owen has challenges.  I realized I needed to accept that his struggles are okay in order to truly accept Owen.

In all honesty, I think I thought with accepting Owen, I had finally cleared the acceptance hurdle…but there was something still nagging.

Last month I read the book, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  I picked up the book because I’ve always liked the way the author challenges conventional thinking about cause and effect.  I was especially interested in the book because I now work for a start-up company, I wanted to think about how the small David companies can compete with the Goliath companies that I used to work for.  As a special needs mom, I also wanted to read examples of disadvantages – like learning disabilities – being turned into advantages.  I did get insights on all that I had hoped.  I also figured out what was nagging at me about acceptance.

In his book, Malcolm Gladwell explores a mother, Wilma Derksen, who lost a teen daughter to a brutal rape/murder.  The focus on the chapter about the Derksen family was about forgiveness.  She talked about how it was easier to forgive in the abstract.  For the years that they did not know who to blame, forgiveness still took work, but through her personal beliefs, she felt she was there.  And then many years later, the murderer was discovered.  When suddenly she wasn’t forgiving the “idea of someone”, but had to forgive a real person for doing horrific things to her daughter it became much harder.  “I fought against it.  I was reluctant.  I’m not a saint…it’s the last thing you want to do,” Gladwell quotes Derkson.  “It would have been easier in the beginning [to not forgive], but then I think it would have gotten harder.  I think I would have lost [my husband].  I would have lost my other children.”  And as Gladwell points out, she also would have lost her sanity.

Wilma Derksen’s story really demonstrated for me the importance of forgiveness.  I realized, I had accepted where we are and forgiven the idea of what prematurity means for Owen, but I haven’t really forgiven the events of a complicated preemie course.  But I wasn’t really sure where to apply her story to mine.  There is no murderer in our story.  There was just a little baby who was born all too soon.  What’s to forgive?  Who is to forgive?

I was sitting on an airplane looking over the clouds as I read this forgiveness chapter of the book.  Staring out at pink clouds beneath me, I realized it is me who I blame.  Yes, I’m not a murder and I’m not comparing myself in any way, but the reason Owen was born too soon is because of me…my body…more specifically, my cervix.  The reason he had such a complicated course was me…my fucking breast milk poisoned my son.

I know, I know, I try not to throw the f-bomb around on this blog, but it’s the only word I have for how royally pissed off I am.  And the fact that I can’t come up with a better word tells me one thing…I’ve yet to forgive the person I blame.

I do accept Owen, but I don’t accept how it happened and I have yet to accept my part in what happened.  If Wilma Derksen can forgive a man who intentionally hog-tied, raped and left her teenage daughter to ultimately die, then surely I can forgive me for unintentionally having a faulty body.  Right?

I’m not 100% sure what to say to myself that will make the blame go away, but I guess I’m just going to start with this,

Dear Tatum, I forgive you.



What If…

I often feel as if I hang in the balance of the “what ifs”.

There are the “what ifs” that didn’t work out in Owen’s favor.

  • What if he hadn’t gotten CMV?  Maybe if I had chosen the unthinkable – to not breastfeed?  Would his course have been different? (You can read this story here)
  • What if I had been seeing a Maternal Fetal Medicine doctor from the start, maybe P17 and/or a cerclage would have helped me stay pregnant longer.
  • What if I had gone in one week earlier when it felt like Owen was kicking my tail bone?  Is that when my cervix started to thin?  Could I have still gotten a cerclage and stayed pregnant longer?
  • What if we had kept Kellen out of school Owen’s first winter home, would that have kept Owen healthier?  Could he be off oxygen today?
  • Kyle often thinks, what if he had helped me paint the boys room and rearrange the furniture – did I do something then?
  • My dad has wondered, what if I hadn’t been chasing Kellen and carrying him as he had a temper tantrum the day before I went into the hospital – did that start the labor?

There are also the “what ifs” that, thankfully did not happen.   Most notably:  what if he had died?

Is it logical for me to think about all these “what ifs”?  No, I know I can’t change what happened and I truly believe I did nothing that caused Owen’s early arrival.

Is it human nature to think about all these “what ifs”?  Yes.

For the most part, I focus on what’s happening and what is in front of me.  But, I will not apologize for the occasional “what if”.  I really can’t imagine that Owen will grow up never wondering how his life would be different had he not been born so soon.  I promise you, my 5’ 7” brother wonders if he would have been taller than his 5’ 10” sister, had he not been born too soon.

If I don’t acknowledge these thoughts exist –   If I do what so many people suggest, and “don’t think that way” (which is really just pretend they aren’t there) – how will I ever be able to help Owen work through his own, “what ifs”?

The feelings are real.  They won’t stop me from helping my son succeed and I can see in Owen that he won’t be stopped from succeeding.  But I do believe, it is okay to admit that the journey of life, is not quite the way I planned.