One of the sessions my husband and I had with our counsellors talked about the differences between guilt and shame, and how to deal with each of them. Last week at housegroup, I addressed them again, in a more general context, but all the same, feelings I have not been allowing myself to feel recently have resurfaced.
I have been thinking about this for a few days; These are difficult feelings for me to reflect on, so this post may not be written as eloquently as usual, and it may turn out to be quite hard to read. But, I feel a responsibility to my readers, and to myself, to be honest and true, so here it is.
Guilt is the feeling of having done something wrong. Shame is the feeling that you are something wrong.
I have felt both since losing my son, and in that context, I will try to address them.
Guilt, yep. That's one I have felt, still feel, and I have posted about it before. Guilt that I let him down, that my body failed him, that I didn't do my job. That if I had only kept him inside for even another week, maybe he would have lived. Robert was perfect, nothing wrong with him, nothing wrong with the placenta, no infections were found. He didn't have a genetic problem, this wasn't "nature being kind" to give us both a chance. If I had gone to term, I would have a perfect baby boy now. And so all that is left to me is to feel guilt, and blame myself. I have no other explanation. It still doesn't give me a "why" it just leads to more questions. Did I work too hard? Was I too stressed? Did I travel about too much? Am I just one of those women who can't carry to term? Any of these lead to guilt, self blame, "if only".
Shame is different. I feel shame, becuase I failed. I didn't do it right. I let everybody down. Myself, my husband, my family, my baby. I feel shame becuase I didn't do what society expected me to do. I was pregnant, but I didn't present my baby to the world; I told them about my angel. I made everyone uncomfortable by wearing my grief on my sleeve. I shared my darkest moments with everybody who would listen, whether they wanted to or not. I still do. I am living a taboo.
I told you this post would be a hard one.
So many people have told me this wasn't my fault, that I didn't do anything wrong, that I can't blame myself. I am his mum. It was my job to protect him, and I couldn't. Whether it was my fault or not, I still feel guilt and shame, whether I allow myself to acknowledge it or not.
For the first eight weeks or so of my grief, I told Bertie I was sorry every day. I felt like he had missed out on his life, and it was my fault. I felt like I didn't deserve to live, and I didn't want to live this life. I certainly didn't deserve to feel happy, or to treat myself. How could I enjoy anything when my baby was dead? I didn't feel like I deserved to be loved. I am happy to say that those feeling have eased. I now want to be happy again, and I want to live as full a life as it is possible for an angel mum to live. I want to live alongside the pain, not be drowned by it. I want to allow myself to feel loved, and I do. I wonder if I will ever stop feeling the guilt though, or if that one is here to stay, just a part of the new normal, a part of the new me.