I suppose the correct universal term is ‘parent guilt’ but stuff the PC brigade, I’m going to be gender specific and divulge my understanding of the blasted mummy guilt. I do concede it is an imposed assumption of wrongdoing that afflicts both parties once you take ownership of a mini-person.
The truth is, my first encounter with mummy guilt knocked at my door long before my eldest daughter arrived on the scene. I miscarried our first child. There, I dropped the ‘M’ word. Sure I’d heard of it before I got pregnant, I even saw the odd poster or leaflet at my GP surgery, but until it happened to me it was a case of ignorance is bliss. If there’s one thing I quickly discovered once the reality of that confirmation hit home, is that there aren’t enough pamphlets to devour to explain when you’re going to stop feeling so hollow. I felt betrayed by my own body, I demanded answers of it, but it just did a Jack Nicholson eyebrow shuffle and counselled that I couldn’t handle the truth.
There is no dress rehearsal for grief. As a dog happily buries a bone, my mind concealed the trauma of sudden bereavement. It wrapped the details in that oh so satisfying to pop bubble wrap and then deftly popped up a flat packed cardboard box, secured it with a liberal application of fragile tape, to be shelved somewhere at the back of my mind with the VHS tapes marked ‘DO NOT TAPE OVER’.
Even the briefest of souls to grace the earth leaves a shadow in its wake. My body felt like a vacuum for decay, slowly consuming itself.
The mummy guilt visited when I had to arrange to go into hospital to induce the labour as I had a delayed miscarriage. I won’t lie to you, I cried just picking up the phone, turning my poor mum’s hand white as I crushed her fingers whilst clumsily speaking to the ward.
Sometimes three little words can mend your heart, yet the same amount can break it; there’s no heartbeat.
I miscarried again in my third pregnancy too.
A hollowness haunted my body, it ached for those babies, hushed to eternal slumber.
Don’t ask me why but for some reason when I did begin to deal with their loss Halloween subconsciously became a validated landmark of reflection for me. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the event, any calendar date that promotes candy and fancy dress gets my vote at the polling station. It took some time before I connected the dots that my first miscarriage was in autumn and in a strange way the unassuming pumpkin had become a totem of sorts for my emptiness as I watched my husband scoop out its pulpy flesh.
But hope springs eternal as they say. In a way death is just another veil, the removal of the final cloak, our skin. In death there is rebirth. Autumn is my favourite month. The transition of the leaves from green to gold then finally a parched brown, as the branches shiver in the cold. But even the barest of trunks breathes new life come spring.
When I gave birth to our eldest that familiar guilt called again. Thanks to having the NHS equivalent of Sweeney Todd in the delivery room, my vagina now resembled a portal for Sauron to launch an attack on the mortal realm, and like Jon Snow it didn’t get through its own ‘battle of the bastards’ unscathed. I watched numb, struck with envy as mothers tentatively attended their babies as I internally prayed for the pain to stop, feeling an imposter in my new role.
All too often we utter the term ‘it’s not a matter of life and death’; essentially becoming detached from the impact of both events.
Instead of handing out Bounty packs with their ridiculously small Hobbit serving of non-bio powder they should hand out hugs, together with a cape to remind every single woman that has endured the most ancient right of passage, that it was just that, and that they’re just as much made of steel as Clark Kent himself.
I’d also give a chest bump (well maybe a high five as when you wear your balls up top, chest bumps are quite sore!) to every stay at home dad that braves the tantrums along with the playgroups.
For every parent who’s endured the eye watering bum changes, the ear piercing screams and who’s failed abysmally to assist their child with an Easter bonnet, as Biggie said to ‘Lil Kim “I got you!”.