I found out via Facebook yesterday that an adorable 20-month old of my acquaintance had gotten a broken wrist. Don’t know the cause, don’t know many details, but the news really shook me. Partly because this little guy is a ray of sunshine. He’s got a perpetual smile that looks as if he knows a secret joke that he might just share if you ask him the right way. He lets me hold him and play with him, so we’ve gotten to be buddies. And just now I’m identifying pretty heavily with his poor mother as she deals with the guilt and heartache of her baby’s injury.
Because I’ve been there.
One Saturday morning 18 1/2 years ago, I was up early with our three kids, stumbling around half asleep and getting breakfast for the girls, who were two and five at the time. The Boy was six months old, still young enough to sit happily in his carrier now and then while I tried to keep the house from falling down around our ears or keep his sisters from starving. I plopped him in his carrier that morning, set the carrier on the table, and stepped about ten feet away to get something for the girls.
While my back was turned, I heard a crash followed by terrifying baby howls. The Boy had gotten a little rambunctious in his seat and moved around enough that he tipped the carrier over. He hit the floor. I think my heart hit the floor at the same moment.
With my stomach doing flip-flops, I scooped him up and took him to the sofa for a cuddle and a nursing. It was my experience that nursing cured pretty much any ouchie or fussiness.
Not this time. When my baby couldn’t settle down to nurse without screaming, I knew something serious was going on.
Minutes later The Husband had called the ambulance and they were on their way to the hospital with my little darling. I stayed with the girls until a friend could come and watch them.
And then there were hours in the ER while we had X-rays and a CT scan, which showed a six-inch skull fracture, slightly depressed. That’s not good. But there’s basically nothing to be done for it but rest, care, and follow-up with our pediatrician. Who, by the way, was phoned by the ER doc to get information on these two parents who might well have been child abusers. I think if I hadn’t been so worried about my baby, the need for that phone call would have terrified me. Of course, I understand it was necessary. And we’d been with our pediatrician for five years by then – she knew us well and gave a glowing reference. I appreciated that, but that day I wasn’t at all sure I deserved it.
I don’t think I ate or slept for several days. The guilt I felt weighed me down so much I couldn’t think rationally. The accident was completely my fault, in my mind. Even though we’d never seen our son bounce around enough in his carrier to cause fall like that. Even though I was an attentive, doting mother who would never in a million years do anything to endanger her children. So for days, all I could bear to do was hold my little boy, marvel at his perfect little body and his charming laugh. Keep him close so he couldn’t get hurt again.
The Boy healed and, as far as we know, didn’t have any ill effects. Eventually I healed enough that I could stand to let him out of my sight occasionally.
That experience was, I think, my introduction to the cosmic conundrum of motherhood. No matter how hard we try, no matter how much we love, no matter how much we give ourselves away to our children, at some point we will do something wrong.
The lesson we have to learn? Just keep loving, and do your best. Learn to forgive yourself and move on to the next day of loving and doing your best. And keep on doing that for a lifetime.