When I developed my pregnancy complications and then landed on bed rest (my doctor cuttting me off from all of my jobs), I felt horrible.
I knew it wasn't my fault. I wasn't causing these complications. I wasn't taking a vacation instead of working and bringing in finances for our family.
But I needed someone to blame for all of my complications, for the unfairness and the helpnessess that I felt because nothing in my pregnancy was going the way that it was supposed to.
The guilt was palpable. I felt unworthy of help, support and the sacrifices that others were making for me to help my body do something that it should have been able to do.
See what keeps coming up? "Should". That awful "S" word that kept me stuck in that cycle of guilt.
What I quickly had to realize was that not only did this guilt not serve me or help me emotionally but it was adding stress to my pregnancy that was making things even worse.
If you're feeling guilty for failing your baby, for dumping work on coworkers or for not being able to help around the house or with the other kids....I get it. I do.
And there are steps you can do to overcome it, because the guilt you feel is very common, but it is unfounded and undeserved.
Your high-risk pregnancy is not your fault. (Tweet that!)
The changes your family has to make and your coworkers have to make is not your fault. The guilt doesn't make your situation better either, as you know.
It's important, for you and the baby, to stop feeling guilty.
Before we talk about what to do about this guilt, I want to make sure we're talking about the same thing when we say "feeling guilty".
What is guilt?
Guilt is an emotion we develop at an early age. It’s an important emotion that we develop because it tells us when we did something wrong.
Guilt essentially acts acts as a moral compass so we know when we’ve done something wrong, we can make amends and forgive ourselves for doing that wrong thing.
Guilt is also a common emotion felt by people with health conditions, especially if the health condition limits their life in some way and even moreso if those limitations affect other people.
Why do moms with high-risk pregnancies or babies in the NICU feel guilty?
You may feel guilty about a variety of things.
Your partner has to carry more of the household responsibilities because you can’t keep up
You’re not as available to your coworkers so your projects ended upon their lap.
You are not able to contribute financially to your family like you used to.
You miss your loved ones’ celebrations and life events because you can’t make it.
In these situations guilt is tricky because the restrictions or lifestyle changes dictated by health condition are no one’s fault.
Yet, we still look for someone to blame and often we turn that inwards and blame ourselves.
That is called misplaced guilt. In most cases guilt acts as a moral compass but in cases where you have misplaced guilt it’s like the compass is broken!
Guilt triggers a stress response in the body
If you already have a health condition like an autoimmune disease, high-risk pregnancy or inflammation, you know how important it is to keep your stress low.
The stress from guilt puts you at risk for headaches, body aches, GI trouble, cardiovascular disease and preterm labor. It also puts you at risk for low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.
How to get overcome and let go of the guilt
The steps to overcoming guilt aren't hard. In fact, as you read them you might feel like they're so simple, there's no way they'll work. But the true shift in releasing guilt comes not in doing these steps once or twice, but doing them every day so you create new habits that replace the guilt cycle you're stuck in.
1) Recognize you haven’t done anything wrong.
Unless you caused yourself to have a high-risk pregnancy or be on bed rest, this is not your fault. I know this sounds obvious but it's essential that you remind yourself of this frequently, because guilt comes from blame. Whether you journal on it every day or create a mantra to remind yourself, this is very important to do every day.
As that becomes habit, replace those guilty thoughts with kind, compassionate thoughts for yourself. For example, acknowledge how hard this is on everyone that's being affected by your pregnancy restrictions. Instead of following it with guilt (aka blaming yourself), acknowledge how unfair this is to everyone...including you.
Replacing self-berating thoughts with acknowledgment of the reality can release the deep-rooted guilt that's got it's hold on you, trying to convince you that you should feel bad for your pregnancy complications.
2) Focus on things you are still able to do and then do them.
You may not be able to go grocery shopping, but you can make the list for someone else to get them for you. Or you can place an order for delivery to save time for everyone!
You may not be allowed to sit on the floor or do bed time but you can have your older children with you to read books, color or tell a bed time story before they are tucked in at night.
This is also a great time to make changes to your lifestyle, family or work that you've been meaning to make but because of feelings of obligation (or not even realizing you had a choice!) you never made them. Been meaning to cut back at work anyway? Now's a great time to outsource things you don't want to come back to work to do when baby is here.
Always wanted to hire a housekeeper but talked yourself out of it. Go for it now! You all need the help now more than ever.
Ask yourself how you can still help the people you feel you're letting down. You'll be surprised how many ideas you come up with if you allow yourself to get creative and let go of the "shoulds".
3) Keep things in perspective.
You know what your body needs, but your head still needs to catch up. Yes, you could still go at the pace you used to, doing everything around the house, working at the pace you've always worked, letting your guilt guide you to push yourself.
But you know exactly how your body will respond.
Maybe it's contractions or a spike in blood pressure. It could be a bad glucose reading in the morning or so much pain that you can't sleep at night.
Remember that you're not just kicking back and relaxing when you're cutting back on the activities you're doing. You're doing it to keep your baby safe and keep him/her cooking as long as possible. That is invaluable.
The cycle of guilt can be hard to break, especially when you feel you're at fault for what's going on in your pregnancy. If you're having a hard time switching your thoughts and overcoming this guilt, ask yourself what purpose your guilt serves.
Why is it so important to you that you blame yourself and take on this responsibility? Where is this coming from and why it is better to stay feeling guilty than letting it go?
Journaling on these questions can give you some incredible insights on why it's so hard to let go of the guilt.
If you know that you're completely done with allowing this guilt to add additional stress to your pregnancy and you're determined to end this cycle and also release the stress so you can have as healthy of a pregnancy as possible (even if you have complications!) check out my free webinar.
I know personally how easy it is to feel like it's a fact that you're failing everyone. But it is not a fact at all. It's purely your opinion - and an opinion I'm 100% certain no one else shares.
Releasing the guilt is important for you and for the health of your pregnancy so make it a priority to challenge those thoughts today. I know you can do it.