The congenital defect that led to Teddy’s death occurs in 1 out of 2,500 births, which is uncommon enough to make me feel failed by statistics, while still being far too common. Some of these cases of CDH, like Teddy’s, are diagnosed in ultrasounds, usually well into the second trimester. Of children born with CDH, about 50% survive. There are different statistics (ranging from 20% to 80%), and different ways of framing those statistics, but this is the one I heard most often.
Perhaps 50% has stuck in my brain because it’s such a flip of the coin; not the worst odds in the world, but just by looking at the figure you know that someone will come down on the wrong side of those odds half of the time. One death for every survival. We wanted to be on the other side of that 50%, but we knew we might not be. After week 29 of my pregnancy, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to waltz into the local hospital, excited and happy, and leave the next day with a healthy baby boy. We knew we were in for big-time grief or the long haul in a NICU. And even knowing that, Teddy’s death was the worst kind of surprise.
“It’s not your fault,” is something we heard from every doctor we talked to. I remind myself of that on nights when I can’t sleep, and sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t, because they don’t know what causes a congenital diaphragmatic hernia. No one does. So there may be something I should or shouldn’t have done, should or shouldn’t have eaten, something I could have controlled or fixed if I’d known what it was. And telling myself that, even if there was something no one knows what it is, doesn’t always help. It seems as though it shouldn’t have taken much to end up on the right side of those odds, to have nudged us over into the happy 50%.
Teddy’s birth was hard. I didn’t react ideally to the pitocin and the contractions were long, which is why we eventually had the c-section anyway. If he hadn’t turned that last week, if we’d had a scheduled c-section with none of that stress of if I’d asked for a c-section at the first signs of it, would his chances have been better? What if I had refused induction altogether and shelled out for hotel money to keep us in Portland until I went into labor on my own, giving Teddy another week or a few more days of safety to grow in my womb? I don’t know and I’m afraid to ask. We all did what we thought was best at the time, but what if we were wrong?
What if all that’s standing between my current sad self and that other, happier imagined me who is holding a living, squirming baby in her arms is a plane ride taken at the wrong time or drinking from a water bottle with BPA or avoiding food coloring or walking up the hill to work at the wrong time on the wrong day or asking for a c-section?
There are days like today where I feel like such a failure of a mom for losing my baby. The voice in my head telling me, “They said it wasn’t your fault,” becomes shrill and desperate, never quite convinced.
What do you regret when you don’t know what to regret?