Regret; the sense of sadness or repentance for having done or not done something.
I carry an overwhelming sense of regret in this life I live after loss, and it is something that can be a heavy burden to bear. After all, there is no going back, no changing what has been done or not done. Orla has gone, there is no way of getting her back and no way of making new memories with her physical presence in place of ones that we were not able to do. Death is final.
There are many things that I feel incredibly proud of, maybe more so in what we have undertaken since Orla died; her letters, the fundraising, the blog. Yet there are so many things that I wish I could have done differently. One of the biggest regrets will always be the overwhelming sense that I failed Orla and potentially could have saved her. This undoubtedly goes further than regret and fast tracks to heart crushing guilt and shame. This is not just a tinge of sadness or sorrow, this is full blown rage at myself that I can only sometimes allow myself to unleash, through fear of how it will consume me. This is mum guilt at its absolute extreme: the feeling that I could have, should have, saved her and in not doing so I am not fit to award myself the title of mother. Mothers protect their children and I somehow allowed mine to die.
The regrets I allow my mind to meander to are those in the time between Orla’s birth and our final goodbye. I wish that I had felt strong enough to hold Orla as soon as she was born, for the all-important skin to skin that I had planned throughout my pregnancy. Yet I know that I was terrified; scared of seeing her lifeless body; scared of not being able to love her because she was gone; terrified of loving her too much and this breaking me. I needed those moments to compose myself, to close my eyes and re-orient myself to our situation: that I had given birth to our baby, but that our baby was dead. Pride and despair in one fell swoop.
I also wish that we had spent more time with Orla at hospital, that we had taken more photographs instead of the only one of us as a family of three. We spent ten hours at hospital with her before leaving to go home, but maybe we should have spent 10 more? Maybe if I had stayed a little longer, I could have managed some photographs where I didn’t look completely shell-shocked and broken? More photos that I could treasure rather than ones that make my insides ache. Should I have given her a bath to clear up the vernix that covered her at birth? I wonder if people looking at her photos think that she looks strange or that her skin is that way because she had died. Can they see past this and see the beautiful perfect baby that I see?
Was it wrong of us to keep Orla to ourselves and not have family come and visit her? I know my reasons for doing this was to protect their hearts, but was this my job to do? Have I deprived them of their only opportunity to see, touch and hold her? I wonder if this makes her even more likely to become a figment of my imagination – did she really exist? Was she really ours? Or does this make her even more special; she was mine and Andy’s, we made and grew her and we kept her cocooned in this special bubble for the whole of her life.
Should I have invited more people to her funeral rather than just immediate family and our midwife? Should I have allowed my friends to see me at my most vulnerable, walking next to Andy as he carried Orla in her tiny white coffin through the small chapel? This was the day that I was at my most broken; the day that I was convinced that the physical pain of grief was going to consume me. The concoction of emotions was unlike anything I have ever experienced. A tsunami, with waves that were never ending. Contractions with no respite in between. I truly thought that I was going to die. Or maybe I just hoped that I would. I sometimes wonder if having more people to witness me in this state would have been the thing that tipped me over the edge.
Regret is a painful and sometimes unwelcome visitor at my door. On occasions, I allow it to step over the threshold and at others I slam the door in its face. Yet the thing I find equally as painful is the worry that I induce this feeling in others. When I talk of the things that we did, the things that I can hold on to with pride, such as visiting and holding Orla each day at the funeral home, reading her stories or having casts made of her hands and feet, I feel heartbroken when people say ‘I so regret having not done this’. My heart hurts that I have potentially made someone feel this way and I instantly regret having shared this piece of our journey. There is nothing worse than the sense that you have hurt someone else who is going through the same painful experiences as yourself.
I just hope that they can hold on to the mantra that gets me through these heart wrenching moments:
‘I did the best I could at that time with the resources I had. We made the right choices for us in those moments’
And sometimes, just sometimes, I can really allow myself to believe this.