Mom guilt is awful. It creeps up on me when I decide to go to a Taylor Swift concert, or when I want to read a book instead of doing our bedtime routine. It lives with me whenever I have to go to work and Mateo shouts “MORE MAMA.” It’s just something we live with when we become moms.
A year ago, though, when Mateo was just 8 months old, I didn’t just feel normal mom guilt — I felt like the absolute worst mom in the world.
That day, I wore high heels for the first time since he was born, even though I had a bad feeling about it. I got out of the van, told my husband I could carry our baby into church and started walking in the parking lot. After 20 or so steps, my ankle gave out, and I fell down.
Somehow I protected my baby’s head, but he still fell on his leg and cried. He doesn’t normally cry very much, so we knew something was wrong. We tried to calm him down, and he did, but any time we tried to get him to stand, he would scream with a pained look. Something was definitely wrong.
So off we went to the hospital, where they took some x-Rays, and after 4 miserable hours, they confirmed my worst fear.
His little 8-month-old bone, his femur, was broken.
In my stubbornness and denial, I had told my husband to drive us to the general ER, so we then had to be transferred to a children’s hospital in an ambulance.
Mateo was happy to be in there, in a gurney, looking around, but I felt awful.
Our time in the hospital was a horrible blur of crying, doctors, rooms, and needles pricking our tiny baby. They gave him morphine through the night every couple hours, and then finally the surgeon arrived, at 6 am the next day, to put Mateo under full anesthesia and in a Spica cast.
Halfway through the surgery they called my phone and said: “I’m sorry, Mrs. De La Torre…”
My heart stopped.
“I know you wanted dark blue, but we don’t have a cast that color… we have green…”
Thankfully, Mateo was quickly on the road to recovery, but seeing my tiny, defenseless son in pain is definitely the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Especially because it was my fault. Especially because doctors and CPS agents kept asking me what happened, looking for inconsistencies in my story, and I had to keep repeating, over and over, “I fell, with my baby.”
The next few weeks were even worse.
My happy-go-lucky, learning-to-walk baby was now in a half-body cast, often grumpy, and immobile. Because of me.
My husband and my sister took a week off work to help, and we moved into my mom’s house. She made him a tiny ‘spica chair’ so he could eat sitting up. My in-laws also flew in and countless others visited and spent time making Mateo’s time as enjoyable as they could. After a while, I began to realize that Mateo really was okay.
It took me a long time to find the silver lining, and a really long time to realize that while guilt is unavoidable, it’s up to us to decide how to work through it.
For weeks and months after this, I had to continually remind myself that things like this happen. I certainly never intended for him to get hurt. I had to forgive myself. And it’s something I work through every day in different ways.
It was a big lesson in humility for me. As a mom, you want to think you can protect your child from everything. You know there will be outside forces but you want to believe you can keep all harm from your children. But really, we can’t.
They have to go out into the world, interact with it, and may be hurt by it — even by us.
We can help by building a community around them. We can seek good people who will support them and take care of them, and help them make good friendships. We can teach them to work hard, to respect others, to step up to challenges and to realize that accidents happen. We can lead by example and show them that it’s important to be willing to forgive ourselves and forgive others.
Mom guilt won’t ever fully go away, but it’s important to channel it to strengthen ourselves and our children. Life’s not about trying to do everything perfectly. We all have accidents and make mistakes. But if we can learn to forgive ourselves, we can become stronger mothers.