It happened in an instant: One second my daughter was laughing, playing, and running, and the next she was screaming. The next she was crying. The next she was wailing, and covered in blood.
I mean, as soon I heard “the noise” — a dull yet intense thud — I knew it was bad. But when I placed my hand on the backside of her skull, when I touched the spot where her head connected with our wooden bed frame, I expected to feel a lump. A welt. A ginormous freakin’ goose egg. Instead, what I felt was warm and wet. What I felt was totally, utterly, and completely terrifying.
You see, in her Shirley Temple curls was blood. Ribbons and ribbons of bright red blood. And I panicked.
This gal — the one who used to draw blood for a living — lost her goddamn mind. Because this time, it was different. It was my daughter. It was my beautiful baby girl.
After processing the initial shock, I soon kicked into “survival mode.” I grabbed a clean towel and held it to her head, applying enough pressure to stop the flow but not hurt her. I grabbed her favorite toy, her coat, a sippy cup, and her sneakers. Within minutes, my husband and I were in the car. A few more, and we were on the road; at the hospital; running her into the ER.
And then, sometime after getting a bed, seeing the triage team, and settling down, reality sunk in. The gravity of her injury sunk in, and the self-loathing took over because this was my fault. The whole damn thing was my fault. How so? Because when she climbed on the bed I was in the bathroom. When she fell, I was on the “potty.”
If I hadn’t peed at that precise moment, we wouldn’t be here. If I had been watching her, she wouldn’t need stitches and a CAT scan. She would be OK. This wouldn’t have even happened in the first place.
The “mom guilt” came on fast and hard. So hard. Because this wouldn’t happen to a “good mom.” This couldn’t happen to a good mom. And not only was I a bad parent, I was incompetent. I was inadequate. I endangered my daughter’s well-being to use the toilet, and that made me more than a “bad mom;” it made me an unfit one.
The voices in my head — the ones that tell me I’m not good enough, I’m not loving enough, and I’m not capable enough — took over, and I began to shut down.
It was then my husband said something I wanted to hear; I needed to hear. It was then my husband uttered the most beautiful words I have ever heard: “This is not your fault.”
I exhaled. I inhaled. I took a breath.
You see, my husband immediately knew what I was thinking. He knew what I was feeling, and he realized this accident could have happened to anyone.
It could have happened to him.
Unfortunately, “mom guilt” (or parental guilt) is real. No matter what we as parents do, it is never enough. If I clean the house, I am missing out on moments I could be spending with my daughter. If I play with my daughter, I am ignoring my work — and my home. If I let my daughter watch TV, I am neglectful. I am negligent. And If I tell my daughter she cannot watch her favorite shows, I am a curmudgeon. I am a grouch.
(Oh wait, there’s more.)
If I feed my daughter a freshly roasted chicken and some broccoli and she does not eat it, I am the worst. Because I didn’t give her what she wanted. Because I let her go to bed hungry. And if I give her boxed macaroni and cheese and a spoonful of ketchup, I am a pushover. I am a sucker. I am a chump — a chump giving her processed crap.
And if I go to the bathroom while my daughter is awake, I am a “bad mom” because she could get into trouble. Because in order to pee I have to leave her unattended.
But when my husband said those words, I felt relieved. I felt OK. I felt enough.
And in an instant, my mindset changed. My outlook changed. In an instant, he changed the way I looked at motherhood, at myself, and at my life.
Make no mistake: There are times I go back to the “what-ifs.” What if my daughter had a fractured skull, or bleeding on the brain? What if her injury caused permanent damage? Permanent developmental or physical damage.
What if she died? But the idea that I was a bad mom because I had to use the restroom — you know, something we all have to do — was bullshit.
Complete and utter bullshit.
Because no one is perfect. And no matter how closely I keep her — no matter how closely I watch her — she will fall. She will get hurt. Accidents will happen.
And when they do, I’ll never forget those five little words: It was not your fault.