Did I do this to my baby? I asked myself that question over and over in the first days after diagnosis. I started thinking about everything I had done, not done, consumed, not consumed. I had a couple drink of alcohol once with my husband before I knew I was pregnant. Did that cause Orion's heart defect? I had rough sex once which caused me to bleed a little once, but was that enough? I took a road trip when I was six weeks along and didn't know I was pregnant. Did that cause his defect? I spent hours and hours looking critically at everything I had or had not done. Was it too many ginger ales? Was it exposure to the paint when fixing up our old apartment?
Did I forget to take my prenatal vitamins one too many times? Was it too soon after the previous birth to get pregnant? Did I have sex too soon? Did I exercise too hard/get too out of breath too early on, and that lack of oxygen caused Orion's heart to form improperly? Was it hereditary? I tried to take such good care of myself and my baby when I was pregnant. It's so hard to think that something I did could have caused him (and all of us) so much suffering. The guilt that I felt in those first few days was overwhelming. I thought, over and over again, “What if this is my fault? Everyone will hate me. I will hate myself. I'll never be able to forgive myself. Who could be so selfish and stupid as to cause their poor innocent baby to suffer so much? Maybe even die?” I just wanted to crawl into a fetal position and cry.
But the answer to all of those questions is unknown, because in most cases, the cause of congenital heart defects is unknown. In some cases, heredity or a specific chromosomal defect might predispose a baby to CHD, but in most cases, the cause is a mystery. But to all the mothers who have grilled themselves on their actions, this is what my pediatric cardiologist told me: “You did not do this to your baby. This is not your fault.” Which was reassuring to hear.
Our pediatric cardiologist was wonderful when she discussed the causes of CHD with us. She explained that the formation of a baby's heart is very complex, with many twists and turns, and sometimes parts of the formation just simply goes wrong. That's what she believes happened with Orion's heart. One twist or turn happened out of sequence, or a step was skipped. I found comfort in her words. But I was still unable to let go of the guilt entirely. If the cause is unknown, then perhaps I had a hand in this after all.
For me, the question still remains – what caused my son's congenital heart defect? But I have done my best to put it out of my head in order to get on with the very real and very difficult task of getting Orion safely out. I needed to let go and look forward. Trying to let go of the guilt/blame was hard, but it was worth doing!