Forgiveness is something I’m learning the hard way.
It wasn’t something I did. It wasn’t something I said. It was something I thought.
My daughter was born during a long hot summer. She was our first, and like all first timers we weren’t really sure what to expect. It was a long labour, nearly twenty-four hours when all was said and done.
The last three hours were difficult for me to watch. My wife was the one doing the work. She was the one in agony. Being there was the hardest thing I have ever done. For a man who likes to be in charge, to know what to do, to make decisions it was like a nightmare. There was nothing to do but hold her hand, or her leg, and wish for it to be over.
The complications started during the last hour. My wife was running out of energy. It was getting harder to get through to her. The progress was slow. Then the baby was stuck. I didn’t understand most of what was being said around me.
I heard words like ‘fetal distress’. The doctor was being paged to attend another complication. He decided ours was more serious and he needed to stay. The doctor said something and the room exploded into action. A nurse made a call on the intercom and within seconds another half dozen nurses burst in and took position around my wife. I was literally shoulder out of the way like I was in the middle of a rugby match.
I was terrified. I began to cry. My only thought was, “I can’t lose her, we can have more children.” I begged God to spare my wife and take the child if needed. If the doctor had said only one could be saved, I would have chosen my wife without hesitation.
My daughter was delivered healthy. My wife was being cared for and wasn’t able to hold her. The nurse approached me with my daughter. I refused. I wanted to see if my wife was okay. The nurse pushed me back into my chair and passed me this warm bundle of blankets with a smushed purple face sticking out.
I looked at my daughter for the first time. We were alone in the corner while nurses and doctors moved around the bed. She blinked her eyes and a small, wrinkled hand pushed out of the blanket.
At that moment I realized I had made a mistake. Minutes after the crisis had come to a head, when I thought one of them was about to die, I realized I was wrong. I would pray for my daughter to survive.
And it crushed me.
My wife was the most important thing in the world to me. I had just confirmed that minutes before. But now she wasn’t.
Here was this thing, this little human in my arms, whom I had never met. Who I had been willing to sacrifice. And now I had just had a fundamental shift in priorities. It left me off balance. I was filled with a paternal need to protect her emanating from deep inside my core.
And the first threat she had faced was me.
It’s left me feeling uneasy. It left me feeling conflicted. I didn’t realize until later that I was harboring guilt about a decision that I never acted on. It’s haunted me for more than two years. It’s something I’ve talked about with my doctor, my therapist, and my wife. I still haven’t fully come to terms with my guilt. I don’t know how to. This is the hardest thing to forgive myself for.
It wasn’t something I did. It wasn’t something I said. It was something I thought. And there is no one who can forgive me but myself.
Photo: Flickr/ Bridget Coila
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