Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Blame Game

I originally started writing this in response to another mom's blog post, but didn't want to hijack her blog with my rants.

What is it about being a mother that seems to be steeped in guilt? I think that somehow, somewhere, women are either hard-wired to self-blame, or it's passed from generation to generation like a gene for cancer. I wanted to have a child, but my husband was unconvinced the time was right. Three years after her birth, she was diagnosed with autism. Shortly after, I started looking for the reasons why it was my fault. I wanted the baby, so my selfishness was being punished. Then the usual suspects: I didn't read to her enough, I didn't nurse her long enough, I didn't hold her enough/held her too much...

Mothers need to stop this line of thinking, immediately. I don't know how much of this is linked to Bettelheim's Refrigerator Mother theory (may he roast in hell) and how much is just a legacy of guilt we carry from mothers to daughters, but we have to stop. We do such a disservice to our children, and to our SELVES.

Along with the guilt and shameful thoughts, there's the things people say intending to comfort. (And then more guilt for feeling resentful about words meant in kindness.) People have told me that A) God has a plan, he meant her to be this way; B) She chose to be like this on this turn of the incarnation wheel; C) I have something to learn in this life, and she was given to me to learn; D) God never gives us more than we can handle. Bear with me, I'll take those one at a time. (And very likely offend people on the way.)

A: God's Plan
I refuse to believe in a god that would deliberately make a child's life painful and difficult. That is not the action of a loving god, that is the action of a psychotic god. Autism isn't just some little ordeal to overcome, it's a life-long challenge of sensory overload, a lifetime of being misunderstood and frustrated, years of being locked in a body that can't communicate effectively. You can keep your god, I want no part of him.

B: Choosing the Challenge
Certain ideas around reincarnation suggest that the soul being reincarnated gets to choose his/her parents, as well as the sort of life that he/she will have in the next lifetime. I'm not convinced that there is reincarnation, but choosing life with autism seems insane to me. The sort of thing that only a very holy person -- someone on the verge of attaining Nirvana -- might do, just to see what it was like. I call bullshit.

C: Lessons for Mom
Another reincarnation idea -- Diana has a challenged life so I can learn something. OK, let me get this straight: this innocent child has a lifetime of difficulties because I need to learn something in this lifetime? I suppose a Tibetan would tell me that she B, chose the challenge, because C, I needed to get something out of this life. B and C are hand-in-glove, I suppose. Bullshit again. I'm just not Buddhist, and I can't subscribe to this.

D: You Can Handle It
This is one of those trite little homilies that's handed out like Hallowe'en candy whenever there's a tragedy or challenge involved. God never gives us more than we can handle. (And if you mention suicide, people will just say that god planned that, too.) Frankly, I prefer Nietzsche: "What does not kill, me makes me stronger."

There are days I cling to life by my fingernails; every day brings a new challenge -- and they're cumulative! It's not like a clean slate every morning. When each fresh challenge piles on top of a new one, by the end of a week, it's a lot. Now imagine the end of a month. Now a year. Now fourteen... I've handled it so far without losing my sanity or my will to live,  but who's to say what might be the final straw? Oh wait, "god" knows, and he won't pile on too much. (And there's just no arguing with the faithful.) With every night I lie awake with despair, with every thought I have at walking away, the guilt I feel for bringing her into the world in the first place... this eats at my Self. All that erosion is bound to wear me to nothing, eventually. Until you know what it is to live my life, don't tell me what I can or can't handle.

I can appreciate that people who have said these things to me have meant it as comforting. But when you are neither Christian nor Buddhist, the words are meaningless. Autism is biological. It is a brain condition, probably genetic in origin. It's not divine, it's not a choice. I suppose if I was going to be really harsh about it, I'd call it a defect, insofar as we understand the brain and how it works. I don't care for the idea that my child's brain is defective, but there it is. I didn't cause it. Possibly a combination of genes from her father and me meshed in such a way to produce enough "on" switches in her DNA to produce the condition we call autism, but there is no blame to assign. I didn't cause it. My husband didn't cause it. It just IS.

Believe it or not, there's a part of me that envies people who do have faith. They are comforted by the words of their priests and pastors, ministers and monks. I am not. I want facts, not fantasy. I want data I can read, science that is replicable, numbers that add up. Numbers aren't comforting, though, numbers don't reassure that everything will work out. However, numbers don't offer false comfort, either. They won't tell me that everything will work out, when there is absolutely no way to know that for certain. Hope was the last thing in Pandora's box; that and a buck will buy you a candy bar. (Which you will then feel guilty for eating, because it cheats on your diet.)

Miss Mary Sunshine, I ain't. Polly Pragmatism, maybe...

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