1. Express your feelings
Mixed emotions following unexpected news is normal. No matter how terrible your thoughts may seem, it can be helpful to share them with someone you trust. When you voice your thoughts, they have less power over you and there’s an opportunity to look at them with an objective perspective.
Guilt often remains hidden behind anxiety, physical tension or feelings of dread. When you acknowledge guilt exists, it can free you from the heavy feeling you’ve been carrying around.
2. Reframe your thoughts
If you find you’re focusing on negative thoughts, consider the situation from a different angle. Were there other factors that played a role in the diagnosis? If you were to share your thoughts with healthcare and medical professionals, your friends or loved ones, what would they say? Write a list of thoughts about why you feel you are to blame and then counter that list with reasons why you are not to blame.
3. Looking for meaning
Not having clear answers means that your mind may try to fill in the blanks by searching for answers in the past. You may believe there is something wrong with your body, or it was selfish to want another baby and believe this is the cause of the anomaly. It is a normal part of the grieving process to search for meaning and reasons why the anomaly occurred. Certainty makes us feel safe, uncertainty makes us feel out of control. Searching for answers and self-blame may help you feel more in control of the situation, even if the reasons are untrue.
Try looking for meaning in other ways such as telling yourself you have been presented with this challenge to grow and learn. If you have spiritual or religious connections, draw on these to help you navigate the path ahead.
4. Focus on what can be controlled
Guilt involves replaying the past, and thinking about what could have been changed, even if it was out of your control. When you experience unexpected news, it can bring up uncertainty about the future and perhaps more worries about “getting it wrong.”
Try to focus on each day as it comes and what is within your control. Focus on what you can do to care for yourself and your baby from today onwards. For example, eating regular healthy meals, getting plenty of rest, attending medical appointments, and preparing for your baby on both a practical (things you’ll need) and emotional level (linking with other parents, educating yourself about the condition and asking professionals to clarify things that remain unclear). When a worry arises, ask yourself: Is it in my control to fix it?
5. Talk to a professional
Persistent feelings of guilt associated with a prenatal diagnosis can have a serious impact on your overall well-being and can make it difficult to look toward or plan for the future. You may feel as though you don’t deserve to move on or be happy.
Excessive guilt may be an indicator of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are experiencing feelings of guilt and self-blame that are interfering with your daily life and causing distress, then you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional.
There are different treatment options to help you navigate the prenatal diagnosis and the distressing thoughts and feelings that may accompany it. A professional can help you better understand your thoughts and emotions so you can prepare for the birth and parenting of a baby with an anomaly. You can find many options for professional and peer support on our Mental Health and Wellbeing page.