One of our challenges, in the early days after Cody died, was the growing realisation that our favoured midwife had not acted wisely in the early minutes and hours of his life.
We had developed such a trust and connection with her during the pregnancy, that the idea of her having acted negligently did not at first enter our minds. In fact, we even invited her to the funeral, and spoke glowingly of her during the service! In photographs of the burial I can see us standing by her side speaking with her.
But slowly the light started to dawn and we began to question Cody’s care. Every single time we shared one of the aspects of Cody’s management with a midwife or other health professional and asked, “Is this normal practise…..?” we would be met with shocked faces and strong responses of “NO! that is NOT normal!” The dawning light was growing much brighter and we were shell-shocked by the reality that the way he had been managed was wrong. Very, very wrong.
A couple of days after Cody was born, when we were just starting to ask these questions, we were surprised to receive a phone call from the paediatrician that had been called to the hospital to care for our son. He was away on holidays and said it was not normal for him to call people in our situation, but he had a very important message: he thought it was imperative that we have an autopsy done on Cody’s body. He was very concerned about what had happened, and thought an autopsy may shed some light.
An autopsy certainly wasn’t something we wanted to think about, and it was obviously quite upsetting, but we agreed that it was best. I remember saying to Geoff, “It’s hard enough feeling sad; I don’t want to feel angry too.” I knew there was the potential that we were opening a big ugly can of worms. And yet open it we must.
When the death certificate and autopsy results came through, the paediatrician met with us to explain things. He was extremely angry as he explained to us that Cody must have been without oxygen for at least 20 minutes for his blood levels to be as acidotic as they were when he was tested upon entry to the intensive care nursery. The only time he could have been without oxygen for that length of time was while he was alone in the utility room, while the midwife sat outside writing up his notes in one long stream of handwriting, smoking a cigarette….
We later met with the hospital obstetrician who voiced similar concerns about the care Cody had (or hadn’t!) been given.
A review done by one of the head health professionals in the area health service found twelve specific areas of negligence and clearly stated that, had even basic medical care been provided for our son, he almost certainly would have lived. That was very hard to read. Unfathomable. Heart breaking.
By the time we settled out of court with the hospital, we had bulging files full of reviews and reports and statements from a wide variety of doctors, midwives, and so on, all of which stated over and over again that the care given to Cody was far from adequate. The hospital’s barister had empty files. They had found no one who would validate the actions (or lack thereof) undertaken by the midwife.
The midwife was found guilty of gross negligence. Her negligence wasn’t one simple, split-second error of judgment, but a number of choices throughout a two hour period to withhold treatment needed desperately by our baby. Our Barister had informed us we could have sued her for criminal negligence, but we weren’t on a witch hunt.
We simply wanted the hospital’s insurers to make the Birth Centre a safer place, so that hopefully a situation like ours would not happen to anybody else. (We had already had discussions with the hospital regarding our experience and they had admitted wrongdoing and offered compensation, but they were non-committal to making policy changes to make the Birth Centre safer; hence the court case to ensure they had no choice.)
Such a simple, three syllable word. It rolls so easily off the tongue. Yet it is, perhaps, one of the most difficult of all human acts.
To forgive another.
To forgive oneself.
To forgive God.
Letting go of our “right” to hold another to ransom requires incredible strength, courage and hope. It takes a certain kind of humility and trust. It feels so much easier to stay angry, hurt and resentful. For awhile. But slowly the insidious poison leaches into the very fabric of our being; it becomes like the blood that courses through our veins, bringing not nourishment to our bodies but toxicity to our souls.
It is normal to be angry, pissed off, furious! But when we hold on to that anger for too long, and allow it to fuel us, to justify our growing feeling of resentment, it is more likely to take the reigns. It likes to be in control. And before long we are feeling fully justified in holding on to feelings of blame.
When our focus is on blame and anger, which we can easily justify in view of a wrong having been done, feelings of resentment and hatred can start to take root and grow, spreading their poison throughout our mind and body. It is a bitter poison and the person it poisons is me.
I will never forget an interview I saw with the father of a girl who had been murdered. The killer had confessed to the crime and was in jail. The father was speaking publicly, campaigning for – wait for it – the end of the death penalty as the punishment for murder. Not just a random murder of someone “out there”. We’re talking the murder of his own child. He wanted his daughter’s killer to be taken off death row, released from the death penalty! The interviewer was incredulous and asked him how he could forgive the murderer of his own child. His words still haunt me: forgiveness is freedom from hatred.
Can I forgive?
I didn’t want to stay angry. I didn’t want to be filled with hatred. But I didn’t want to “let her off the hook” either.
Being raised as a “good christian girl” I knew I should forgive. But this wasn’t a simple case of forgiving someone for eating the last cookie. This was about forgiving the midwife who had allowed my baby to die before our very eyes, without doing anything to help!
I had to consciously remind myself that forgiveness does not mean that the act was okay. It is not a declaration of the other person’s innocence. It is removing myself from the position of judge. It is separating myself from the other person’s guilt or wrongdoing. It is taking responsibility for my own choices and emotions.
It is letting them off the hook. Off MY hook.
I have a friend who goes spear fishing. It is not a pretty sport! And it got me to thinking: some of us not only keep the offender on the hook, we shove a spear right in there and give it a twist!
I think that forgiveness is about removing the hook (or spear!) and trusting that God, the justice system or “Karma” will deal with the one who has hurt us. It isn’t our place.
Refusing to “let them off the hook” keeps us tied to them. Letting them off the hook isn’t anything to do with whether they are guilty of wrongdoing or not. It is about us letting go of our attempts to punish them in our hearts and minds.
I mean, seriously, do you really want to sit there holding a fishing rod for the rest of your life!? Especially with the same old fish on the end of the line for ever! It would get fairly boring after a while, surely. And it would certainly limit us from living a free, unfettered life.
Seventy Times Seven
A couple of months after Cody’s death, I was feeling challenged about this idea of forgiveness, but I wasn’t sure I was ready. I mean, I was still in the very early days of grief, and my feelings were big and strong.
I had this idea that to offer forgiveness meant I was “over it” somehow. That I was ready to move on.
But it suddenly occurred to me that Jesus’ answer to the question, “How many times should I forgive” wasn’t just about how many times we should forgive for a repeated offence. It was also to do with the idea that sometimes we need to forgive over and over for just one offence.
We can forgive at the level we’re at, at any given moment. Then later, as we move forward in our journey and come face to face with the hurt again, we forgive again. Each time we forgive, the healing goes deeper within us, and it helps to free us from that hatred that so easily turns putrid and toxic if it is left to fester.
So, I forgave our midwife.
It was definitely an act of the will; a decision of the mind. I didn’t feel very forgiving or loving. But I chose to let go of my “right” to hold on to the hurt, to lay blame at her feet and to make her suffer in my mind.
In reality, if I didn’t forgive, the one who would suffer was me.
I wrote her a letter of forgiveness and although I never heard back from her, that’s okay. I did what I needed to do, for me. I knew that I would have plenty more opportunities to choose forgiveness again, and trust me, I have!
Forgiveness has not erased the memory, but it has set me free from hatred and anger. It hasn’t had any bearing at all on the midwife’s journey but it has certainly helped me in mine.
It has set me free, even if sometimes I forget how free I am.
I love living free! And sometimes to be truly free, I need to forgive me.
How about you? Have you got a forgiveness story?