These last few days I have felt quite low. It’s frightening to say that sometimes, because whilst I’m now familiar with the rise and fall of grief, this can sometimes translate to others as ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m depressed’. Maybe some well intending but misled friends read it as ‘I’m spiralling into despair’ and at the worst ‘I’m feeling suicidal’. But I am, thankfully, neither of these things. Just a mother without her baby, is what I am. A human continuing to live through a great loss. Sane, sturdy, but hurting and grieving. Normal. And just like I can recognise I’m in the thick of it right now, I can also recognise that I won’t feel like this always. Because sometimes I feel okay, and sometimes I don’t. Grief lasts forever, but it’s not the same every day.
There’s no real reason for my current flatness, and a thousand reasons why at the same time. There’s the obvious reasons; my baby died and that hurts, watching his sister grow is forever bittersweet, the passing of his anniversaries and special dates still burns. And there are the less obvious, more complicated reasons. It’s hard for others to understand our world. The trivial things that trigger a rising tide of grief, the less openly talked about sides of loss and grief. This is why we must open the conversation up around grief and allow ourselves to speak freely about how losing a loved one touches us in the most extensive ways. It’s why I’m sharing some of my most personal thoughts and feelings, the darker and harder to grasp ‘behind the scenes’ grief that can be too ugly for others to indulge in.
My latest influx of pain is caused by wallpaper. When we moved house just over a year ago now, we had to leave behind the nursery we had so lovingly prepared for our son. We drenched that room in pure excited love. When I was pregnant I would sit in it and imagine me nursing my baby on the rocking chair or patting a soft padded nappy bum as I shushed them to sleep. I have written about this room in past posts;
~ I remember Dean taking the week off work to help prepare the nursery and I was thrilled. He said things like ‘We’re making special memories right now!’ And I said things like ‘I can’t wait to be in this room with our baby’. Heavily pregnant I would wander in and smile, folding and refolding the clothes, arranging the books on the shelf. In the weeks that lead up to Winters birth, this room was filled with dreams and plans. In the weeks that followed Winters death this room was filled with flowers and tears. I cried so much in this room that there were times I fell asleep in here, sitting in the rocking chair or even curled up on the floor. Each time I fell pregnant and miscarried the room became more hollow and redundant. Even the furniture seemed to grieve. I was tired of seeing it’s emptiness, so I took the Moses basket to the charity shop and I filled the cot with soft toys. The door was always open, light on in the evening. We would walk in and say ‘Goodnight Winter’ as we went to bed. I loved tidying it and dusting the shelves. The cats slept in here a lot. ~
Leaving that nursery behind proved very painful to me, but I found solace in the fact we had left the wallpaper up. It represented to much more to me than just paper. It was a moment in time when my baby was alive, it was something connected to him. When an adult dies there is so much they are connected to, but with a baby it is few and far between, their lives so short that we claw at anything and everything that is traceable to them. The new occupants of the house have pulled the paper down and a neighbour kindly pulled some out of the bin for me after spotting it and recognising its sentimental worth to me. I don’t begrudge the new owners, not one bit, life continues and what is old wallpaper to them anyway? It’s value is not transferable. But my heart, it discovered yet another fresh pain. Grief is a continuum, some things just hurt more than others. And yes, this time I was crushed over paper.
And there is still so much more happening. It may have been 33 months and counting since I lost my baby, but I live every day with that loss. The single day we had together is constantly revisited, because it is the only day we had. There is the ongoing dissecting of what will always remain concreted in the past. Two and a half years in, I still find myself analysing the day we had with my son, playing it over in my mind, wondering why I didn’t do or say things differently, wishing I had made better choices. So much regret. Our son was transferred to another hospital when he was being cared for, and I did not join him until six hours later, arriving just in time to say our goodbyes and hold him as he died. I can’t really forgive myself for not joining him sooner. Of course there were reasons I held back. I was unwell myself and waiting to be discharged and it all happened so quickly that I was in shock and certainly couldn’t grasp the enormity of the situation. And I think deep down I was so terrified I just wanted to remove myself from the situation completely, play pretend, convince myself we were all fine. There’s really no way of knowing how you will react to such a sudden tragedy, trust me. And it doesn’t matter what anyone says, I feel I abandoned him when he needed me there. You can’t reason with that level of trauma, it is cut throat. He was dying and I was not there, his life was so short and for a big chunk I was absent. And there are the continued ‘what ifs and why nots’. We didn’t know about cuddle cots or that some parents spent days with their baby after they had gone. I felt rushed to leave, I needed more time with my baby. I didn’t know where he was when we left and I refused to think about it, I couldn’t bare it. But now I know, of course, he was in a body bag, in a fridge, cold and alone. I’m only just beginning to really allow myself to think of that reality. Time passes, but fresh thoughts and understandings are still arising, and they are devastatingly painful. I didn’t know I could visit him more than once at the funeral home, so we went only one time. I wanted to scoop him up and hold him but I didn’t know if I was allowed (allowed to hold my own baby, it sounds odd doesn’t it?). Revisiting and regretting, it’s part and parcel of baby loss. In a world where EVERYTHING is snatched from you so very swiftly and you are left making decisions so blindly in the midst of trauma and disbelief. Today, and forever, I will wish I could change those days and weeks. It’s part of grief that we carry with us through our whole life.
Then there are the ‘weird’ things we do in grief. In the early days I held my baby’s onesie close to my chest and tried to imagine it filled. I lay it in his Moses basket and ‘tucked him in’. I wanted so desperately for it to contain his little body with a little beating heart. The deeply engrained calling of a mother to her baby, my heart absolutely not able to catch up with the stark truth that my baby was taken away after they were just born. It was too cruel to be real. I have ran my fingers through my sons ashes. I wanted to know what he looked like now. It’s grittier than I imagined, and mixed with splint from his coffin. Call it morbid curiosity or know that it is a mother searching to find a connection any connection possible to her child. I wondered how on Earth a whole little weighty being can be turned to dust and poured into a pot. What about his thoughts and feelings? Where did his memories go? Were they transformed into ash with his fingers and toes, or do they float around in the breeze? Did he take those moments we had together with him or has he forgotten me altogether? Just some of the weird questions that you wouldn’t even consider until your baby has died. I often wonder if the person he would have grown up to marry will marry someone else, or be destined to be single since Winters being is no longer up for Cupid’s match. I have searched the internet to find a picture of a newborn baby who looks like my son. Denied the opportunity of a happy family snap before he became unwell, I typed his description into google and scrolled the results with heartbroken excitement. I found one, quite similar to my memory, and I saved the screenshot. I have a strangers fresh born baby saved on my phone and when I want to remember our moment together, I look at it, desperate to keep that fading memory as fresh as possible.
It is so hard to vocalise the depths that grief reaches. When my baby died I was, obviously, heartbroken. But what is hard to convey is that I still am, there are new challenges today and every day. I fully expect to struggle when Winter turns three, when he should be starting nursery and when he should be starting school. He will always be my ghost baby, invisible to everyone else, but growing up within a world of ‘should have beens’. Grief is now and it is forever, and it is complicated and simple and hard and easy and weird and normal. If you know someone who has lost a baby, continue to reach out to them long past the initial loss. We are living in this pain riddled world forever, and trying to understand all the complexities and oddities is what will really make you a special friend. Sometimes we have low days and sometimes we don’t, but we are always living with grief in place of our baby.