”What, you actually get to see the baby?!”
Since Otis was born, I have had a few close friends ask me what actually happens after delivering a stillborn baby. I’m guessing a few acquaintances and strangers have wanted to know the answer to that question, too. It’s one of those things; unless you have been through it yourselves, or walked alongside someone going through it, you just don’t know. I know I didn’t before it happened to me. Don’t get me wrong, I knew what stillbirth was, but I definitely didn’t know what happened after the baby had been delivered.
For those who want to know the answer to that question, but have been too scared to ask. This one is for you.
Just a side note – I LOVE talking about my son. Yes, I may cry, but it’s only been 5 weeks and it’s still so raw. HOWEVER I don’t mind answering questions if people want to ask me anything – that’s the whole purpose of me doing this blog, to try and raise awareness.
Our little boy made his entrance in to the world at 04:19am on June 3rd 2016. He weighed, and will forever weigh, 5lbs1oz. I know I keep repeating this – but it helps for the people who have only just started reading my blog and don’t know this information. Due to me having an epidural at the end of my labour (9cm dilated), I lost the use of my legs. Because of this, I had to stay in the delivery room I had given birth in (as opposed to going back in to the bereavement suite) for a few hours, until the epidural wore off.
My dad, who was sitting in the bereavement suite waiting for Otis to be born, came in to the delivery room about 30 minutes after our little boy arrived. As soon as he walked in the room he started taking pictures. This is something I wouldn’t have done myself, and something I will be genuinely, eternally grateful for. It’s thanks to my dad that I now have over 200 pictures of Otis to look back on. The pictures aren’t posed, so they’re very raw, which makes them all that much more special to me.
After my dad had come in to the delivery room, Chris left to go and tell his mum and dad that our little boy had arrived, so I just spent time holding him, cuddling him, sharing him with my dad. It was a special couple of hours between my dad and I; between a father, his daughter and his grandson. Dad was there while Nicola (our midwife) weighed Otis and measured him. He was a lot bigger than we were expecting! I will treasure those hours for the rest of my life.
It was around 9am that I started to get feeling back in my legs and asked to be moved back to the bereavement suite, I didn’t like being in that delivery room once I had started coming round properly, it just didn’t feel ‘right’ … I should have been there with my crying baby, saying hello for the first time and looking forward to watching him grow. I should have been wondering whether he was going to be laid back like his daddy, stubborn like his mummy, intelligent like his big sister Cora, or witty and super funny like his big sister Maisie. I should have been talking to Chris about whose eyes he had – but we never got to see them. The midwife who came on the day shift must have understood how I felt without asking me, because her and my dad lifted me in to a wheelchair and took me through to the bereavement suite. They both got me comfortable in the double bed I had in there, and my dad left to get something to eat and to have a shower.
For a couple of hours I was on my own with my little boy. It was during this time that the bereavement midwife, Louise, helped me dress Otis in to his one and only baby grow he ever wore. I also used the time to let my two closest friends know that he had arrived, that he was absolutely perfect, and I sent them a picture. I made the most of having this special time with Otis because I knew it was soon going to end.
What a lot of people don’t know is that, when you give birth to a stillborn baby, you have to register them lawfully. You have to register their birth and death on the same day to receive a ‘stillbirth certificate.’ You have to register them before you can legally take your baby out of the hospital or have them picked up by a funeral director. Cruel – I know. As Otis was born on the Friday we HAD to get him registered that day, or we wouldn’t be able to get an appointment until the Monday, and we wanted to get the ball rolling in terms of organising a pick up day with the funeral directors we had chosen (Champs of Clayton – Le – Moors).
After Otis was born we had the choice as to whether we wanted to stay in the hospital with him, go home with him, or go home without him. I chose to stay at the hospital, where I felt it was safe to have him. I was scared of taking him home. I was worried about only being able to associate home with having my dead child there, and I didn’t want that. It wouldn’t have been fair for me or the girls.
I was absolutely terrified of leaving the hospital that Friday, leaving Otis behind in the hospital on his own, to go and register him at the registry office. Thankfully it was organised for the lady at the office to come in to the hospital and register him for us. A small gesture, but an appreciated one nonetheless. She came out at about 11am and we registered our little boy’s birth and death – Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen was officially a person, a human being.
At around dinner time that day, we had a photographer in to take some pictures of Chris and I with our little boy. It was uncomfortable, it felt strange and a little forced, but I am SO thankful that Claire (our photographer) came to us to do it. Thanks to her we have some stunning pictures of us all together, and some of Otis on his own, that we can keep forever. These pictures that Claire took captured our emptiness but our undying love for Otis.
It was around 2pm that day that Maisie and Cora came to the hospital to meet their little brother, for the first and last time. Seeing them walk through that door with such excitement on their faces to meet him absolutely broke my heart. I don’t think they understood at this point that their baby brother was never coming home. It was also at this time that my little sister Zoe came to meet her baby nephew, for the first and last time. She held him, she kissed him, she loved on him as she would have if he was alive. I would give anything for her and the girls to have had more time with him, I really would.
Chris’ parents came to visit Otis that evening. It was emotional to say the least. My family were ‘lucky’ in a sense because they had been involved with my pregnancy from the get go. My sister had seen him at scans that Chris couldn’t make it to, and had therefore seen him alive. Chris’ parents hadn’t had that opportunity for one reason or another – we didn’t think it mattered that much, because as far as we knew, they’d spend all the time in the world with Otis when he was born. To this day, not involving them more in my pregnancy is one of my biggest regrets. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn’t it? They held Otis, they cried, they hugged, they apologised (for what I don’t know). Otis would have been their first grandson – their first grandchild. They were beyond devastated. I cannot put in to words the love I saw they had for Otis just by being in that room with them when they met him. It’s a sight I will never, ever forget. I will speak more about his grandparents in the next blog I write.
After Chris’ parents left, my step mum Sam came to visit. It was hard to see her cry because I’ve never seen her cry before. She gave Otis big cuddles and repeatedly told me that it isn’t fair. This was probably something I needed to hear at that point, because it wasn’t. It really wasn’t fair. At all. Sam’s visit with Otis was short, but sweet. She was hesitant about coming to see him at first, and I’m very glad that she did. I think if she had decided not to, that it would be a big regret later down the line. As dad told me ‘you can always forget a memory you don’t want to remember, you cannot make up memories that never happened.’ In other words, if Sam wanted to ever ‘forget’ meeting Otis then she could, she could never have turned back the clock and changed her mind to meet him if she hadn’t met him that day. Wow, I’m babbling.
After Sam left my big sister Jayde came to visit with mum. They had their cuddles and kisses, and said hello and goodbye to Otis. Jayde and I had only just started rekindling our relationship properly the few months before Otis was born, and I’m happy that she came to meet and love on mine and Chris’ little boy.
Everybody left and it was just Chris and I left with Otis. I knew that he was struggling to be around him much, it’s hard for anyone to see their child after they have passed away. I think Chris found it difficult knowing that there was nothing he could do to help his little boy. Otis is his first son; his first child. Men tend to see it as their ‘duty’ to protect their children, and Chris was powerless to help Otis. There was absolutely nothing he could have done to save him – I think, knowing him like I do, that this made him feel weak, and helpless, and being around Otis too much reminded him of that. He did push past that and made the most of the time we had with our little boy at the hospital.
At around 1am Chris left the hospital and I was, again, left alone with Otis.
It was strange. Although he had passed away I felt content having him in my arms. I felt content that I could pick him up and cuddle him, kiss him and love him whenever I pleased. I didn’t cry much that night. This was partly due to the shock and partly due to the fact I had no tears left to cry.
The following day (Saturday) Chris, my dad and my friend Mel came up to the hospital. Mel was the only one of my friends who came to see Otis and I will be forever thankful that she did. She was the only one of my friends who had the guts to face me. The only one of my friends that had the strength to come and hold my little boy. It meant the world to me and it always will. Mel spent a couple of special hours crying with me, holding Otis, speaking to him, loving him and loving me. The Saturday was pretty calm. We had Otis’ footprints and handprints done, a cast made of his hand and foot, and plenty more pictures were taken. I then just spent the day cuddling him, while Chris waited on me hand and foot making sure I was fed and watered, making sure I was comfortable etc. After dad and Mel left it was just Chris and I alone with our little boy and our thoughts. We had a good heart to heart that night, about how proud we were (and still are) of our little boy for making it as far as he did despite the odds being stacked against him. We spoke about regrets we had from during the pregnancy (me complaining I was tired, him missing a couple of scans due to work – which in hindsight was just not that important, if we knew earlier that those scans were the only time we would see our son alive, then work would have taken a back seat, 100%).
Chris stayed with Otis and me until around 11pm that evening. He decided against staying in the hospital with me, despite being given the choice, to let me spend quality time with Otis on my own. I thank him for that, because it was during those night time hours that I led and cried in to my babies chest. It was during those night time hours that I led cuddling Otis and sang him lullabies; the same ones that I used to sing to the girls when they were babies. It was during those hours that I apologised to Otis over and over for failing his beautiful little self. It was during those night time hours that I held him to my chest, my bare skin, like I would had he been born alive. It was during those night time hours that I bonded with my son.
We were given the choice on the Saturday as to whether we wanted to leave the hospital before Otis, at the same time as Otis, or after Otis. We decided to leave at the same time as him for two reasons:
1.) So he didn’t get taken down to the morgue to be left there until he was collected.
2.) So he wasn’t being taken out of the hospital without me. He wouldn’t have left without me if he was alive, I refused to let it happen in death.
Morning came. I sit in tears as I write this. Morning came, and it was the day that Otis was being picked up by the funeral director. It was the day I had to cuddle my son for the very last time.
I spent the Sunday morning loving Otis, wiping his little face with some warm water on soft tissue, cutting off his cord clamp to keep as I did with the girls, taking off one of his hospital bands to put in my memory box, and changing him in to his burial outfit.
I was told that the funeral director or a midwife would do it for me, but I insisted. It was one of the very few things I could do for my little boy and I WAS going to do it. I spoke to him as I changed him from his baby grow in to a beautiful little burial gown, waistcoat and all. He looked stunning. But it broke my heart. My little boy’s second ever outfit, and last outfit, was his burial outfit.
12:30 midday came. It was time.
I picture now, the funeral director walking in to my bedroom with that moses basket in tow. How was this fair?! The one and only time I would place my little boy in to a moses basket and it was to take him to a funeral home. It took every ounce of strength I had not to collapse in a heap on the floor. I held Otis tight to my chest, gave him a kiss and told him that I loved him before placing his tiny body into the moses basket. How I had the capability to stay standing at that point is beyond me. I broke down in to my dads chest. We looked at our little boy laying in that moses basket for a few minutes, I took in every last millimetre of his beautiful little face.
Then it happened …
My dad asked Chris if he wanted to carry Otis to the funeral car waiting outside, he couldn’t – I don’t think he felt he had the strength. So my dad did it. He picked up Otis in the little moses basket and carried him out of the delivery suite, down the corridor to the lift, out of the lift, down the corridor to the back entrance of the hospital, to the funeral car waiting outside. He carried his little grandson for the very last time.