“You are lucky. You knew he was going to die so you had time to prepare.”
Shockingly, yes, those words have been said to me (and I quoted, word for word). I felt the need to share something with you all, after reading those words.
We had Otis’ burial outfit delivered on the 28th of May, 2016 after confirming we wanted it on the 26th of May, 2016. Otis wasn’t born until the 3rd of June, 2016. Receiving this outfit was by far one of the most harrowing experiences of my life … Opening that package and seeing the tiny outfit that I knew my little boy was going to rest in for the whole of eternity broke me in to a million pieces. Knowing that this little boy was still living and kicking inside me, knowing that he still had a heart beat, and I was sat looking at this beautiful gown in front of me that would become his burial outfit, was a feeling of pain beyond comprehension.
I cannot begin to explain that pain, I really can’t.
Let me tell you.. There is NOTHING lucky about losing a child or knowing you’re going to lose a child. There is NOTHING lucky about getting to 34 weeks of pregnancy to then hear; “I’m sorry, your son isn’t going to live.” There is NOTHING lucky about finding a funeral director before your son has even passed away to make things as cope able as possible after birth. There is NOTHING lucky about waiting for your little boys heart to stop beating, knowing it’s inevitable. There is NOTHING lucky about spending every second of every minute of every hour of every day waiting for the next kick, just to know he was still alive. There is NOTHING lucky about receiving a memory box for your child before they have even become a memory. There is NOTHING lucky about feeling your son kick, then realising later that it was for the very last time. There is NOTHING lucky about hearing those words; ‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat. I’m so sorry for your loss.’ There is NOTHING lucky about my child dying – regardless of HOW or WHY or WHEN.
Yes, we had time to prepare for our sons heart to stop beating. This did NOT make our experience any easier! Getting to 34 weeks of pregnancy thinking that everything was okay, thinking that in just a few short weeks we would be bringing home our little boy to meet his sisters, thinking about who he would become, having a caesarean date planned to deliver my son ALIVE and HEALTHY … to THEN learn our darling boy would never be coming home – that is NOT lucky. Knowing I would have to deliver his lifeless body and having to prepare for that; even going to the lengths of researching how cold and floppy he would be when he arrived earth side – that is NOT lucky.
I cannot explain this feeling to those who have never experienced it. But now, after reading those words written to me, I’m gonna damn well try.
If you’re a mummy or a daddy, imagine this:
Imagine that little boy or girl you call your son or daughter. Imagine never having seen their eyes. Look at their eyes, and imagine having never seen those perfect eyes open. Now picture your beautiful son or daughter playing and think about their little laugh; imagine having never heard that laugh. You’re led down in bed at night and you hear your child cry; imagine never having heard that cry. Do you remember the first time your little boy or girl said ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ ? Now imagine never hearing them say those words. You’re lying in bed at night, cuddling your sleepy baby – now imagine holding that perfect piece of you tight to your chest, almost suffocatingly, and giving them a kiss goodbye knowing that it would be the very last time you do. You’re putting your little one to bed, you stroke their chubby cheek, give them a kiss and whisper ‘I love you, goodnight’ … Now imagine placing your precious child in to that moses basket for the first time and the last time, knowing it would be the very last time you see them, knowing it would be the very last time you ever get to tell your child you love them to their physical body. Ever.
Now picture: instead of your child laying in bed tonight fast asleep where they are warm and cosy – picture that child in a coffin, in the ground. A tiny blue or pink coffin, with the Earth surrounding them.
Did that hurt? Was that painful to think about? Now take that pain, multiply it a million times. Is it hurting more now? Imagine that ache. Imagine that agony. And do you know something? That STILL does not come even remotely close to describing the pain that stillbirth mummies and daddies feel.
Do you understand, now? Do you understand how utterly broken the parents of stillborn children feel? Do you understand how agonising it must be for a parent to have to imagine everything about their child and what their life would have been had they lived? Do you understand how harrowing it must have been for Chris and I to start planning our son’s funeral before he had even passed away?
Please, if ever you feel the need to say/write something, not only to me but to ANY loss parent, THINK first. Think about what you are saying; think about whether what you are saying is patronising or harmful. Think about whether what you’re saying will belittle the person you’re saying it to.
What you probably won’t know, and what many stillbirth parents won’t tell you, is that even YEARS down the line, they may cry for their baby every single night. We don’t just grieve for our immediate loss. We don’t just grieve for the child that was. We grieve for the child that would have been.
It’s been six weeks since Otis was born, and right now I’m grieving for his first smile. I will NEVER see my little boy smile, I can only imagine how perfectly cute he looks when he smiles. In 6 months or so I will be grieving for my son’s first word. In a year or so, I will be grieving for my son’s first steps. In 2 years or so I will be grieving for my son’s first days of pre-school. In 5 years I will be grieving for my son’s first day at primary school. In 11 years I will be grieving for my son’s first day of secondary school. In 15/16 years I will be grieving for my son’s first day of college. In around 25 years I will be grieving for my son’s wedding day. In 26/27 years I will be grieving for the grandchildren I never had that he may have blessed me with…
You see, grief does not end with our loss. This is only the beginning. I will grieve for my son for the rest of my life. No, I won’t cry every single day for the next 50 years or however long I live. No, I won’t be moping around writing blog posts about him 2 or 3 times a day for the rest of my life. No, I won’t mention him in EVERY SINGLE THING I do. Yes, I will eventually move forward. But he will always be on my mind. Otis will always be my child. He will always be the first thing I think about when I wake up, alongside Maisie and Cora; and the last thing I think about when I fall asleep, alongside Maisie and Cora.
My little boy died, his memory did not.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.