Possibly one of the worst things about becoming a bereaved parent is the regrets you live with for the rest of your life; the constant ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ …
In hindsight, I have a lot of regrets when it comes to Otis’ birth and every day thereafter until he was buried. The hardest thing about living with the regrets I have is knowing that there is absolutely nothing I can do to change them; absolutely nothing I can do to make it better.
Taking the pictures of Otis was something I was adamant in doing. A lot of people around me found it strange that I wanted to do so though they understand, in hindsight, why. I felt uncomfortable taking them; I felt like I was doing something wrong when I’d place him in to the girls arms and take a picture. But then I thought to myself ‘if he was alive, I’d be taking many more’ so I made sure to push that feeling aside and I took the pictures. Even though I managed to get some pictures, the memory of taking them holds one of my biggest regrets …
I really, really regret not taking more. I have 219 pictures of Otis: 8 of those are with the girls; 5 of them are with Chris and I together with Otis; 9 of them are with Otis and I on our own; 8 are of him with family; the rest are of him by himself. 219 sounds like quite a decent amount but believe me, when they are the only pictures I will see of my little boy for the rest of my life, 219 is nothing. The only saving Grace I have from having those pictures, is knowing that some people don’t take any for fear of not wanting to see them in days/months/years to come.
I remember my dad telling me: ‘Natalie, you can always forget memories that you do not want to remember. You can bury those memories and only let them come to the surface if you WANT them to. You cannot make memories after he’s gone, you can’t bring him back to take pictures if you don’t get any when he’s here. You cannot bring him back for people to meet him if they don’t when he’s here’ … It’s because of that, that I ensured immediate family met him, the girls met him, and pictures were taken.
Something that really bothers me about Otis’ pictures are that in every single one, minus the one picture taken by my dad after he was weighed, his head/hair is covered. Due to everything going on inside his little head, Otis was born with quite a misshapen head and because of that, I insisted he wore his hat all the time and it wasn’t to come off, especially for pictures. I just wish I’d taken the damn hat off. Even for one picture. He has a full head of jet black wavy hair that people will never be able to see, because I only have one picture of him with his hair showing FULLY, so I want to keep that one for my eyes and my eyes only.
I didn’t get any videos of Otis. I know people will find it strange that I regret not doing because, at the end of the day, he wouldn’t be doing anything in them – he wouldn’t be crying in them, he wouldn’t even be moving in them – but at least I would have them. I wish I had led him in a nappy on the bed and videoed him, slowly, every last centimetre of his perfect little self, every last little crease; just so I can look back at it and remember every tiny detail of him. The only ‘videos’ I have are the ones in my mind; from when we laid together at night, just the two of us, and I admired every tiny part of him, hoping that his features would be forever etched in my mind. Thankfully, up to now, they seem to be.
If you ask me what his foot looks like, I could tell you down to the last crease. If you ask me how soft he felt, I could explain. If you ask me what his little eyelashes are like, I could tell you that he has the longest, darkest eyelashes. If you ask me what his eyebrows are like, I could tell you down to the last hair.
I just wish I had a video to SHOW you.
I never had proper skin to skin with Otis. When he was first born I was terrified of feeling the coldness of his body against mine, so I asked for the midwife to wrap him in a towel before passing him to me. I wish I hadn’t. During the 2 and a half days I spent with Otis in the hospital he was dressed in a baby grow, so the only parts of his skin I touched were his face and his perfect little hands. The nearest I got to having full skin contact with him was when we were lying together in bed on the Friday night; I gently picked him up and laid him on my knee; I took off his baby grow (but left on his nappy, hat and vest); I removed my nighty, so I had on just my underwear; I then put one hand under his head and the other under his bottom and lifted him to my chest.
I laid there with him there for hours. Just me and him. It was the most bittersweet moment – perfectly painful.
It felt amazing, having him laying there in my arms. I felt content that he was with me and that I could cuddle him of my own free will. But at the same time, it hurt me so much knowing that I had to savour that moment because it’d be the one and only time I would ever have it with him. I didn’t want it to end. I kissed his little forehead so many times; I whispered in to his ears how loved he is; I told him that we were sorry he couldn’t be here to grow and play with his sisters; and I told him not to be scared. I told him that everything would be okay, and that he would be safe in Heaven with his grandparents. I promised him, at that point, that I wouldn’t let his memory die with him. I never break my promises, especially the ones I make to my children.
This one might sound rather morbid, but I really regret not getting any pictures of Otis’ coffin, or at his funeral. I barely remember what happened that day and I wish I had pictures to look back on to help bring those memories to the surface. It was the only ‘special day’ I will ever be able to give his physical body and I want to remember it. I wish I had pictures to keep to remind myself of how many people attended and just how loved my little boy is. I wish I had taken a picture of his coffin so I can remember every tiny detail of his forever home. I wish I had someone take pictures of Chris holding Otis in his coffin, carrying him ‘home’ …
One of my biggest regrets in all of this? I wish I had ignored everyone’s advice and insisted I see Otis in his coffin the day of his funeral. Otis was brought to the funeral home from the hospital by the funeral directors on the Sunday after he was born (he was born on Friday 3rd June 2016) and I saw him for the last time that Monday. It was recommended by our funeral director that no one saw him because he had deteriorated so much due to the cold cot not being switched on in the hospital; and she didn’t want to put make up on him to make him ‘presentable’ because he’s just a baby – though, I wouldn’t have let them put make up on him anyway.
I listened to them because I thought it was the best thing to do. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t. When I did go against recommendation to see him on the Monday, he had changed a lot, but he was still my beautiful little boy; my perfect piece of me. It took every single part of my being not to grab him out of the temperature controlled moses basket and squeeze him, suffocatingly, to my chest. He was just too fragile at that point. The most I could do when I saw him was stroke his little face, his toes and his hands; then give him his last ever kiss goodnight.
I wish that I had seen him the day of his funeral. I wish I had gone down to the funeral home and made sure I was there when his coffin lid was closed. I was terrified of seeing him; his skin was dark blue, his lips were black and he had blisters all over his body by the Monday when I saw him for the last time; I just feared it would get gradually worse until the Friday when he was buried. Regardless of how he looked, he was and IS my little boy and I feel like I let him down putting my fears before his needs.
I HATE not knowing exactly how he was in that coffin. I HATE not knowing exactly how he was covered. I know that our funeral director, Lianna, made sure Otis had blankets under, around and on top of him; but it doesn’t seem like enough knowing it – I wish I had seen, with my own eyes.
The biggest regret of all … I HATE knowing that the last pair of eyes that ever saw my little boy’s physical body weren’t my own.
The worst thing about all of the regrets I have is knowing that they were easily preventable … Well, some of them. I could have forced myself to see Otis the day of his funeral; I could have taken videos; I could have had more skin to skin contact with him … But in all honesty, I don’t think it would have mattered how many pictures were taken of him; there would have never been enough. It could have been 500 pictures, it could have been 2000 pictures; I never would have been happy because I’ll always want more.
I’m struggling to even finish this post, because I know that there are so many things I wish I did, or did differently. Do I regret not bringing Otis to my dad’s house for even an hour? Yes, I do. Do I regret not having him lay in his own cot at home, just for one picture? Yes, I do. Do I regret not having the girls see him more than once after he was born? Yes, I do. Do I regret not taking a lady up on the offer to have a pregnancy photoshoot after we learned he was going to die? Yes, I do. Do I regret not having more of my family and friends meet him, just for a quick cuddle? Yes, I do. Do I regret not taking him home to Chris’ parents for an hour? Yes I do.
Do I wish I could change the circumstances? With every fibre of my being.
Do I wish I had spent more time with him in the hospital before the funeral director picked him up? Absolutely, though 10/20/50/365 days would not have been long enough.
Do I wish I hadn’t rushed for his funeral to be 7 days after he was born? Yes. More than anything.
Do I wish I had another baby, that would have lived, as opposed to Otis? Never. I would choose him in any world, under any circumstances. He is my son. He was destined to become a part of this family. I wouldn’t change him for the world. If I could have Otis here, alive and healthy, YES. If I could choose between Otis and another baby, just to have that other baby here alive and healthy, NEVER. I would choose Otis. Over and over and over again.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.