I’ve written a little in past blog posts about the day that Otis was picked up from the hospital by the funeral director, but I haven’t done one yet just dedicated to that moment. I think, after speaking to a few stillbirth parents, that it’s something I should share in more detail. Please bare in mind as you read this that bringing this memory to the forefront of my mind is really painful so forgive me if any of this doesn’t make sense … You will understand at the end just why remembering this day hurts so much.
Otis was picked up from the hospital at 12:30pm on Sunday the 5th of June; when he would/should have been 2 days old. It was up until that point that I actually felt quite content. She felt content being with her dead son? is what you’re probably thinking … Well, I was. I had my little boy with me. I had him in my presence and I could cuddle him, kiss him and talk to him of my own free will. I knew that those couple of days were the only days I would ever get to do that with him for the rest of my life and I HAD to push the grief, the pain and the sadness aside and just be happy that I was able to spend that little time with him. Now, don’t get me wrong, those couple of days weren’t easy – they’re the hardest days I have ever lived to date, and I doubt much else will ever come close.
Every single thing that happened in those couple of days was so bittersweet. I couldn’t enjoy ANYTHING without hating it with every fibre of my being at the same time. It was so confusing. Every cuddle with Otis felt amazing, but gut wrenching – knowing that every single time I picked him up and cradled him was one cuddle nearer to the last time I ever would. When the girls met Otis it was lovely to see their little faces light up, it was beautiful seeing the love they have for their little brother and to have all three of my children with me in the same room – but it killed me inside knowing that it would be the one and only time I would ever have all three of them with me until we all come together again in Heaven.
I spent the morning of the 5th of June with him by myself. I woke up at around 5:30am after a couple of hours sleep then I had a quick shower and got dressed and spent the remainder of the morning laying in bed cuddling Otis, knowing that the funeral director would be arriving at around 12:30pm to pick him up.
My dad and one of our close friends, Mel, arrived at around 10:30am that morning. They walked in to the room to me led on my side, holding Otis to my chest. Mel came and led on the bed with me at the other side of Otis; we cradled him together and just led crying. After a few minutes my dad took him from between us and Mel took me in to her arms, giving me the biggest cuddle. I’m beyond thankful that she came that day. She knows me more than most and she wasn’t afraid to show her emotions for fear of upsetting me. I needed that. I needed to know that it was okay for me to break down, regardless of who was in the room.
I was absolutely terrified of what was to come. I was shaky and had a horrible sick feeling in my tummy all morning; I became completely unable to function properly. My dad was trying to explain to me what was going to happen but the only words I vividly remember hearing were ‘body bag’ and ‘funeral car’ … I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t understand anything anyone was saying to me, I couldn’t string a sentence together and when I did it was too quiet for anyone to even hear me, I couldn’t even think for myself. For someone who’s usually really literate, confident, independent and a real thinker, that was really difficult for me to deal with and added to the upset and hurt I was already feeling.
It was arranged on the Saturday evening that Otis would be picked up on the Sunday, so I knew all morning that I had to have him ready for around 12:15pm. The funeral director said that she would dress Otis in his burial outfit for me, because she understood that most parents find it difficult to do that and just can’t bring themselves to do it. The bereavement midwife, Louise, dressed him for me the day he was born because I was scared of how fragile his body was. I knew that changing Otis from his baby grow in to his burial outfit was the only one chance I had, and would ever have, to get him dressed. Because of that, I insisted on doing it myself.
The midwife came in to the room to ask if we needed anything so it was at that point that we asked for her to cut off Otis’ umbilical cord clamp so I could take it home. After she had done it, she left the room to give us time with Otis before he was picked up, and to allow me to get him ready.
It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. Mel sat beside me. My dad gently placed Otis wrapped in his blanket on the bed in front of me, and stood at the end of the bed ready to take over if it got too much.
It took every piece of me not to break down at this point, but I knew I had to stay strong to get this done. I had to do it for him. I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t dress him.
I carefully unwrapped his blanket from around him; I took off his hat and undid his baby grow. As I was doing so, I admired every tiny piece of his perfect little body; I did it really slowly, making sure to feel his beautifully soft skin as I was undressing him. It wasn’t until removing his baby grow that I realised just how ‘floppy’ Otis was. The nappy he had on, his vest, his baby grow and the blanket he had wrapped round him the majority of the time somehow held him in place – they helped support his body. When he was fully undressed, apart from his nappy still being on, he just flopped. Due to the cuddle cot in the hospital not being turned on, the skin under his clothing had also turned quite dark blue because of the heat. Removing his baby grow resulted in quite a pungent smell being let off of his tiny body. That really, really hurt because I knew it was preventable. I knew it would have been different had the cold cot been switched on. I tried not to get angry and I soldiered through; I knew I had to.
This part is going to sound rather morbid, but when a baby dies they still secrete bodily fluid, so Otis had a nappy on from birth. Upon removing his nappy I saw that it was soiled and this made me a little happy – I felt like I was actually doing something ‘mumsy’ for him, I was changing his dirty nappy; the one and only dirty nappy I would ever change, but it seemed better than none. I gently lifted up his teeny bottom and wiped him clean, tears in my eyes as I did so.
My dad handed me Otis’ clean nappy and his burial outfit. It was the most perfect little gown, with a blue waistcoat and blue bow tie. I started crying at this point, telling Mel and my dad that I was worried he wouldn’t be comfy, and that I was worried he would get cold just wearing the gown. My dad suggested keeping on his vest underneath the gown and leaving on his woolly hat. I trust him, more than anyone in the world. I trusted that Otis would be warm enough and comfy enough in his vest, gown, hat and blankets.
I placed his arms in to the gown and carefully pulled it up. I didn’t fasten it at the back as he was too fragile to lift myself to do it. I asked my dad to make sure the funeral director would do it before being put in to his coffin and he told me he would.
I picked Otis up, I placed him on to his folded blanket, and gently wrapped up his tiny body.
Just after I had got him changed, Chris arrived with the funeral director in tow. I cannot begin to explain the horrid feeling in my chest as I saw the funeral director walk in to my bedroom, suited and carrying a moses basket. One of the things I will remain eternally thankful for is that they agreed to pick Otis up in the moses basket, instead of a body bag.
He walked over to the bed and put the moses basket on to the bed before walking back over to the door.
I stood up off the bed; my dad came to stand beside me. I placed one hand under Otis’ bum and one hand under his head. I lifted him to my chest and squeezed him tight. I gave him a kiss and gently placed him in to the moses basket, before covering his little body with the blanket the funeral home provided.
I turned in to my dad’s chest and cried.
We stood for a few minutes before the midwife came in and asked if we were ready. I know that I NEVER would have been ready, but if I didn’t do it then, I never would have left that room.
My dad asked Chris if he wanted to carry the moses basket; he couldn’t. I don’t think he had the strength to lift him. My dad picked up Otis, Mel wrapped her arms around me, Chris stood behind us with the midwife, and together we walked out of the bedroom, following the funeral director.
We walked out of the delivery suite, where people were leaving with their live and healthy babies, with our deceased child in a moses basket. We walked down the corridor in to a lift, we got in to the lift and went downstairs. We got out of that lift and walked down a corridor, past a family, to the back doors of the hospital. There, waiting with the boot open, was the funeral car.
I stood next to the door, my weight practically being completely supported by Mel as I was struggling to stand. I watched as my dad placed Otis in the moses basket in to the back of the funeral car. I remember glancing round at all the windows; behind those windows were new parents with their healthy, live babies and here we were putting our little boy in to a funeral car. I remember thinking; I wonder who can see us, I wonder what they’re thinking. I remember thinking; I wonder who will mention seeing this happening, to their families when they come to visit them this evening?
Chris came to me, he held me as we watched the boot of the funeral car being closed, I cried in to his chest and he put his forehead against mine. He looked at me, straight in the eyes, but didn’t say a word. He didn’t need to. We just knew in that instant that that was it. We had just left hospital with our little boy together, as we intended to once he was born. But instead of being in a car seat and being put in to the back of Chris’ car ready to take home to meet everyone; he was put in the back of a funeral car and we were one step closer to saying goodbye for the very last time.
We left the hospital at the same time as him; another thing I insisted happen. I refused to leave Otis in the hospital after we had left – I didn’t want him going to the mortuary. I refused to let Otis leave the hospital without me – he needed his mummy by his side.
I had the idea that we would have left hospital as a family had Otis been born alive, and I needed to ensure that happened in death, too.
We followed the funeral car back to the funeral home. Upon arrival, we got out of the car and walked down to where the driver had pulled up with Otis. I needed to give him a kiss before he was taken in. The home is on a main road, but I didn’t care. I HAD to do that. The funeral director lifted him out of the car and brought him to me. I leaned in to the moses basket, stroked Otis’ face and placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. The funeral director promised me that they would take good care of Otis.
My dad and Mel guided me back to the car and we watched as Otis was carried in to the funeral home.
My dad told me at this point that I had been very brave and he was really proud of me. I didn’t feel brave at all – I have never felt so helpless; so weak. My precious son had just been carried in to a funeral home. I had to go against every motherly instinct I have and walk away from my newborn son and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
Do you want to know why leaving that hospital hurt so much?
Just the day after, when we went to see Otis and to plan his funeral, he was too fragile to lift. So, unbeknownst to me, the cuddle I gave Otis before placing him in to that moses basket at the hospital was the very last cuddle I would ever gave him.
If I knew then what I know now, would things have happened differently? Yes. I thought I had a few days longer with him; I assumed I’d be able to pick him up and cuddle him at the funeral home until the day of his funeral. Little did I know, that would never happen. Because of the mix up in the hospital, with Otis’ cold cot not being switched on, he had deteriorated too much and he was too decomposed to lift.
Had I known I would never hold him again, I would have made that cuddle last longer. I would have held him tighter. I would have asked for a few minutes alone with him to whisper into his little ears everything I wanted to say to him. I would have insisted on carrying him, in my arms, out of that hospital.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.