Two months have passed since Elliott was born. Two months since we last felt him move and kick and heard his strong heart beat. Two months since I had to endure the physical pain of labour as I did with my other two, but one with a far worse pain that accompanied it. The pain of having to give in to my body to push him out, while everything was telling me not to, not knowing if he would be born alive or not, but knowing no matter what, he wouldn’t get to stay.
It’s been two months since we watched our second son enter the world at only 21 weeks gestation, and felt the same love as we did for our other two children-that overwhelming, enveloping love like no other. When he was born, even though the words “there’s no heart beat” were said straight away, the moments after were the same as the other two. We saw him and our breath was taken away, the world stopped and we marvelled at how perfect he was. We were and are so proud and completely and utterly in love with him.
We held him gently and protectively, kissed him softly over and over again. Our tiny baby boy, so beautiful and perfect, just sleeping in our arms, on our chests.
Thanks to a special cuddle cot we were lucky to have three days with him with us in our hospital room, holding him and getting to know him- his feet, his fingers, his little nose. Our children (Emma 7, Ashton 4) got to hold him, sing to him, make the only memories they’ll have with their brother they love. In all of Emma’s sadness for the loss of Elliott, she writes in her “happy book” of the moments she had with him, talking about how when she held him it made her feel warm inside. Those memories are full of love, which is why the grief is so strong.
And while it may for some sound strange and wrong to hold our still baby for three days, for us it felt like it was the most natural thing in the world to do. Those short three days that we are grateful for will be some of the most cherished three days we’ll ever have. What Adam and I would both do to have another three, to hold him once more in our arms again.
He was with us for such a small time, but his imprint on our hearts couldn’t be larger. There’s not a day that goes by that we don’t miss him greatly, and there won’t ever be a day to come where it will be any different.
There are many things i didn’t know before but have learnt, for good and bad, through my experiences and from many discussions with many other bereaved mothers, in the last two months. I now know how much of a lack of awareness there is of pregnancy and infant loss and how it is often misunderstood as it’s seldom talked about. I now know it’s hard for some to see and recognise the babies who we’ve had so little time with as being the same as the living growing children who get to stay. I now know there are no words to make everything just better, but having an ear for listening and offer of a shoulder to cry on is worth more than any magical words we all search for.
I know it often makes some people feel awkward so they avoid it, and sometimes you instead. I know people don’t want to upset you so don’t mention anything, but I now know that while it’s hard, it can be harder to not have it mentioned at all. Hearing the simple words “i’m so sorry…i’m sending you our love… i’m thinking of you and your baby…how are you feeling today?” not just at the start, but as time goes on as well, can provide a world of comfort and help to get you through the day. While talking about how we are feeling or going can sometimes be extremely upsetting, being given the freedom, understanding, and opportunity to talk about it can mean so much. Whether we choose to or not to take up that opportunity at that point is then up to us.
I now know the death of a baby is often treated very differently to the death of an older child or adult. I now know that there’s a culture of silence around such a topic, and that there can be an opinion to get over it and go back to normal, as quickly as possible.
I now know that so many mums feel so alone and grieve in silence not because they want to, but because they feel they have to, or because they are worried of judgement or hurtful or dismissive opinions. This all saddens me greatly because these babies (over 3000 in Australia every year) gone too soon are real and wanted and loved. These babies were living people and losing them means losing them at every stage they were meant to be. Parents should be able to talk about their baby, share their story, their photos should they want to, without fear. Our babies have the right to be publicly loved and celebrated, should the parents want to do so. Elliott is just as much a part of us as Emma and Ashton are. To us, there is absolutely no difference.
There’s no “getting over” the death of your child, no matter how little or how much time you’ve had with them. The pain doesn’t finish at the death of your baby, it continues as you live every day without them. There are many times that are just as hard as the day of their passing, times that come with living without them. There’s no easy returning to the old normal, even when it seems that way on the outside. There’s no just moving on, forgetting about it. There is instead getting up and moving forward with life, learning how to live with it, and finding a new normal which may be similar or wildly different to the old normal.
For most bereaved parents, no matter what happens after the death of a baby, including any children after, the grief will last forever. While as time goes on, it might not be as raw and perhaps it becomes much easier to deal with, it will still exist to one extent/form or another. I’ve learnt there is no time frame, or right or wrong way to grieve. There’s no one right answer to the path of healing, and no one but the bereaved parents can find what that is for them. I’ve learnt that what IS so vital in the path after is having those who are understanding, where love is given and thoughts are sent to the parents and their loved baby and having ongoing support provided without an expiry date.
I’ve seen that everyone’s experience and path can be different as can be everyone’s choices leading after. It’s a personal journey but it’s all normal. There’s no box that grief fits in.
Sometimes we think of our babies with warmth and love and gratefulness that we had them, even if for a short time. Other times it’s with pain and hurt, questioning and anger. But all of that is OK, and it’s also OK to not be OK.
For us personally, it’s vital to acknowledge that Elliott is and will always be, a part of our family-our son, Emma and Ashton’s brother. To recognise him on cards, at special events, to talk about him. For us, just because Elliott is not here with us doesn’t mean he’s not still a part of us.
Two months have passed since the birth of our baby, and in those two months he’s been missed at important birthdays and he’s been missed at Christmas. Soon he’ll be missed at new year where we should be celebrating the possibilities a new year might bring. And every minute between these milestones that he’ll never get to be a part of, he’s missed. It’s been two months of the rest of our lives that we’ll live without him and in every month after that comes we will love, miss and think of him as we do now.
I wonder if he’s somewhere out there and if he’s starting to take his first smiles. I hope he is and that he’s smiling because he knows how much we’ll always love him, wishing with everything we have that he was here with us to see those beautiful smiles.