I can still hear it ringing in my ears. The screaming. It’s coming from me but, it can’t be me, this can’t be happening. It is surreal, I am detached, I must be in shock because all I can hear is the screaming.
I am talking to someone, no, I am yelling, it’s the 000 operator. I know that because I can hear the sirens, she tells me they’re coming. I am physically sick. My face is wet, they are the tears. I can hear the sirens getting closer. I feel nothing, I am numb everything is a blur. In my head I am screaming, or is it out loud? I did everything right, I did everything right.
What happens next I do not know. I remember the police, I can see the guns in my mind but not the faces, not what they’re saying. There is nothing. I am drenched in sweat, I am in my pyjamas. There is vomit on my pants. I can’t speak, I can’t see, I can’t focus, there is nothing, just fog.
And the screams are still ringing in my ears.
There are people in uniforms, there are others talking in hushed tones but I can’t see them really, I can’t hear them. I don’t know who they are. I did everything right.
My baby, he didn’t wake up that day. My walking, talking, healthy, beautiful baby boy.
This is my reality. This was the morning of December 7, 2013.
Infant loss is a reality for so many people, for so many families.
Even now as I write this I am shaking, I am crying and I feel nauseous. But I want to share it with you. There are barely any words I can use, even now, to describe the pain I felt. I feel still.
What I didn’t know is that SIDS doesn’t just affect babies up to 12 months – which was my perception. Our little boy was 15 months old and classified as SUDI (Sudden Unexpected Death of an Infant), the classification for children up to the age of 4. SUDI rates have been decreasing year on year since 1989, an 85% reduction to 2016. What a great outcome… In this period “only” 5,015 children died. In 2013 there were still 117 SUDI deaths in Australia.
The shame. I failed.
I am at the morgue. I couldn’t even tell you how I got there or where it was. All I remember is someone handing me my little boy. He is wrapped in a blanket I have never seen before. He is still, he is cold.
But I did everything right.
Heat & cool the room, not the baby. No blankets in the bed. No pillows, no stuffed toys, nothing. Lay him on his back, no dummy, no bottles, nothing in the bed. Nothing he can reach, nothing that could hurt him.
I did everything right.
He is my second baby. He is 15 months old. This doesn’t happen to people like us.
I did everything right.
His face is pale. He does not move. He is gone. I have failed.
My heart is broken, I didn’t know anything could be this painful.
I left him that day. Alone with strangers in a strange place. I feel ashamed, I could not protect him.
How many days passed I do not know. I am in my dining room. I am choosing a tiny baby coffin. The lady is insensitive, talking about colours and designs and how much it costs. She is accustomed to death, I feel that. My husband is there and my mum. But I cannot look, I cannot choose, I cannot be here in this room.
We were interviewed by the police individually at some point, which was fine of course, we had nothing to hide. As we left the station my husband told me that the detective had told him that ‘90% of marriages don’t survive the loss of a child’.
He pointedly said to me there and then ‘we will not be a statistic.’ And I never loved him more than at that exact moment, because I knew we would get through this together.
Then the end.
I am at the funeral home now. The room is pretty there are flowers and there are candles burning, but it feels surreal, like a dream.
There it is, a beautiful tiny coffin with my baby inside. He has on a suit and his big boy shoes, he loves his shoes. But I cannot hold him, even one last time. I stoke his face, I hold his hand, I pray to God to wake me up from this nightmare.
They close the lid.
There are hundreds of people. But all I can see is the beautiful tiny coffin with my baby inside. I cannot see the people, I cannot hear the words. I cannot watch the tribute movie. But I see my husband standing there in front, talking. I feel his words and I feel his pain though I do not hear what he is saying.
It is over now and everyone is gone from our home. We are alone, together, but so far apart, numb. It looks like a florist shop. There are hundreds of flowers but I don’t know when they came or who sent them. I can smell them, there is a beautiful fragrance, it fills our home. But how can this be our home. Where is the laughter, where is the joy.
These are my broken memories of that time. There is not much else. It is a blur.
Everyone grieves differently.
There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. There is just ‘what it is’. We went back to work, we watched the world keep going around, we watched the people just move on. And we barely spoke of it. We tried so hard to protect each other from our individual pain, we grieved alone. Because you just can’t burden anyone, especially those you love, with that level of pain.
Our eldest son dealt with it too, in his own way, which was to talk of it constantly. He was too young to understand but old enough to know and, he was sad.
Months past and we talked about having another baby. Not to ‘replace’ our baby but because we had so much love to give and, probably mostly, to bring some joy back into our life.
And then without really trying at all we were pregnant. How could we. Why would we. We weren’t ready. My husband was, from day 1, super excited, but looking back now, I’m sure he felt as I did…
Moments of joy and elation followed crippling fear and unbelievable anxiety
I retreated further into myself, I could not share how I was feeling, I didn’t have the tools, the ability. I smiled though every day. But I cried every single day, usually alone in the bathroom at work, or in my car or in the shower. Or all of the above. But never with anyone, always alone.
My friends and family stopped calling and I know it’s because they just didn’t know what to say. The funny thing is I didn’t need them to ‘say’ anything. I needed to know they were there. No one invited us anywhere anymore and I guess because they were unsure if it was appropriate.
I was completely alone in my grief
The day of our 12 week scan arrived, but my husband didn’t show up, something came up at work & he couldn’t get there… I was sick with anxiety but, it was ok, the baby was perfect. With this good news came relief and excitement. I felt better than I had in months; some of the fog lifted and I was looking forward to sharing our news. We planned to skype our family when he got home from work.
When he finally arrived, he looked exhausted, it was a really wet and rainy day and he’d been out in it. I resolved to do better with him, my anxiety had been overwhelming and I knew I had left him alone too. This was our new start, a positive after so much darkness.
I suggested he shower before we made the call. While I waited it happened. The text came in and my life was shattered once again.
Our marriage did not survive.
My husband had found solace in the arms of a 24 year old bimbo at work. Someone who still lived at home with mummy & daddy, someone who worked part time, was carefree and smiling and fun. All the things I was not.
He moved out to be with her. He left me with our 4 year old, my grief, my shame, my humiliation and a belly full of baby. I did not see it coming and it hit me like a freight train. The only time I really truly needed him, he deserted me. The only person I had ever been sure of in my life, the only person I trusted completely with all of ‘me’ just up and left.
I was now a single mother. I had failed my baby and now my marriage.
At 8 months pregnant, I was forced to sell my house. Pack up my home of 9 years, my whole life. For only the second time since it happened I entered his room. I packed his things and I lost him all over again.
The place I raised my babies. The only home my eldest had ever known. It was gone, it was no longer our home. I had nothing left.
I had nowhere to go.
For the first time since I was 17, when I bought my first house, I was ‘homeless’. To be honest there is rock-bottom, then there was this. I didn’t know I could ever feel this low.
I couldn’t get any finance because I was taking maternity leave. There was nothing to rent in our area and I had to make decisions on where to go to raise my kids; as master 4 had been enrolled, for months, to start primary at the catholic school where we lived. Where does he go now?
If not for my wonderful parents I do not know what I would have done. They gave me somewhere to live. Somewhere to bring my new baby home to (and he is perfect by the way).
I survived Infant Loss.
There is a lot more to my story but that’s it for now, I survived. What I want to leave you with is a few tips if (God forbid) you experience infant loss in your life;
- A grieving family needs you. Do not leave them alone.
- Saying the wrong thing is better than saying nothing at all
- With one caveat – Everything does not ‘happen for a reason’. Never say this to me.
- Ok two things – ‘At least’ you are young enough to have more kids…just no.
- It does not get easier.
- My baby had a name, say his name. It is not off-limits.
- When you ask me I will tell you I have three kids. 8, would have been 5 & 3.
- We celebrate his birthday.
- We talk about him. He is still part of our family.
Infant loss destroys people. It destroys families. It destroys lives. It makes you question everything you have ever done, everything you are doing with your kids. It can cause extreme anxiety, exacerbate PND, affect bonding with new children and mostly shame & an overwhelming sense of failure. It never goes away, it doesn’t get any easier – but, it can be survived.
If you make one charitable donation this year, please give generously to Red Nose Day June 29, or Bears of Hope who run counselling sessions for families who have lost children.