If you were to ask someone who hasn’t gone through a death of their child, which three days they would pick to remember, if that was all they could keep, I wonder what they would choose?
We didn’t get a choice, which sucks. Big time. Our three days with Leo weren’t enjoying a sunshine filled day in the countryside, running along, playing Pooh sticks, or picnicking in the park. It wasn’t the excitement of Christmas Eve and the wonder of Christmas Day morning. Or even, the first three days of his life, learning his cries, feeling his warmth.
But, our three days with Leo were his gift. In all of this, those memories are our happiest. In the rawness of grief we still took from this experience, memories – because what choice did we get? We didn’t. We had to make good out of shit. We had to remember, through all of this crap, our son was here, to hold, to learn, to nurture, to love, to protect, to mother.
When we ‘look back’ we tend to go to two places. Either the Thursday afternoon and the moment we found out he had died. That small grey room. Or Sunday after he was born, until Tuesday when we said goodbye. Tuesday morning was my fondest. Its hard to pull yourself away from the replay of Thursday, into the replay of Tuesday. But you need to for sanity. And to make sure that the memories we are looking after and nurturing, preserving, aren’t the horrors of it all, but the good out of the shit.
So that is why I am writing this down. To preserve those memories as best I can.
Sunday, 17th January 2016 – Leo’s Birthday
After I gave birth to Leo we were moved back up to the Bereavement ward. This was about midday. Our families were on their way. The specific bereavement suite wasn’t ready, but we had a side room that we had waited in the day before. Room Number Five. The room was okay, but small.
I was at this point, shattered. I think probably more than shattered. Whilst in the delivery suite, N genuinely thought I was going to die too because I just kept dropping back off to sleep from utter exhaustion. I think the adrenaline was starting to kick in though, and I wasn’t flaking as bad. I doubt I looked anywhere near my best, and I was remaining in the ‘safety’ of my hospital bed.
I can’t remember how long we were in there before our mums arrived. Not long. We told them a bit about our labour story, and they held Leo. We instantly became so protective over him, introducing him to people. Explaining about how his skin was very delicate, and to only touch gently. That it was like paper. Explaining that his eye was bad, because it was bruised and the top layer of skin had been agitated but no blood was pumping to repair it. We said that he had his R2D2 hat on, because his head was fragile. Like all babies would be, but more so. That his head was like jelly to touch.
We had decided that we didn’t want people picking Leo up without him being on a pillow. We weren’t quite at the stage where we felt confident picking him up easily, especially with his head. So we didn’t want people to be too concerned about it. And we also didn’t want too much body heat affecting him. We were in the very early days of learning how to care for him – we learnt so much in those days. We also didn’t want to move him around too much, as he had a tendency to bleed from the nose and we didn’t want to concern anyone, or get his one outfit too dirty.
I think it was my dad and stepmom that came in next, and then Nat’s dad and sister, followed my my sister and then a little while later my niece and aunt. We kept him in his cold cot for all the other visitors at this point, just to keep him cold enough and to not agitate him too much. We knew were were going to get moved to the bereavement suite were there would be more space soon.
I was still a bit high, and having different visitors come in, I lost sense of who I had told what too – after all, we were saying the same things, the labour story, the warning about his skin, keeping an eye on how gentle everyone was being. It’s very hard to know how soft someone’s touch is from just looking.
My niece, who is 9, came to see him. Some people, I am sure, would disagree with this. However, a child’s imagination is always worse than reality. She was great, hesitant at first, but slowly kept peeking her eyes in his cot, and getting closer. At this point, she was very quiet but she was okay. She had made some things for Leo, including our bracelets that all three of us have on us all the time. She had also written him a letter that just broke my heart.
After we had said initial hellos to everyone, Leo went to have his footprints done and we had a quick break from visitors. We then both just fell asleep for about an hour. So needed. By the time we woke up, they were ready to move us to the bereavement suite. I think it was then that we walked passed a room with a newborn baby in – this was the only time I saw the ‘normal’ scene of a mother sat, winding a tiny baby. And it was so very brief, I tried not to even look. But of course, you do.
Now in the suite, we were able to spend time with all of the family, and have a bit of an easier time showcasing him to everyone. Everyone came and had the chance to have a cuddle with him, and we took some pictures of us all together. I am so glad that our families got this opportunity to see him and meet him. My niece at this point, now having the space to grow in confidence, slowly worked her way up to having a cuddle and holding his hand too.
It must have been about 5-6pm when the family left, and we were in need of more sleep. I think we probably spent some time texting our closest friends and letting them know what had happened. We didn’t really want to leave it much longer. In one way, Leo being alive and well in their heads was nice, but in others way, if he wasn’t allowed to be alive for us, then I didn’t want him to be for other people either.
We let Leo sleep in his room overnight, very conscious of how much the heat was affecting him. We slept through tears. And held hands across the beds.
Monday, 18 January 2016
I felt much better on Monday, but still wasn’t brilliant. I was stronger on my feet, but still in pain. On the Monday, we had the Bereavement Midwife come and discuss the post mortem with us, the Doctor come and discuss my blood results, and regular Obs from the Midwives.
By this point, the news had been broken to most of the people who we wanted to tell personally, and to both our workplaces. We spent most of the day in and out of tears at every reply back. We had Leo back with us from the morning, and gained in confidence with picking him up and cuddling him. Having the whole night in his cold room made such a difference and we knew it was best for him to stay cold. His tone had hardened up, so in a way, he wasn’t as fragile so we felt more able to move him. His colour was changing, but not as much as it had changed from first being born, up to Sunday night – after then, it was a lot slower. The colour of his lips and his poorly eye weren’t as bright red, and looked less ‘angry’ as they had darkened.
Initially, I had wanted to try and attempt to go home on the Monday. I can’t really remember my reasonings, but I guess you never really know how true the statement you can stay as long as you want is, and I didn’t want to overstay, as I knew that they were busy on the ward. Equally, there comes a point that it just gets harder to leave. However, we didn’t end up seeing the Bereavement Midwife until gone 5pm, and N didn’t want to go home in the dark. I am so glad that we stayed another night.
Tuesday, 19 January 2016
On the Tuesday, we got Leo back really early, as we knew we would be working up to leave. So I asked the Midwife Assistant on her first round of Obs at 6am, if she could bring him in for us.
I actually got dressed. It was amazing. I felt a lot stronger and less wobbly on my feet. We both had time alone with Leo, whilst the other showered which was really nice to just get some one on one time to talk to him. We held him, properly – just in a blanket, and walked around the room. We stood at the window, and showed him the outside world. It felt so unbelievably natural. To stand there, with your baby in your arms, and to instinctively rock backwards and forwards, to pat his back, as if I was helping him to sleep. Those few moments, stood there, will always be my favourite memories. I’m really glad that we asked the Midwife Assistant to take a photo of the three of us. Our only family photo.
I had taken my camera in as I knew I wanted to get lots of photos – the photos that I wanted. So on the Tuesday morning, sun shining through the crisp, winter sky, we gave Leo a newborn photoshoot. We laid him on his blankets on my bed, and took so many photos of him, of all the little details – his ears, his nose, his hands, his feet. They are so precious to me. I cannot describe. They calm me in my darkest moments and settle my fear that I’ll forget what my baby boy looks like.
We sat, together on the sofa, and read him our letters that we had written the night before. These letters we also read out at the funeral to share them with our friends and family. We told him how much we loved him, what we were looking forward to doing with him in the future, we told him the story of him, we promised him we would help others going through this, we asked him to help us get the answers, that he had some questions to answer for us, we asked him to help us have his brother or sister, and told him how much he is loved, again and again, and again.
We had packed, and were ready to go. The Midwife came with our final discharge notes and information and we knew that we just had to leave – the longer we left it, the harder it would be. We had said our goodbyes, we had had our cuddles. I went to put him back in the cold cot for her to take him to his room, and she offered the chance for one of us to carry him there. I’m so glad that I could do this. We hadn’t left that room since Sunday afternoon, and to be able to walk the corridors with my baby boy in my arms was so lovely, so natural, and so normal. Giving him to her though, at the door to the room, was so difficult, but we had trust in them to look after him.
We had left him with his vest on and his SANDS blanket and teddy. We had taken his baby grow, hat and other bits and bobs that had been in his cot with us, just incase. They say everything would be returned, but we didn’t want to risk it. Also, they advised that they wash all of his clothes, and we didn’t want his baby grow to be washed.
There were times when you’d get a reality check and you’d see the situation from the outside and think “I’m sat here with a dead baby” – to be fair, it does sound pretty odd if you have no experience of the situation. But, it felt so right and so calming to have him there. I would panic in the night, was he okay, like anyone else would. I would lie there in the bed, arm reached out to hold the edge of his cot. I would just stare at him. Hold him. Stroke him. Kiss him. He is our baby.
Walking out of that hospital, just carrying a memory box, was so difficult. We weren’t taken the back route – the only time we weren’t. And I think I just looked at the floor the whole time, not making eye contact with anyone. N clocked a few people looking at the box, staff maybe who recognised it, or just happening to look our way. We walked about the front entrance of the Women’s Centre, past a couple joyfully putting their baby in the back seat, ready to go home. Whilst I couldn’t help but keep looking up, back up to the room Leo was now in, on the top floor. Leaving him there was so hard.