*Trigger warning: stillbirth/baby loss*
This beautifully written and heartbreaking piece is a guest post by Natalie Louise Oldham. You can read more of her writing on her blog, AfterOtis.
It was 7 November 2015 when we saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test. As soon as I saw them I loved you. The second I knew you existed, I knew I would die for you … but I was scared! I didn’t know what people would think about me having three children at 22. I just knew, in that moment, that I wanted you.
I started telling family and friends pretty much right away, because if something had happened to you then I didn’t want to ‘do it’ alone – I knew I would need their support to get through it. I told your big sisters a few days after finding out too. I cannot begin to tell you how excited they were to have a baby brother or sister! Cora and Maisie pretty much had your future planned out by the time I was 7 weeks pregnant with you. Cora wanted you to be a girl, so she could call you Rapunzel and dress you up. Maisie wanted you to be a boy so she had someone to play Spiderman with (she is seriously obsessed!).
Everything went amazingly well. I did have a small bleed when I was around 9 weeks pregnant with you, but a scan showed your strong heartbeat! Fast forward a few weeks and I had a dating scan confirming that we were 14 weeks pregnant; you were perfectly formed, perfectly healthy. I had no reason to worry. We were SAFE.
We reached 18 weeks and curiosity got the better of me (I say I wanted to be prepared, but I just really wanted to know who you were). So I had a gender scan and found out that we were expecting a little boy – you are my first son! I cannot tell you how happy it made me, knowing my family was going to be complete. I had my princesses, and now I had my prince. We started thinking of names for you. We had Hughie, Lennox, Otis and Alfie on our list. For a while, you were Phoenix, but after a close friend named their baby Phoenix, I changed my mind.
I’m not a very decisive person at all, so I didn’t choose your name for a while after. I wanted to be sure that it was perfect for you; that it was YOUR name; that, when you were born, I couldn’t imagine you having a different name. I completely believe, in hindsight, that I made the perfect choice.
At 20 weeks, I attended our anomaly scan. I wanted to wait until we had this one to make sure everything was okay before spoiling you rotten. You passed with flying colours! Perfect in every single way, growing well, nothing at all wrong with you. How lucky am I?! I was definitely safe at this point.
I started shopping straight away. I bought your cot, your pram, a LOT of clothes, a breastfeeding cushion, decorations for your nursery (for which your older sisters chose a ‘jungle’ theme) …
On April 11th, at 27 weeks pregnant, you decided to give us a scare and you wanted to come Earthside, but it was way too early. The doctors managed, after 3 weeks of continuous trying and constant contractions, to stop my labour completely. You had some more growing to do yet. I had a scan a couple of days before leaving hospital on May 11th and you were still perfectly healthy. It was amazing! I loved seeing you grow, and watching you thrive.
I went home. On May 12th, I moved house – I needed somewhere bigger so there was room for you. The first thing I did that day was organise your nursery. As I said earlier, the girls had picked a ‘Jungle’ nursery theme for you and I couldn’t wait to see it completed. I decorated your walls with animals, I put up your cot, I put up your wardrobe and your chest of drawers, I put up your moses basket and laid down your rug – your nursery was ready for you to come home to. It’s such a cute nursery.
On May 15th, mummy got poorly and I was admitted to hospital. JUST to be on the safe side, and after orders from my consultant prior to being discharged a few days prior, we had a growth scan to make sure you were coping okay. It was scheduled for the day after, on May 16th.
I loved seeing you on that screen again. I couldn’t wait to hold you in my arms but I had NO idea that it would be only a couple of weeks later …
You arrived Earthside on June the 3rd, 2016. You had the most beautiful little button nose, perfect little toes, quirky elf ears and your daddy’s lips. You weighed 5lbs, 1oz, and you measured 54cm long. You were, and are, pure perfection. I had spent weeks growing to love you, getting to know you. The second I laid eyes on you, I fell in love with you all over again …
There was just me, your daddy and our midwife Nicola present in the room when you arrived. Your Grandad Anthony waited in the room next door, excited to finally put a face to your name – Otis. You were born, as the sun was rising, at 4:19am. We spent the morning cuddling in the hospital bed in the delivery room, before being moved into a different room next door. Your Grandad Anthony came in the room to take pictures of us and to give you a massive cuddle – he held you just as he held your big sisters. I saw the love he has for you in his eyes. He is so proud to have another Grandchild.
Later that day, your two big sisters, Cora and Maisie, came to meet you. They were SO excited. They had felt you kick, they had helped choose your name, they had decided on your nursery theme and had been shopping for clothes – they could not wait to have their baby brother home. The second they saw you they fell completely in love with you. They held you, they kissed you, they poked your teeny toes and stroked your perfect little hands.
A photographer came the day you were born, to take pictures of you, your daddy and myself. They are AMAZING! You look so beautiful in each and every single one. Mummy looks a little rough, but that’s to be expected I suppose!
Your aunts Zoe and Jayde, your Godmummy Mel, Grandma Sam, Grandma Thelma and Grandad Bernard came to visit you, too. They all held you; they all kissed you; they all fell in love with you. You are SO loved!
The night you were born I slept with you beside me. I sang to you the same lullaby that I sang to your big sisters the night they were born; I read you a story – the same one I read to you for the 35 weeks you grew inside me; I held you to my chest, your skin on mine, as I nuzzled your perfect head of fuzzy, black hair.
We spent 3 days in the hospital together. Your daddy came up every day, all day, to stay with us. He waited on mummy hand and foot! I had food when I wanted, I had drinks when I wanted … I truly relished every single second I had alone with you, though. I treasured every moment because I knew I would never get that back once we were home.
Then it was time for us to go home! It was about 10am that your Grandad came to get us ready, to help me dress you and to put everything in the car. It took me an hour to dress you into your coming home outfit. You were so fragile and I didn’t want to hurt you. Your Grandad placed you on the bed in front of me, I gently unwrapped you from your blanket and slowly took off your baby grow. I took in every last inch of your beautiful skin. I tried to remember every last tiny detailed feature of your perfect body, from the shape of your eyebrows to the creases on your feet, because I knew you wouldn’t stay that way forever.
You were such a teeny newborn, but so perfectly formed.
Daddy arrived. We were ready. I wrapped you up tightly in your blanket and I held you to my chest. I cuddled you and gave you a kiss on your forehead, before telling you I love you and laying you down.
Grandad picked you up and he carried you out of the room, down the hall past the nurses station, out of the doors, in to the lift, down to the door. He placed you, so delicately, in to the back of the car.
I looked around me and saw all the windows. I knew that, behind those windows there were new babies everywhere. I knew that people were also celebrating the arrival of their bundles.
Everything was perfect. YOU were, and are, perfect. But taking you home that day, it broke my heart.
It broke my heart because you had just been placed in to the back of a car that would take you to a different home than the one I was going to. I was going to MY home, and you were going to YOUR home, at the Chapel of Rest.
You see, my sweet boy, you were born into the arms of angels. You were born without a heartbeat. You were born forever sleeping.
Instead of registering your birth, I registered your death.
Instead of bringing you home in a car seat, I brought you home in a moses basket in the back of a funeral car.
Instead of organising your Christening, I planned your funeral.
It was as perfect as a funeral could be. I decided to carry your ‘Jungle’ nursery theme through to your forever bed, so your coffin was decorated with animal stickers. Maisie and Cora loved that touch. We sprinkled glitter and stars on your coffin after it was lowered, because you are OUR little star. Your big sisters lit a candle that was placed beside your coffin in the church for you, so they were involved in the day and that was their way of saying goodbye. We had our family and closest friends with us to say hello and goodbye to you, all in the same day.
The silence from people in the church as we walked in, your Daddy carrying your coffin in his arms to Over the Rainbow, was deafening.
I, somehow, managed to stay standing through the service and by your graveside until Otis Redding – ‘Dock of the Bay’, started playing. That’s because it was the song we decided to listen to as your tiny, blue, jungle-decorated coffin was lowered into the ground.
Every single day since has been a struggle. I survive because I have to. You have two big sisters here on Earth who depend on me; who look up to me; who NEED me. I survive because I don’t want them to lose their mother, as well as their baby brother.
I’ve been on autopilot since I was sat in the office of a neurosurgeon at 34 weeks pregnant being told, after a pretty problem-free pregnancy, that you weren’t going to survive beyond birth; that, as soon as you were disconnected from my oxygen supply, you would suffocate and die, in front of me. You wouldn’t be able to breathe by yourself. It was inevitable that you were going to pass away and the chances of you making it beyond the next few days was next to nil.
I spent the next few days in turmoil. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to make the most of having you, alive, with me. But, I knew that you would soon be ‘gone’ … You gave us 7 more days of love before you grew your wings. Your little heart stopped beating, after the most courageous fight, at 35 weeks gestation.
During those 7 days, I had ordered your burial outfit. It got delivered on the 28th of May, while you were living and kicking inside me. I received your memory box on that day, too. The pain I felt in my chest when opening the door to those deliveries is a feeling beyond comprehension. Knowing that you were alive and I was here, partially planning life after your death; I felt like an awful mum.
I WANTED to remain hopeful that you would survive, but there was no chance, Otis. Over 3/4 of your brain tissue had already been destroyed because of a nasty tumour and several haemorrhages, and you had just been diagnosed with a blood condition that, even if the tumour and haemorrhages didn’t result in your death, meant you were incompatible with life. There was absolutely nothing anyone could have done.
It’s hard. I keep trying to put into words how I feel, but nothing justifies this pain of having to live without you.
Instead of reading you bedtime stories in a cosy chair, I read bedtime stories for you sat at your graveside.
Instead of buying you toys, I buy you flowers for your grave.
Instead of cuddling you to sleep, I cuddle the blanket you were wrapped in from birth until the day of your funeral to sleep.
Instead of watching your big sisters dote on you, I watch them cry over missing you.
Instead of kissing you goodnight, I kissed you goodbye.
People have often asked what they can do to help me since you passed away. The truth is that there is nothing anyone can really do to make this better, but simply be there. There aren’t any words to console me, or to justify what has happened. There isn’t anything anyone can to do ‘cheer me up’ … but the presence of those who care is beyond appreciated.
One thing that DOES help my heart is when people acknowledge you – when people write your name in birthday cards, Christmas cards, invites; when people write your name in the sand when they travel, so a part of you is travelling with them; when people talk about you and the fact that you LIVED; when people sit beside me in silence, and just hold me; when people ask to see your special things – your babygrow, your pictures, your hospital band; when people have turned up with food, with face masks and bath salts to try to help me relax; when friends have offered to sit and have a night in, and they spent the night talking about you …
It has been 7 months since you left. We will soon approach your 1st birthday, and I hope that people acknowledge you that day; I hope that people honour you on your special day.
You fought SO hard. I am so, so proud to be your mummy. I am beyond honoured to have carried you and I am blessed that you chose me.
Please, let it be known, sweet boy, that if I could choose you – if choosing you then losing you meant having the chance to KNOW you and to LOVE you – then I would choose you again in a heartbeat.
You are my son. You are mine and I am yours, regardless.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen: you are missed beyond words and loved beyond measure. I hope you’re sleeping peacefully, sweet boy.
Love, Mummy x
Natalie is generously sharing her story here and on her blog because, in her words, “Miscarriage, stillbirth & infant loss should NOT be a stigma, should NOT be a taboo – those precious babies should be more than just a statistic”.
If you know someone who has experienced stillbirth/baby loss, you may like to also read Natalie’s piece, ‘What not to say to a bereaved parent‘.
If you have experienced a loss and need support, you may find the SANDS charity’s resources useful.