Sophocles (a famous greek playwright) once wrote that “children are the anchors of a mothers life”.
It’s particularly poignant for me, today, Mother’s Day, after losing one of my precious anchors.
On Mother’s Day last year, I was excitedly looking forward to meeting our baby boy, Elijah and I never expected that I would have to say goodbye before his life had barely begun.
No longer anchored by two sons, I’ve been reflecting on how that unexpected and tragic loss has changed me as a Mother to my living son.
I used to worry a lot.
I worried about him being successful. I had conversations with my husband about him leaving home in the future. How will he afford a house? University? We assume he’ll go, right? We must make sure he goes to a good school so he can do that. I visited private schools and read up on “fee structures”. We need to make sure that whatever Degree he chooses to do, we fully support him, even if that’s “Arty” and not something “Sciencey”. I have vague memories of us arguing over that point. We had those conversations and many, many more about his future.
I want, so painfully and acutely, that it hurts in my stomach, to argue ridiculous points about Elijahs future.
How ridiculous that I used to be concerned that Gabey (my now 3 year old) WILL be reading by 3. I once said that as I was reading by age 3, it must be “in his genes”. At the very least, I used to insist, we definitely need to make sure he is reading before he starts school. Ah, schools….I can’t tell you the amount of school Ofsted reports I’ve read. The amount of hours, days, I’ve thought about schools for my children.
Now, I worry about three things…
1) Is he alive
2) Is he healthy
3) Is he happy
Of course, I’m not an idiot. I’m not saying I want or would be happy for him to go to the crappiest school in Sussex but what I’m saying is I just don’t worry about the future as much anymore.
When your child dies in your arms, all thoughts of the future stop. How can you even see the next day, let alone starting school, when death has so cruelly and blatantly crashed into your life. Suddenly, everything shifts. Life most fragile. You start living and parenting in the moment, day by day, aware that every moment is precious and more moments are never, ever guaranteed.
A few weeks ago we moved to a new area and I went to visit our local Montessori nursery school with my 3 year old. Before losing Elijah, I would have visited at least half a dozen of the nearest and the best and I would never have considered a Montessori nursery. I was extremely traditional and no-nonsense all the way. I would have scoured the Internet for all the nursery Ofsted reports within the area. I would have taken weeks to choose, probably visiting each one twice and boring my husband with minute details of the pros and cons of each establishment. I may have even written a spreadsheet.
This time, I walked into the nursery and noticed how warm and gentle the staff were. How calm and happy the atmosphere seemed. Then I looked at my boy and he was smiling and pointing at pictures of dinosaurs on the wall. He was happy so I was happy. Not the other way around. This time it was his decision. I signed him up that day.
It was the first and only nursery we visited.
It’s a big change for me.
So on this Mothering Sunday, I wake up knowing that I’m now a different parent.
I’m now parenting after loss.
That will, undoubtedly, continue to bring many unexpected challenges but like every other Mother does, every single day, I’m just going to try my very best and keep my fingers crossed.
In the months since losing Elijah, finding a moment every day just for him has become very important to me. My days are always busy. Moving house, a beautiful, boisterous 3 year old and hospital appointments for this pregnancy, leave me with few moments to spare, let alone spend a moment for my lost boy.
So 3am has become “our moment”.
Every morning, I wake up and look at the time. It’s always close to 3am. I then spend some time thinking about him. I think about how different things should have been. I tell him about the crazy antics his big brother has been up to. I often tell him I’m sorry, especially when strangers ask me “so this will be your second?” and I reply “yes”. I ask myself questions…would he be crawling now? would he look like his brother?
With Mothers Day in the UK approaching this weekend, I woke up at 3am today, thinking about this…
I also thought about something an old friend said to me at the weekend, “I kept calling but you never picked up the phone so I just stopped trying”.
Maybe I should stop trying too? I guess my life would probably be easier. Simpler. Stop trying to keep a bit of Elijah with me. Stop trying to make sense of this new, unexpected journey. Stop trying to keep everyone happy at the same time as keeping afloat in a sea of grief. I could wake up at 3am, roll over and simply go back to sleep. I could immerse myself in my new house and my baby-to-be and try to forget my lost child and everything that happened. Just stop trying.
Albert Einstein (by all accounts a very smart man) once said “you never fail until you stop trying”.
So this coming Mothers Day, I’m going to make my 3am moment an all day moment. I’m going to spend the day with both of my boys, one in my arms and one in my mind, because for 25 hours I was a Mother of two and I’m never going to try and forget that.
About 20 years ago, I tried to save the life of a cat.
I was driving along the notoriously busy Stifford Road, in my hometown of Aveley, when the car in front of me hit a cat.
BANG, the cat was down & the car sped off.
“STOP THE CAR” I screamed at my boyfriend and as he swerved onto the kerb, I jumped out of the car and ran into the road.
I knew I had just moments to save the beautiful, black cat, lying in the road, shrieking in agony.
As I frantically waved my arms, standing in the middle of very busy, Friday night traffic, with my boyfriend screaming “GET OUT OF THE ROAD”, all I knew at that moment was that I had to stop the cars, get the cat out of the road and to a vet, to give it a chance to survive.
Then in one final moment, as I shouted “STOP” a sleek looking jag came screaming towards me. My boyfriend pulled me out of the way, the car drove straight over the cat and it was game over.
I was inconsolable.
As I sobbed into my boyfriends shoulder, him angry with me for being so reckless, he said one thing that now means everything,
“you tried babe”
I did try. He was right. As much as I regret not being able to save that cat, it does make me feel better that I did something. If I’d just driven past and not bothered, I think that would haunt me.
Would you have done what I did and jumped into the road to try and save the cat?
There are many stories of people putting themselves at risk to save others. Stories of instinct taking over when lives are at risk. Adults jumping into freezing cold rivers to save a drowning dog. Friends jumping into stormy seas to save a friend. Stories of heroics and people TRYING to do the right thing. Even if it doesn’t work, human nature is to help others in need and try, right?
Well, not always. Sadly, tragically, horrifically, not in the case of my baby boy.
Yesterday, we received a letter from the GMC.
They attached a letter from Mr X. The consultant who was supposed to have been looking after me and Elijah.
Firstly, he expresses his condolences and his understanding of what disappointment we must be feeling.
Yes, that’s right. Disappointment.
Yesterday morning, I told my very excited 3 year old that we would take the car through a car wash machine. We happily drove to the garage to find it not working and being repaired.
THAT was disappointing.
When I open the fridge to find the last Twix has been eaten by my husband
THAT is disappointing.
The death of my child….well, lets just say that “disappointing” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.
He then denies all knowledge of what happened on that day and lays the blame firmly on the shoulders of the midwives and the middle-grade doctors. He didn’t know I was in labour, he didn’t know I was bleeding. he thought my pregnancy was trouble free and so on and so forth.
Then, in his own words, at the moment Elijahs little heart couldn’t take any more and was taking its final beats, he describes being told by labour ward staff that we were in theatre, we were an emergency and to run.
So, at that moment, did he jump in like a man saving his drowning dog? Did he run to save Elijah, like I ran to save that cat?
He took a back lift, not the fast lift and went to change his clothes.
What a true, all male, all muscles, Last Action Hero he is.
It’s just not the done thing to be seen in blue scrubs when everyone around you is wearing red, darling. No, I’m not kidding. As my boy was dying, he was changing the colour of his scrubs.
So, I asked before and I’ll ask again, would you have tried to save the Stifford Road Cat?
I think you & I both know the answer to that.
Written by Elijahs mummy
Cold majesty to freeze my heart,
The silent beauty calms,
Wispy white to mark the day,
You left my loving arms.
A fallen tree, my fallen child,
a thousand tears I’ve cried,
and as the snow fell gently down,
I carved your name with pride.
6 months ago today, at exactly this time, 11.30am, my waters broke. A few hours later, Elijah was born and you all the know the rest of the story.
Today, I should be posting photos of a smiling Elijah on Facebook and commenting on how fast the last 6 months have gone, how amazing he is and how, despite the lack of sleep, I’m the happiest mummy alive.
Instead, after a sleepless night, I spent most of this morning in tears, due to one awful word.
I’m currently 13 weeks pregnant and after an appointment with my Consultant, she decided I needed an ECG.
My consultant is the person who carried out our medical investigation after Elijah died. She knows the whole horrific story about what happened to my baby boy. Yet, on the form requesting an urgent ECG, she has described him as a “miscarriage”.
That word, that awful word, implies he was never alive and that he never breathed in this world.
Well, he did. He was 5lbs of pure perfection and he was alive for 25 hours. He was christened. Both of his Grandmothers visited him to say hello and goodbye. I kissed his lips and his tummy and every single one of his tiny fingers and toes, all while he was alive. He briefly curled his little hand around my finger, in the moments just before he died.
He was not a miscarriage.
These long 6 months without him have been hard enough, without the insult of trying to take away those very precious 25 hours we did have him with us.
It may have been a lack of attention when filling in a simple, tedious hospital form but words have power. How Elijah is remembered and described, is his memory, and that is so important to me.
It’s all I have left.
Today, as I cuddled the most beautiful newborn baby girl, my friends and I chatted about Elijah and grief and what it takes to move on.
I’ve been very determined to make sure Gabriel (my 3 year old) has the best Christmas, with lots of fun and laughter.
However, I’ve been feeling low since New Years Eve, wondering if I was deluding myself by trying to face these difficult days with hope and joy.
Am I letting Elijah down?
Should I be inconsolable? Keep the curtains drawn and the mood more somber?
So we talked about that and how hard it is being hopeful after tragedy. Let me just say, it’s not the easy option. Every day I climb my own personal Everest to keep my family functioning.
I’ve been asking myself, why do I do that? The answer, I do it for Gabriel. One of my friends said “What you went through, losing your innocent baby, is the worst thing in the world that I could imagine”. Now, for me, it isn’t. All my fears now centre around Gabriel. The worst thing imaginable for me, is that he one day, perhaps when he’s in his twenties, turns round to me and says “all you did is cry Mum. It was like I wasn’t even there. I had the worst childhood”. I feel as though I’ve lost so much already and I don’t want to lose him too. Him being alive and not wanting to know me because I “checked out” is my greatest fear.
After my friends left, Gabriel came creeping up to me, with an outstretched arm and clenched fist.
“What have you got there sweetie” I asked. “Shhhhhh” he demanded “it’s sleeping”. He uncurled his hand to reveal a tiny, little piece of black fluff. “It’s a baby. I found it” he whispered. “Babies are nice mummy” and off he ran to put “baby fluff” under his pillow.
That, right there, is hope and joy and why I climb, climb, climb every single day.