We Said Goodbye to Our Baby
I didn’t know what to expect, I just wanted to be home, to be with my husband, to hold my son, so tightly, to hold in my arms what was real and what was still with me. Most of all I wanted to feel it, I wanted the sadness, the ache, the pain, I wanted it to come because I knew it had to, you can detach, you can put on a front and you can hide away, but it will find you, it will grip you and it will pull you deeper, darker, but I knew I had to feel what was already billowing under the surface.
Leaving the hospital, a weight, an agonizing weight was lifted as I distanced myself further and further from the sounds, the smells and their happiness. I could leave behind the new mums with their beautiful, perfect babies, I didn’t begrudge them of their happiness, I never could, but I couldn’t deny my wanting, a wanting for my hollow arms to cradle a baby, my baby, empty, the space still heavy with where he should have been. As we drove, the distance gathering I could catch my breath, inhale the quiet, no more cries, no more stirrings, just me, just us, just the nothing. That’s what it was in many ways, a weightless sense of nothing, you are in between, tip toeing along the edge, against the precipice, there is a knowing, an acknowledgement that this road, this path you never asked for, never wanted is long, it is going to cut you, creep and crawl to the depths within you, it is going to twist and to turn you, take you to the ugliest depths of yourself and somehow you are going to have to find yourself, grab an outstretched hand and pull yourself from it, but it is the knowing of the unknown that looms ahead.
He is quiet, my husband, my partner and constant, so changed in my eyes, he is aged, softer and still so broken. He treads around me gently, fragile like glass that I may splinter and break at any minute, I know he’s waiting too, waiting and watching, worrying. Whether we knew it or not, perhaps its just by looking back and reflecting now that i can see it, but the navigation, the steering of the ship against this rocky sea fell to me, this isn’t a commentary of weakness of the latter but this sort of loss, this type of grief impacts the women, the mother on a profoundly different level than that of their husband and of the father, it is neither more or less important than the other just different. The maternal is at the forefront, she is the pivotal point, her grief can often predicate the grief of the rest of the family. The paternal will grieve, it will be his grief and his alone as she will never understand the helplessness they feel, helpless they couldn’t save them, helpless they cant carry the pain for us, jealous of the connection and the time we had with our child, this isn’t resentful, they just know, they know that the bond between mother and child in pregnancy is ours alone. They know that physically we were embedded and entwined with this little soul an almost special secret club they could only ever perceive by looking, peaking, it is there in the back of their mind, but it is muffled and pushed aside as it is their turn to be the strength in the foundation upon incredibly shaky ground. They too know we are changed, they are frightened and uncertain of what’s to come but they recognize that without support we cannot find our way through the darkness. Wild and startled entering the unknown with certainty.
You open the door to home, anticipation creeping through you, waiting and hanging, am I going to be crushed, overwhelmed, flooded with sadness? Will there be an instant emptiness knowing he will never come home? But nothing. I step through the door and it is nothing. I am a shell, vacant and moving but not present or participating, not feeling my feet planted, weighted to the ground, I am hollow and I am nothing. Here in this moment, from this point forward, we start the dance, the tip toeing, tightrope, strategically planned you sway, you function, you move, you engage, but it is purposeful, premeditated, a series of steps, one foot in front of the other to just keep you going. You know, you know that you will miss a beat, stumble, you will trip and as you fall that guard will tumble down and everything, the wave of surging emotion will tumble with you pulling you into that pit, that foreboding, endlessness of black, it will consume.
And it does, something you encounter, something that passes, something small that before you would have overlooked suddenly impacts and imprints and you are crying, catching your breath trying to hold it in, you are shaking, wretched and bitter, broken, all that you are is broken. Day three is when it caught me, when the darkness wrapped its arms around me, when my thread was gently pulled and I slowly began to unravel. Day three was when my milk came in. My fucking milk came in. I had not anticipated that my body would respond the way it is beautifully and naturally equipped to. You’ve had a child, a baby was born and though they died your physical response did not register and your body, your magnificent body wants to nourish the perfect soul you’ve bought into the world. But he hadn’t survived, there had been no cry and robbed of that I raged, raging at the laughing, twisted, cruel joke that Mother Nature had to play. Anger surged within me, every engorgement, haggard and wrenching, wasted and wickedly reminding me of death, of the shallow loneliness of an incomplete journey. It is a low blow, the ebbing and flowing a constant morbidity. Thank goodness for my son, thank goodness for my child, my physical, tangible, present child needing his mother as much as I needed him. I had him, he was here, living proof that I could create and I could safely carry a child of my own, I could hold him and he, simply by being him, a typical eighteen month old toddler, demanding of me all the normal, everyday things, food, play, attention, love and above all else, his mother, it was him that got me through, without his tiny hand to hold mine, I would have slipped, I would have wallowed in the depths and the sadness of it all.
Mixed in amongst it, mixed in the brutality of it, in the throws of your grief were the practicalities. The paperwork and certificates, all in one swoop you have to declare a baby had been born and in the same breath declare they had died, signed, stamped, your child and your pain reduced to two small pieces of paper. A child had been born and died, a body will soon be released and we needed to arrange a funeral for our baby, for our son. Saying it now still catches me, we aren’t programmed in any way to anticipate or understand that reality, it is always something separate to you, at a distance, something you never expect to encounter or prepare for, but we were and we had to and sadly we did.
We needed to arrange a funeral for our baby. Logistically it was a nightmare, even if we hadn’t been speaking in a foreign tongue I wouldn’t have known where to begin. Formalities were functioning, wearing, check a box here, pick a date there, sign on the dotted line. I wasn’t participating, I wasn’t present just swept along with support, translators and strangers, now friends, decisions and plans were made. Thank goodness for Brett at this time, he rose and took hold of something I wasn’t ready to fathom. Our child would be cremated, our son’s small and fragile body would be reduced to ash, it is black and white, matter of fact, I dont think it hits you, i dont think you feel it, i dont think you let yourself, you cant, if I let myself go to deep, let the depths touch upon the rational I’d drown, robotically you function, select and plan.
Days blended and passed until we were given the call that our boy had returned to the hospital having been examined, probed, prodded and explored in the cold consciousness of an autopsy. He was back. Missed in translation we had been given the impression we could see him one last time before being released for cremation. Sitting at the hospital we were met with worried and perplexed faces, clearly we had misunderstood. Running through the proceedings in broken English, they allowed us to visit him in the morgue, his body would be covered to spare us the distress of his now greatly changed, fragile little body. With me, clutched in my hand was a brown plush rabbit soft toy that to anyone looking from the outside would find bizarre but for me, it was the only thing I could make sense of.
Brody’s comfort and his soothing toy is his rabbit, Ben. In fear of losing Ben and never being able to find a replacement in France I had brought a back up of the same bunny for safe keeping, that holy shit we’ve lost the rabbit moment! In my grief I struggled, I tussled, fraught and honestly fearful of the idea that Beau, my baby boy would be alone in this journey, that he would have to pass and go through all of this alone, without us, without me there to hold him, to cradle him, to soothe him and let him know that it will all be ok. I couldn’t bare it. So I grabbed hold and I clung to something that I could give to him, that he could hold and was a little piece of us. Rationally I knew that this was not my son, that it was just his body, the physical remnant of his soul, but the mother, the grieving mother couldn’t let him be alone. The bunny, that soft, brown bunny, just like his brothers, he had to have one, I needed him to have something, a small part of us, to cuddle and take with him.
And there he was, wrapped and covered in white, this small, lonely parcel, isolated on a vacant, sterile and cold flat bed. It took everything, every inch of my being not to scoop him up, take him in my arms and rock him, shush him, just feel the weight of him one last time. I lay the bunny next to him, oh God he was only a little bigger than it, I placed my hand on him, one last time, the cloth still soft beneath my palm and we left. I left him there in the cold, in the dark, holding his rabbit alone. I can still feel the pull, the distance, stretching between us, it will haunt me, that door will always open and close and I will never know or feel more failure and helplessness than leaving him that day, knowing that forever it will be the last time I could touch him and knowing I couldn’t be there with him. It is ridiculous, you talk your way around, rational perspective, but when it comes down to it, I am his mother, and I failed him by not being able to hold him at his most difficult.
Numbingly the day of the funeral arrived. The service would be in a beautiful little city, Carcassone, dressed in colour to celebrate this perfect little soul, we chose to keep it intimate, private, just the two of us, to say goodbye to our son. The church, quaint, the minister quiet, warm, the service, spoken in French, of course, we laugh now at the folly of it all, the inside joke, we smile. Entering the church you are confronted, there it was, the little white casket. It was so small. He was so small. It was just so small. Yet the moment was bigger, larger than I could carry, shaking, weakened by it, I let go. Stoic, Brett speaks, he speaks for his family for his son, through tears he says a prayer for our boy, our beautiful boy that we will never hold. Shaking, clung together we cry, not understanding the words floating around us but feeling and hearing the sentiment, the empathy and the resolve. Later we would learn that the minister’s brother had lost a child in the same way, it would be the first of many encounters that opened my eyes to the gravity and extent this unspoken loss has touched so many.
Exiting the church, the weight of the formalities lifted, washed of the weight of it, we just sat in the sunshine, looking at the picturesque, the realization of where we were and what we were doing in the place we were in, breathe, in and out, just breathe.
Carrying on, came the arrival of my sister, the family representative and touch stone from home. Up until this point we have been alone, supporting each other through it, but with the arrival of my sister came the luxury of being able to be a mess, to sound off, to crumble, to take time, to feel. We had banned the mothers, we had to. As big a loss as it was to us, the impact on them we had not predicted. Deeply they were affected and I am understanding now, not only were they grieving the loss of a grandchild but they were grieving the grief that we were living, they were grieving for their children, their daughter and their son, and as beautiful as that grief was, we were not equipped to carry them through it along with our sorrow. My sister, grieving as she was, she was like a piece of furniture, part of the scenery, picking up where she needed to without being asked and that first hug, to feel someone and something from home, it made the distance bearable again.
A sense of normality fell upon us and we enjoyed having our designated family member here, in our new home, despite the massiveness of the loss we had just experienced, we had in this time just moved our entire life to a new and exciting place and we wanted to share our home with her. Time out and about, exploring the town, the beaches, the coast, the bustling markets, the sounds, smells and buzz of a new place. We escaped and for a time it was just normal, a normal family, living in a new country, wanting to share in their new world. For Brody too, it was a time of stability as lets face it, his parents were an unstable, unpredictable mess. He had his Aunty and I had my sister and Brett had a reprieve, a moment where I could lean on someone else.
It was during this time of calm, this time of normal, of laughing, reminiscing that we were confronted with something raw, the makings of a sad, black comedy. It is something we would later laugh at, laugh at the sadness and the morbidity, as unfeeling or cold as that may sound there have been moments, many moments in this whole experience where the wicked sense of humour of our sleeping boy has shone through and it is with warmth and love that we now look back and laugh.
Brett had collected Beau’s ashes. Lost again in translation and unbeknown to us they had sealed his ashes in a vacuum tight box. It had always been our intent and our wish to scatter his ashes first with us in France and to send home the remainder with my sister to be scattered in Fremantle and Manly. That had been the plan and here we were looking at an air tight, unpenetrable, sealed box. Sitting at the kitchen table, Brett worked tirelessly to open the box. Moving about the house the discomfort suffocating, I shuffled and moved positions hoping and willing, please just give us a break. We were given a break with an almighty pop, the lid of the box releasing and with it the ashes of our son now settling all over him, my husband, his father, weeping, tears staining his cheeks black through the ash. The ugliness over the moment hung, tense and hollow, the discomfort nauseating, wrenching, pulling at the vulnerability of it all. Scooping up our son we placed what we could back in the box. Letting go of the idea of perfect, my perfect goodbye, the when and the where, we decided that this was it, leaving my sister and Brody, the two of us hurried and we drove. Finding a ruin along the coast, a place between the land and sea, we pulled over. No fan fair, no fancy, we scattered his ashes in silence, no tears passing, just quiet, perfectly perfect in its imperfections he soared over the arid and out to sea.
Silently, but together, thats all we needed.
The rest of his ashes returned home with my sister, just as we wished, through tears of joy I have to say that neither of his Australian goodbyes went to plan, stories of dumping waves, dropped ashes and scooping of now very wet and soggy ash being flung out to sea just add to the dark and wickedly mischievous sense of humour our boy has, making sure we could all look back and find a way to laugh through the sadness, through the lowest parts of his journey, and remarkably we do.
A little boy we will never know, we will never see him grow and change, we will never know the child, the adolescent or the man, but we don’t need to because somehow and in some way we know him and that boy knew how to laugh and how to love.