When Freddie died I thought I would choke on a surfeit of love. Eleven SCBU days were long enough to fall passionately in love with him and for the pain when he died to be akin to falling off a cliff. My stomach went into free fall and I was left clawing that the air, desperate to find something of him to cling on to. I had watched monitors, adjusted his position, hovered over him almost every moment, sleepless, haggard, simply awash with joy at this little boy so badly wanted. He came fifth in our family but, like his sisters, he was met with a full portion of adoration and mother love from birth. He fought so little, I knew hope was remote, indeed I begged his doctors to let him slip and go, yet his death was still a profound shock. There is no slow release of love for a newborn. It comes all at once.
When he was gone, all that tiger like protection, nurturing, new found knowledge of sick baby science and all that pride spun out of control in my limbs. People talk of empty arms – and only a bereaved mother can know how truly physical that pain is – but my mind and body heaved and choked on all the things I had wanted to do for him and everything I had tried to imagine he might need if he survived. His once future room taunted me with imagined feeding tubes and medicines I had seen in my minds eye. For months I couldn’t go out without a parallel imagining of that day encompassing a disabled child. I mothered him alive and growing in my mind, while processing that he was dead.
Most of all, I begged for the pain to stop, the 3rd degree burn of raging inflamed despair that every cell in my body knew. Already a mother, I knew instinctively what was missing from each of my days. Grief raged inside me while I tried to keep a life going for my girls. Every single act of motherhood was something I wasn’t doing for him.
Make the pain stop. Tell me this is not forever.
Grief scratched the inside of my face and lungs but I had to go on.
Forever. This is forever. It will always be this. He will always be dead. I will always have lost him.
Then… something shifted. The passing of his birthday, Easter without a boy tasting chocolate for the first time, holiday plans made for a family of 6, not 7, with an inward breath instead of tormenting, torturing tears. Somewhere inside the pain developed a thicker skin.
I grew round the pain and somehow I grew able to hold it. It became familiar and known, like a damaged back that only twinges if you sit bady. A little numbed, I discovered that while I learned to live with it I had also lost something. That pain was Freddie; in his eleven frightful, beautiful days I only knew fear, anxiety and desperate, quite hopeless hope. He was beautiful but we lived our days together in terror, waiting for the next crisis. And when I learned to live with the pain and lost the bitter sweetness of knowing how totally I had lost him, I lost a little more of my son.
That depth of emotion would be some of the greatest love I would ever feel. I didn’t realise that it was part of my mothering, part of my loving, part of him and me. It is discovering that which makes me hesitate to tell the newly baby lost that it will not always hurt so much. I lost something when the pain subsided, something now contained in and accessed by opening memory boxes and a little photo album. I pick the scab of grief now, prod it and push it and remind myself of how it was to have a son and lose him and still think he was the most beautiful, wonderful thing that ever happened to me.
It is hard to accept that grief is love, grief for our babies is love for them. Our grief is our mothering of them. It is not the most preferable type of mothering, but it is what we have.