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. It’s 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 by 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 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.
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Photo by Jordan on Unsplash
I’m Jess, married mother of two. Eli, born in 2017 and Leo, his elder brother born in 2016 who forever lives in our hearts. Working hard to create conversation, fundraise and form community through my blog The Legacy of Leo. It’s bittersweet, but it’s my motherhood.