Monday 6th July 2015
Room 15, Delivery Suite, Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital
On a sweltering July day last year, after 28 hours in hospital, my husband and I became parents for the very first time. Our beautiful son Findlay Eric silently entered the world, and our lives were changed forever.
After months of planning, preparation and excitement, he was finally here.
But this was not the story I had expected to tell.
When I had imagined my labour and the birth of our first child, I had thought of noise: the bustle of midwives bundling the baby up into a towel; the clatter of equipment as they reach for the cord clamps and hospital tags; constant chattering and cooing, with phrases like ‘Here we are then’ and ‘Look at all that hair!’ reverberating around the room. I had thought of my husband gripping my hand with excitement, as he kissed my sweating forehead saying ‘You did it!’ and excitedly telling me the sex. Above all, I had dreamed about the shrill infant cry rising above the cacophony, piercing through the clinical brightness of the labour room: my child, calling out to me.
Instead, our wonderfully compassionate midwife delicately wrapped our sleeping son in a blanket, and handed him to me with misted eyes.
I knew that it could happen – tragically, our dear friends had a stillbirth four years previously – but that didn’t make it any easier.
Findlay had a very severe form of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital heart disease which essentially means that the left ventricle and aortic valve did not develop properly.
He only had half a heart.
Not that you would have known to look at him; when he was born, he was perfect.
As I cradled his tiny body in my arms, I looked in wonder at his little finger nails, no bigger than half-grains of rice, and his long legs and feet.
‘He would have been tall.’ I said to Tom. which was a surprise given that neither of us can claim much over 5’10.
He had my nose.
I longed to see his eyes, to gaze into them and have him look back at me. Until my dying day, I will always feel cheated that I never got to see them.
We spent 6 hours together at the hospital. How can you fit a lifetime worth of love and memories and time into 6 hours? The short answer is – you can’t.
In those brief hours, Tom and I held our son, kissed him, sang to him, told him how much we love him. His grandparents came to see him too, each capturing their own fleeting memories of their first grandchild, memories which would need to sustain them through the pain and grief of his absence. Memories they would cherish for eternity.
And then it was time to leave.
We walked out of the hospital clutching a memory box rather than our baby, empty and afraid and unsure how to navigate this new world of heartbreak and grief. All around us, it seemed as if the world was just carrying on as before: the buses kept running; the day kept ticking passed; Djokovic beat Federer in the Men’s Singles at Wimbledon…
That’s the strange thing about devastating loss: no matter how badly your heart is shattered, the world doesn’t stop for your grief. For us, life was over. Our baby, for whom we had loving prepared a space in our lives and in our hearts, had died. Yet somehow, the rest of the world was carrying on regardless.
And would continue to do so, with or without us.
So marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives – the lives of bereaved parents. Lives spent missing, remembering, honouring, and forever celebrating our beautiful son, Findlay Eric.