Life, Interrupted

Perhaps the hardest thing about losing someone you love is the way in which it causes your world to shift on its axis. Everything is irreversibly changed and there is no possibility of ever going back to the person you once were, and the life you once had.
When an adult dies, be it a relative, a partner, a friend, it feels like the end of our past. The life we knew, sewn together by the experiences we shared with this person, has suddenly halted, and so begins the process of learning how to define oneself in their absence. In many cases, such as with a parent or sibling, you may never have known life without them; they formed the very foundations of your existence and all your memories are inked with their colour.
For weeks, maybe even months after their death, you may momentarily forget that they have gone: you find yourself unconsciously reaching for the phone to tell them something funny, or instinctively throwing their favourite brand of coffee into the shopping basket, before realising that you haven’t drank caffeine since 2006.
For some, this period of realignment, of adapting to life without them, can take many years; for others, it is never achieved. To lose someone is to lose a piece of yourself; to have something missing which was there before. A void which will never be filled.
The death of a baby, much like any loss, brings with it this same sense of absence, of something missing. And yet to me, losing a baby is, in some ways, a different experience to any other loss. It is not the end of your past, but rather the end of your future – the one that you had imagined, and been planning for. It is the death of the life you had expected to live and the person you had expected to become.
From the moment we found out I was pregnant, we began preparing a space in our hearts and lives for our child. I made changes to my diet, my lifestyle, my bank account; my whole perception of how my life would be shifted. We took the pregnancy test a week before I was offered interviews for teacher training; interviews I subsequently turned down (and then mentally ‘filed away’ teaching to a much later point in my life, say 2025). Instead of reading about pedagogy and changes to the National Curriculum, I spent my time researching travel systems and the benefits of breastfeeding. As I furiously massaged Bio-Oil into my ever-expanding belly, I daydreamed about a world structured not by the ringing of a school bell, but by baby massage classes, and hours spent pacing up and down, rocking and cajoling a screaming infant, and the endless whirl of the washing machine. I began to identify myself as ‘a mother’. I had not yet completed my basic training (which I was assured would be a baptism of fire) but pregnancy was my initiation into the club.
When you are pregnant, you are not expecting a baby, you have a baby; a living, breathing person moving around inside of you, dependent on you for survival. From the moment they are created, never again are you alone. You consider them in each decision (‘Not the brie thank you, I’ll have cheddar’). You talk to them and sing to them (and pee more frequently because of them!) and each and every day have at least one thought which relates to them; whether it is a doe-eyed moment when you find yourself looking at baby grows, or the panic-stricken realisation that you may never sleep in ’til 9am ever again!
Some people think that losing a baby is somehow less of a loss:
‘How can you miss someone you never knew?’ 
‘At least he died when he was just a baby…it would have been so much harder if he had lived for a few years and you had gotten to know him.’
‘You can’t miss what you never had.’
To those people, I say this:
From the moment I found out I was carrying him, I knew my son. I have seen him live a thousand times: his first steps; the chaos of Christmas mornings; the first day at school; the fridge covered in his art work; the pencil marks laddering the kitchen wall. I have seen him return home, his eyes burning with scalding tears at the injustice of the referee’s decision. I have met his first love, and bitten my tongue when he told me he was changing his plans to be with them. I have seen his wedding (to a different love), and felt my heart bursting with pride to see him so happy.
I have had him forever in my heart.
Because that’s the thing about when your child dies: you don’t just lose your baby. You lose the 1 and 10 and 15 and 37 year old he would have become. You lose the places you would have taken him; the books you would have read to him. The memories you would have made. The rest of your life is marked by a series of ‘would-haves’ (or perhaps that’s ‘should-haves’).
You just lose it all.
The life you had expected, the life you had dreamed of, is gone. And yet you can never go back, because the person you were before has gone too. Your world is forever marked by loss. The death of your child can never be undone. Even if you were to go on and have more children, there will always be one missing. How do you respond when someone asks you how many children you have? Do you include the one who has died, and risk the (often startling or unpleasant) response of the questioner? Or do you neglect to mention them, and face the choking grip of guilt as you feel as though you are denying their existence, or neglecting them.
It has been one year since Findlay died, and yet I can barely remember a time when my daily dog walk did not involve the route through the cemetery. My wrist feels bare without my memorial bracelet, and I don’t know what I used Facebook and Twitter for before I started following the Sands pages.
I am a bereaved mother; and whilst this is not the only thing which defines me, I cannot go back to a time in my life before this was true. I will never be the same as I was. Nor should I be.
Nor do I want to be.

photo credit: Hands & Heart via photopin (license)