My wife and I and still grieving for our son. In the lines that follow I don't want to be presumptuous enough to offer advice to bereaved parents; all that I can do in the context of these words is to hurt openly. The recollections, thoughts and emotions written here trace events which occurred in the past fourteen months of our lives. Hopefully they give you something of our story.
Our son Louis grew to be nine pounds nine ounces. A big baby with my forehead and his mother's chin. And then he died.
We talked a lot about babies' birth weights in our antenatal classes; I remember once that another prospective father opined that preoccupation with a new baby's weight was stupid. He couldn't see the sense in it...ten pounds, six pounds eight ounces...so what? I disagreed. For me it was all a part of giving the new little person an identity...first by sex, then weight. Then identikit... Granny's eyes, Aunt Nellie's nose and so on. My forehead, his mother's chin...
The memories of those classes! How excited and light-hearted we were! Coming home and comparing ourselves with the other couples, talking about it for hours. Weren't we going to be just the best parents there'd ever been! We loved the whole 'new parent' process...the pregnancy test, the visits to the doctors, the books, the car-seat brochures, the excursions to the baby shops... the scan...
As soon as Julie thought she might be pregnant we bought a test. As with so many ‘first-time’ couples, that thin aqua line made us jump for joy.
I bought six more tests and the pregnancy book I'd been surreptitiously leafing through on previous visits to WH Smiths. The dining room table became a laboratory with beakers and urine samples all over the place. That all happened last October. A year ago...A lifetime ago.
We pored over the pregnancy book. It lived under our bed but never got dusty. There were sections in it about what the baby would be like at each stage, what we should look for and so on, and we got worried when it didn't all happen textbook style. Julie didn't get morning sickness, for instance. And as the pregnancy went on, the baby didn't kick as often as it might have done. But we were constantly reassured about this. Some babies are lazy. Maybe it was going to be like me.
The pregnancy book had a chapter for fathers. I found some interesting ideas for bonding with the baby, like singing the baby a certain song every couple of days to soothe it and sing it to sleep. Then after it was born it would get to know my voice. Julie thought it was a nice idea. I used to kid myself that every time I put my lips against Julie's belly to sing the song that he kind of thought, "Goodnight Dad" and felt comforted. I ended up singing it at his funeral.
When we found out our baby had died we were together. That’s something we'll always be thankful for. We'd just finished moving house and I had a day off work to complete operations, shift a few remaining things and tidy up. It was the day that our child was officially due to enter the world. We had a great lunch at a local pub during which some friends rang us from Australia. Driving to the midwife's appointment I remember saying to Julie: "Life couldn't be much sweeter".
A few moments later our anguished midwife informed us that she couldn't feel the baby's heart. I don’t know how we made it over to Hemel Hospital. How was it we didn’t collapse in a heap when various technological devices at the hospital confirmed that our baby wasn’t alive? Julie was too stunned to say or do anything. I sat on the edge of a hospital bed and cried. A doctor sat astride a chair and barked reality at us. That was that, he told us. The duty midwife burst into tears.
Dazed, we were escorted into the SANDS room. After a procession of hospital people had come and gone, Ita, our community midwife arrived, tears fresh on her cheeks. Ita, so supportive to us in the birth classes stuck with us as we travelled our painful twilight journey.
It was indeed a twilight world that we entered now; going home for the evening before being induced the next day', facing up to phoning up, telling those that loved us most that our baby was dead in Julie's body. Calling my parents in Sydney and informing my anxious and excited mother- without doubt the hardest thing I've ever done. We wept on each other over twelve thousand miles. It was the same devastation for Julie and her mother who was in France.
The next morning my brother and sisters rang from home and I tried to talk; I choked, hung up, then went outside to pack the car. I found Julie in the garden, placing some newly picked flowers into a mug to take with her. What a heart-breaking scene.
Back in the SANDS room our eyes watched the cricket on TV but our minds rippled out in a million directions. Our hearts broke into pieces. Seven hours passed. I went to the shops and bought junk food and a flask of whisky (there were only so many salads I could eat in a day) and I sensed that we’d need fortification soon.
Julie slept a little. I wept again, picked up a pad and wrote:
No one can take this journey but us;
Behind a plate-glass the anguished faces
of family and friends tell us they want to,
but no one else can travel this road of pain...
And you, my dear sweet one,
snuggled and snoring must travel a stonier road than I.
I sit here with my own grief –
A private agony that none can know:
tears for what is lost but more for what you must endure.
Then things happened in a rush. After a frenzied couple of hours I was cuddling Louis – my warm little baby boy. My poor wife was pale with exhaustion – physical, and now emotional. I’d reached my own limit. I handed Louis back and went outside.
Linda followed me into the SANDS room and held me whilst I blubbed on her shoulder.
We took the pictures then, and in a strange and sombre sort of way we celebrated Louis' arrival.
That night in bed, looking at Julie and reflecting on it all I felt moved to write:
As you lie asleep in my arms dear Julie,
I look down and see the mouth and eyes of Louis in your face.
You seem peaceful now, as peaceful as our little boy appeared when you held him, newly delivered and warm.
You held him then as the most perfect mother, so, so lovingly oh so proudly.
You and he then were the most beautiful sight I'd seen –
for a moment you healed my grief-
you glowed with a love that I could touch.
I was remembering that expression on my wife's face just after the birth. She'd seemed totally transcendent- as if there was some strange, peaceful and unspoken bond between herself and Louis. She remembers feeling like that too.
We had Louis with us for five hours in his crib. Unknown to me, Julie had bought me a cricket book.
Later that day I found a piece of paper inside which said :
To . . .most loving and courageous husband who this morning helped deliver a beautiful baby boy, our son
Louis Peter Henry Jenner.
Louis in his crib and his Dad watched the India/England Test match together for a few precious moments.
The next morning I woke up and found that Julie had opened her heart and expressed her grief on paper. It was unbearably beautiful and sad.
This is a part of what she wrote:
...A strong baby boy weighing 9Ibs 9ozs, you were heavy in my arms as I rocked you to my heart. All my love and longing poured out from me to you. How I wanted you to curl your long Daddy's fingers in a grip on my hand. How I wanted to feel your breath... all these things, but no it wasn't to be...
After we left the cocoon of the SANDS room, Ita and Linda visited on different days to help us emerge out of our twilight world. Apart from the comforting stream of cards and letters, their visits were the day's only thing to look forward to.
We had a quiet funeral with the two of us and a priest. I carried his little white coffin to the grave. On it we placed a bunch of wild poppies which had assumed a significance for us. We read prayers and poems and placed flowers from our families and then large sparse raindrops fell like tears onto his coffin. Our dreams and our joy tumbled into his grave to be covered with earth and clay. We staggered numbly home.
It's four months since we buried Louis. I'm back at work and I no longer have nightmares about dead babies. I don't suffer from insomnia anymore. I'm fully recovered from the terrible fever into which I fell soon after the funeral. I am in many ways my old nocturnal self, although we both know that neither of us will ever be the same again.
The other day I wrote this:
I’m glad to be back amongst you,
smiling and stoic that's me... happy and moody and restless,
just as 1 used to be...
back in the job getting on with things
just as 1 did before,
only now the things that were certainties
certainly aren't any more...
I'm back with friends and family
smiling and taking the piss,
sharing the same old interests,
but the thing that is different is this...
I'm years and years much older now, years, ten thousand years wise...
aged by the infinite absence
that stared from a dead boy's eyes.
I'm older and wiser and sadder now,
and though I am acting the same,
there's letters carved to the core of my heart
that spell out my dead son's name...
We don't want to forget our son. We want people to talk about him and use his name. We love him so very much.
We also know that we've got to move on, and that we can't do it by being rushed. It hurts when people forget that we can't be normal again - not just yet. It grates when people advise us to have another child. What I say now, in the face of the continual pain of not having Louis, is "we'll see."
Louis Peter Henry Jenner Stillborn, 21st June 1996.