People have a habit of telling me ‘you’ll be happy again one day’ … Do you want to know something? I will never, ever be fully happy again. Yes, I will find happiness; I HAVE happiness. But I will NEVER be fully happy again. I will move forward; I will find my new normal and I will learn to live with the absence of my son, but I will NEVER be completely happy …
This is the only thing I hate about being a young mum. I got pregnant with the twins at 17 and then Otis at 22 … I’m still only 22 years old. That means I have possibly 60+ years of life left to live. Do you know what worries me?
That’s 60+ years of living with a massive part of my heart in Heaven.
That’s 60+ years of living with a massive hole in my tummy.
That’s 60+ years of thinking “it doesn’t matter how happy I am, I could be happier.”
That’s 60+ years of never being able to say “my life is finally perfect”, because it’ll never be perfect without Otis here.
It doesn’t matter how good life gets; it doesn’t matter how successful I may become; it doesn’t matter how happy I may be; there will always, ALWAYS be something missing – there will always be the loss of my precious son. Nothing is ever going to change that. No amount of happiness or love or children is going to bring him back or change the fact that he is gone. There will always be the death of my child stopping me from being content with my life.
It’s scary. It’s really fucking frightening just how much of a hold child loss has on the rest of my life.
On the 3rd of every month, it’s another month Otis will be gone, another month since he died. On the 3rd of June every year, it will be a birthday we should be celebrating with a beautiful and perfect little boy.
I miss out on so much; things that may seem irrelevant to most parents; things people tend to take for granted: his first word, his first sleepless night due to teething and then in turn his first tooth, his first pair of shoes, his first time crawling, his first time walking, his first time saying ‘mama’ and ‘dada’, his first time calling out his sister’s names, his first time laughing, his first time crying, his first grazed knee that needs a magic plaster to make it feel better, his first time trying something sour and pulling that cute and obligatory funny face that all children do, his first time eating ice cream and getting more on his face than in his mouth, his first time at the beach, his first holiday …
Then I miss his first day of nursery, his first invitation to a birthday party, his first day of pre-school, his first parents evening, his first day of primary school, his first primary school report, his first day of secondary school, his first day of college or sixth form, his first day of university, his first day of work, his first girlfriend or boyfriend, his first child … Need I go on?
I don’t just miss out on the baby that was, that IS, I miss out on my child that would have been. I don’t only grieve for my little boy as he was; I grieve for the 60 years of life I have left that I’ll miss spending with him … It’s terrifying. And nobody can understand just how that feels, unless they walk in these shoes themselves.
Do you know what else is just as terrifying? My ability to be a mum. My mothering with the twins has COMPLETELY changed since Otis passed away. I have always been a super protective mum, but that has just been taken to another level. The girls cannot leave my sight without me thinking that they are not only going to get hurt, but that they’re going to die. Irrational? Maybe to you. But losing a child was once an irrational fear of mine; and now that’s my reality. I HAVE buried a child; it isn’t something that just doesn’t happen to people like me, anymore.
I raise my voice a lot more; not because they have done anything that calls for it, but simply because I’m scared that the smallest thing will have the worst repercussions …
They can be running around in circles in the living room and I shout at them to stop, panicking that they will fall and bang their head. They can be shovelling food in to their mouths and I shout at them to stop, panicking they will choke. They can be playing with bats and a ball and I tell them to stop, panicking one of them will let go of the bat as they swing it. They can be playing on the front garden and go out of my sight for just a couple of seconds and I shout at them, panicking they will get run over. I keep an extra vigilant eye on them when we are out and about – I’m scared of taking them anywhere for fear of losing sight of them. We used to go to the play centre quite regularly, we have been once in the 7 weeks since Otis died.
The most terrifying thing of all?
Becoming the parent of a stillborn baby makes terrifying changes to your life and the person that you are. I have changed, so much. In the blink of an eye, in the flicker of a heartbeat (literally), I became a completely different person to the one I was before.
I used to be such an outgoing person – I now struggle to talk to anyone face to face. I used to be able to walk in to a new place and make friends – I now worry that everyone will look at me differently; fearing that they will know I am the mum to a stillborn baby, like it’s plastered on my face. I used to make friends quite easily – I now always question whether people are trying to be friendly with me for the right intentions; or whether they’re doing it to be nosey and become a part of this situation. I used to have quite a good handle on my emotions – I can now start crying when sorting washing, emptying the dishwasher, sat on the toilet, running a bath …
It’s like a switch has flipped. Then, I was Natalie ‘before Otis’ … Now, I’m Natalie ‘after Otis.’
I see everything in a different light. I used to be one of the most optimistic people … Now, absolutely not. That lady walking down the street heavily pregnant? I no longer think ‘she’s going to have sleepless nights soon!’, I just hope to God her baby makes it, because nothing is a given. That tiny preemie baby that has an 90% chance of survival? I no longer think ‘90% is high enough odds, that baby will be fine!’, I just hope to God they’re not a part of the 10% that will die. That little boy coughing and spluttering in Asda café? I no longer think ‘that child’s mother should take him home, not have him spreading his germs’, I just hope to God that a simple germy cold is all it is. That little girl running across the road without looking? I no longer think ‘that stupid girl!’ , I just hope to God she makes it to the other side.
I see death in literally everything. This doesn’t mean I’m depressed; this doesn’t mean I’m morbid and can no longer see the happiness and the fun in life – this means I know the harsh reality that the beat in your heart is a blessing, it’s a gift; not a given, not a right. I know the harsh reality that the beat in your child’s heart is not ”just there”; that it can stop.
Losing a child is absolutely terrifying; it’s beyond that. There are no words in existence to describe how scary it is. You just don’t know. You don’t know where your child is for sure – if there’s a Heaven, if there’s somewhere they have gone where they can see you, or if they’re just rotting in a coffin in the ground. You don’t know if they truly know how loved and missed they are. You don’t know how they felt while in your womb. You don’t know if they died pain free/peacefully or if they struggled in agony – Otis was super active in the couple of hours before he passed, and I always think to myself that he was in pain and he was trying to alert me. You just do not know.
It’s a mother and father’s instinct to look out for, and protect, their child. When that child is not with you, that’s something you cannot do – and that’s scary in itself. You LONG to hold that baby in your arms, to cuddle that baby and make sure no harm comes to that baby. I now have the image in my mind of my poor little boy’s body succumbing to the Earth around him – the circle of life – and I often wake up crying, after dreaming of his defenceless body being eaten by bugs and insects that surround him.
All I am saying is, please, refrain from telling bereaved parents how they will feel in days, months and years to come because I PROMISE you, that you have NO idea unless you are one yourself – and even then you don’t really KNOW because everyone’s journeys are SO different; you just understand more.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; we miss you, we love you, we will do both eternally.