I remember the first time I felt Otis kick. I was 18 weeks pregnant and I felt that ‘butterfly’ feeling in my tummy. I knew straight away that it was him, making his presence known. Feeling him move offered so much reassurance. He was the most active little boy during pregnancy; he never stopped moving. The slightest decrease in his movements had me worried because it just wasn’t like him to stop!
Otis had VERY powerful kicks; I started feeling them on the outside of my tummy at 19 weeks; I could physically see him moving my tummy when he kicked at 21 weeks; and he could kick my hand off my tummy at 22 weeks. They seemed to be more powerful at night time – whether that’s because I was led down doing nothing and actually paying full attention to him moving, or if he was just more active at night time, I’m not sure … He definitely loved staying awake at night time, though.
I feel awful saying this, but it was kind of frustrating. I just wanted to sleep. It was hard enough getting comfortable as it was, with a big bump and agonising pain from my kidney disease that had flared up on top of that. I remember texting my friend Jodie telling her I was fed up; that I just needed to rest.
I did complain but that was because I had no reason to believe that my little boy wasn’t coming home. I assumed he would stay. I assumed that the beat in his heart would be there long before mine stops. I assumed that I would just be giving birth to a little boy who would be keeping me awake all night, because that’s when he was most active. I assumed, because we had got so far in to the pregnancy, that everything was going to be okay.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, my pregnancy was the only time I would ever have my little boy alive.
Had I known, I would have treasured those powerful kicks that kept me awake all night a LOT more. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
After learning how poorly Otis was, when I was 34 weeks pregnant, I realised I had to make the most of every single second I had left of growing him. I had to make the most of every single movement he made because I knew at that point that they would soon stop. We had 7 days with Otis between learning he was going to pass away, until his heart stopped beating. During those 7 days I spent my nights watching Otis wriggling around in my tummy, tracing what I assume were his feet with my fingers. I had to fit 50+ years of getting to know my son in just 7 days. I like to think I did … I got to know him, really well.
I played music, to try and learn what kind of music he liked – to learn what songs made him sleepy and what songs made him dance. He always seemed to calm down when I played ‘Dock of the Bay’ by Otis Redding, which I later chose to be the song that was played as his coffin was being lowered in to the ground.
I ate food, despite not feeling hungry at all, to try and learn what kind of food he liked – to see if he had a sweet tooth like me and Cora, or if he preferred savoury foods, like Maisie. He definitely had a sweet tooth. He much preferred me chowing down on chocolate and Haribos over crisps and crackers.
I did silly things, to see if he was laid back like Maisie or if he had a bit of a temper, like Cora and myself – I poked his bum through my tummy which he really didn’t seem to appreciate. It made me laugh, how mad he got. He’d kick me right where my hand was, as if to tell me to ‘get off mummy.’
I often sat and felt him, thinking about who he would become if he lived beyond birth; I know from his sheer fight and determination to live that he was, that he IS, brave. He’s one of the bravest little souls I have ever known. Otis fought more in his 35 weeks of life than a lot of people do their entire lives.
I know from how he danced around when he heard his sisters’ singing how excited he was to meet them. They did meet. When Otis was born, Cora and Maisie came to the hospital to see him. It was the most bittersweet moment I have ever lived in my life and I don’t ever expect anything to come remotely close. They held him, they cuddled him, they kissed him, they laughed at his massive feet, they stroked his perfect little hands and poked his tiny button nose … They were together. For that brief moment, I had all three of my children with me. For that brief moment, we were complete. I only wish, with every fibre of my being, that his sisters got to see him with his eyes open.
After being told that my little boy wasn’t going to live, I sat and waited for the next movement, just to know he was still alive. I have the very last time Otis kicked me on camera. I filmed my tummy moving all the time to make sure I would have those memories of him living. I’m so thankful for that …
I’ve been told a few times that I was ‘lucky’ that I knew Otis was going to pass away because it gave me time to prepare. NOTHING on this Earth can prepare ANYONE for their child’s pending death – knowing it’s inevitable. NOTHING on this Earth can lessen that pain. Knowing that, at some point, his heart was going to stop beating was one of the most difficult things to come to terms with.
I barely slept. I spent nights researching, trying to find the best funeral home to look after my son. I spent days trying to find him the perfect burial outfit while he was still kicking and moving inside me. I looked online for his coffin, to see what kind of forever bed I wanted Otis to have.
I questioned, a LOT, about why we had been gifted this perfect little person for him to be snatched away from us. I questioned what I had done to deserve to lose my little boy. All I thought about is what I had done that had caused it, even after being told it was nothing I had done. I felt guilty, I felt anger, I felt confused, I felt overwhelming love, I felt empty … It was hard to deal with so much conflicting emotion. I was driving myself crazy. I was genuinely thinking, throughout that week, that I was losing the plot. I know now that every single emotion I felt during that week was completely normal, completely acceptable, completely rational.
From learning that Otis was poorly, until his passing, every single movement was a blessing. As far as I was concerned, for as long as he was kicking me, he was doing okay. If he could coordinate his thumb to his mouth on scans like he kept doing; his brain was somewhat working. Then one day during that week, they just slowed to almost a stop – he went from being active for over 20 hours of the day to kicking me 3 or 4 times in 24 hours. I obviously knew it was going to happen very soon after. I felt him kick me at 13:05 on the 31st of May; I looked at a clock just as he kicked me … and there it was – his last ever kick.
It was like he was saying goodbye. Just one, big , strong kick.
I‘m here mummy. I’m here. But I’ve got to go.
One second, his heart was beating and the next, it just stopped. Literally, in the blink of an eye. I would give the world to feel him kicking and moving again, I really would. It was my oxygen supply that was keeping Otis alive – we knew that as soon as he was disconnected from that, he would pass away. If being pregnant forever was achievable; if being able to carry him until I take my last breath meant that he would live, inside me, until I die, then I would have done it. I would have carried him within my womb until my heart stops beating. I wouldn’t have to think twice about that.
Otis Dominic Anthony; I miss you, I love you, I will do both eternally.