I wish just one person had congratulated me.
When my little boy, Otis, was born on June the 3rd of 2016, not a single person walking the Earth congratulated me on becoming his mummy. I received hundreds of messages saying ‘congratulations’ when the twins were born. When Otis arrived, not one person bought a card to celebrate the arrival of this precious new baby. I got 42 congratulatory cards when the twins were born. When Otis arrived, not one person thought to bring me a balloon. I got 8 balloons when the girls were born.
You may be wondering why …
It’s probably because he died, before he was born.
But I still had a baby.
His life was short, but he still lived.
He was stillborn, but he was still born.
Though my son was handed to me lifeless and silent, I was amazed and in awe at this beautiful little being I had grown. I was HAPPY to be his mummy. I was PROUD to have birthed him. I was HONOURED to have carried him. From the second Otis was born, his birth became about the loss I had suffered, as opposed to the life I had created. I remember thinking to myself – I just want one person to say ‘congratulations’ – but no one ever did. I wanted someone other than myself to acknowledge in that moment that, for 35 weeks, my little boy’s heart was beating and, although he never took a breath Earthside, those 35 weeks were amazing and precious. Those 35 weeks were worth the ‘congratulations.’
Because I still had a baby.
I know that a lot of people just don’t know what to say … I understand that it’s the accepted ‘norm’ to offer sympathy and condolences when a person dies. But, for the majority of those people, someone was congratulated when they were born. For a child born in to the arms of angels, for a child born still, for a child born sleeping, for a child born dead – you skip that part. You skip the ‘congratulations’ and go straight to the ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
When a baby is born, you aren’t just congratulating the parents on whether the heart in the chest of that baby has a beat. You aren’t just congratulating the parents on whether the blood in that baby’s body is running through his/her veins. You aren’t just congratulating the parents of that baby on a successful, live pregnancy. You are congratulating the parents on becoming just that – parents – something that doesn’t die, something that doesn’t go away and is still there if a baby is born sleeping. You are congratulating the parents on the birth of their baby – something that STILL occurs when a baby is born sleeping …
I’m not saying that every parent who loses a child before they are born wants to hear those words. I’m not saying that you should go and congratulate parents you know that have delivered a child born silent and still.
I’m saying that those babies who are born with no heartbeat are WORTH that congratulations. I’m saying that those babies are no less human than those who are born alive and kicking. I’m saying that, for many stillbirth parents, the moment they first hold their sleeping baby in their arms is also one of great joy, despite the sadness. They finally get to hold the precious child they have waited so long to hold. They finally get to see who’s nose their baby has, who ears and hands and feet the baby has inherited. They finally get to cuddle and kiss the baby they have so longed to touch. And for some, like myself, that is deserving of a ‘congratulations’ …
There’s something my dad has always said to me that I used before Otis was born, pretty much, in every day life. The one sentence he used that has always kept me going, reminded me that the ‘inbetweeny’ parts don’t really matter …
‘You are only guaranteed three things in life. You are born, you live, then you die.’
But it doesn’t work like that, does it? That system isn’t fool-proof, is it? It’s ‘right’ in every sense of the word; but sometimes they occur in a different order. Nothing is guaranteed. Life after birth, before death, isn’t guaranteed.
For Otis – he lived, he died, then he was born.
But I still had a baby.
Most parents of 3 month old babies have had the chance to feed their baby, cuddle their baby, hold their baby, stroke their baby’s cheeks and kiss their baby’s button nose today. The closest parents of 3 month old angel babies have to doing such things is through planting flowers at their baby’s resting place, cuddling the one and only outfit their baby wore, holding the picture frame that contains one of the few pictures they will ever take of their baby, stroking the urn their baby rests in, or kissing the headstone at their baby’s resting place …
In a matter of months, those same parents will be teaching their living baby how to talk, possibly how to walk. While those little boys and girls are learning to walk, my little boy is learning to fly.
I may not be able to do what typical ‘mothers’ do for their 3 month old baby. I may not be able to nestle Otis to my chest when he’s upset. I may not be able to read his bedtime stories to his physical body. I may not be able to hold him, cuddle him, kiss him or stroke him. I may not be able to do those things.
But I still had a baby.
When a baby is born, it becomes the parents natural instinct to protect the baby. When a baby dies, it becomes the parents natural instinct to protect the baby’s memory. It’s one of the few things I can do for my son – to ensure his memory doesn’t die with him. It is something I will do until I close my eyes one day, and open them to see his face.
I still had a baby.
I still HAVE a baby.
I am still his mummy.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; you are missed beyond words and loved beyond measure.