16 months ago now (wow, how time has flown) my little boy was stillborn at 35 weeks gestation. I knew from the moment I laid eyes on him, despite the absence of the beat in his heart, how thankful I was to have had him for that time, and I will always remain thankful for the short time I did get with Otis as it is always going to be better than never having known him, held him, or loved him at all.
It has been a whirlwind since that day, and over the last year I have gone on to ensure my son’s memory didn’t and doesn’t die alongside him as I promised him when cuddling his perfect but lifeless little body to my chest – all 5lbs1oz of him – and it’s something I hold great pride in, but also immense thanks to my son for taking me there.
I know that none of this would have been possible without the support and the strength shown to me and given to me by my loved ones over the last 16 months, nor would it be happening if Otis wasn’t shown the great love he is shown by those around me.
One of the things I struggle with the most with regards to Otis’ time Earthside is that I didn’t spend a lot of it with him, under the advice of our funeral director. I returned home from the funeral home on the 6th of June 2016, just three short days after his birth, and within moments I confided in my friend, Mel, that I wasn’t ready at all to say goodbye to Otis that day; that I felt I needed to see him again, but in the circumstances and the way the advice of not seeing him again was presented to me, I didn’t feel able.
This will forever and always be a regret of mine. I know one last time would never be enough, but I also know that I really did need to go back down to him and finish saying what I needed to say. I know I needed to give him one last cuddle, and to kiss his button nose for the final time.
The memory of my son and his short time he spent here is so important to me. I don’t have much of Otis as far as living memories go. We had a few scans and I heard his heartbeat a few times, but that is all.
To me, Otis’ birth did not signify the end, but rather the beginning of an equally beautiful and equally important story – albeit somewhat more painful.
The importance of knowing; the importance of being able to fill in those gaps even, can possibly come across as me ‘clinging’ to his death – morbid curiosity in the eyes of some beholders, maybe. This is not that. The importance of knowing is me ‘clinging’ to his life. The only life he ever knew and the only life I ever knew for him.
I want to know every detail there is to know about my baby boy. I can tell you where every crease is on his perfect little foot; I can tell you how many hairs are on his little head, but I cannot tell you what happened during his resting period on Earth before his burial – I want to be able to do that … but my memory fails me.
I’m a mother to two beautiful girls at home as well. I want to know my son as much as I know them and to do that I need to know everything there is to know about him.
Otis was on Earth after his birth for 7 days. He was with me for just 2 and a half of those. I didn’t spend a lot of time with my son. The time I did spend with him was amazing and beautifully painful but it wasn’t enough. Due to the cold cot being switched off in the hospital, I felt almost robbed of time with my son and this isn’t something I can get back. The next best thing to having that time is knowing what happened during that time.
I have done many things in Otis’ memory that celebrate his life, rather than mourning his death, and I understand the importance of doing that. I have set up a non-profit, I have become trustee of a registered charity, I have written for medical journals, I have recorded spoken word poems for videographers, I have held fun days, my blog is internationally read, I’m writing a children’s book, I run a support group, I have supported women through induction when their baby has passed … I do not do all of this through mourning, but in celebration of the gifts my son brought to the world. To celebrate him changing me and my life in its entirety; for making me a better person, a more helpful and kind person, a more useful person … a support person.
All of this doesn’t remind me that my baby died for that is something I will never forget. It reminds me that he lived.
But I also understand the great importance of acceptance and moving forward. I returned back to work and I ‘get on’ with my life. We moved home, the girls started dance class on Saturdays, the girls started school, I can walk down the baby aisle at ASDA and not cry, I can see baby clothes in shop windows and not cry, I can hold my friend’s newborn son without feeling guilty … My son is the undercurrent of my days – forever present, but more ebbing and froing than causing a tsunami nowadays. This doesn’t make him less important, less missed, or less present, it just means I’m adapting to my ‘new normal’ with his absence.
People find healing in different ways. Maybe I’m one of a minority, but I truly do get comfort in every tangible memory I have of my son. I find comfort in remembering the tears that surrounded him on the day of his burial – tears of love. I know I would find comfort in seeing and remembering and knowing what my little boy’s casket looked like (something I cannot remember as much as I try) because that is his home. It’s where he sleeps, and it’s where he’ll sleep forever, and it pains me that I don’t remember what it looks like, and it bothers me that I never saw it on the inside. Just as I would if he had lived and it was a cot.
I am still working out how I will heal. It has been said that bereaved parents find healing in the bond between them and their child. I have, and I do, absolutely. But I also find healing in the physical, tangible, holdable things I have of my child. I find comfort and healing in admiring his beauty in his pictures; in holding his hand cast in my hand; in remembering the little details that, in turn, help me remember my son.
Holding is healing for me. To hold his weight; to hold his lock of hair; to hold his hand and foot; to hold his memory … all mean I’m holding him, in some way.
I just want people, and need people, to understand why I’m at this stage on my journey of grieving for Otis Bear. I want and need them to understand that I’m not morbidly curious or clinging to death and sadness, for knowing these things and remembering these things about my Otis bring me happiness. I want and need them to understand that my asking of these things about his life and his death and his coffin are me simply wanting to fill in the gaps – chapters of his life – that I cannot see myself moving forward without.
My little boy will never be a closed book. He is leaving an imprint on the world far too big to ever have an end to his story. But I know I will constantly revisit the beginning until I can make sense of the unwritten in between.
Otis Dominic Anthony Cullen; you are missed beyond words and loved beyond measure sweet boy.