It has taken me all of four months to write this.
To put ‘pen to paper’ …
To write these words so I can see them in black and white.
But it’s only today I can write the date that this will be posted; the date that will mark the next chapter of After Otis.
I have spent the last 19 months frequently writing about this journey. It has been my therapy; it has been cathartic; it has been my rescue, my hope, my ‘go to’, my fool-proof remedy to dealing with this shit.
On the 3rd of June 2016, my son was born. He had died two days prior. I was 35 weeks and 1 day pregnant.
I remember vividly returning home from the hospital after our appointment just one week earlier, heavily pregnant, exhausted and numb … I remember walking in to the living room to my dad, my step mum and my sister, to hand them a sheet of paper telling them what I couldn’t.
I couldn’t fathom the words.
I couldn’t say those words out loud.
He wasn’t going to make it.
He was going to die.
During that week between receiving his diagnosis and his death, we had our baby’s burial outfit delivered; one of his funeral songs picked; his coffin decided on; and we had received the only physical thing we would have left of him, his memory box – all while he was kicking, moving, and living inside me; while he still had a beat in his heart, and blood running through his veins; and while everyone around me was still innocent to the knowledge of what was happening.
On the 3rd of June 2016, my world turned upside down and my life changed irrevocably – forever.
Otis. That was his name.
After Otis was titled because I wanted it to be purely about him; focused on his story, nothing more and nothing less. It has seen me at my weakest, my darkest … my most thankful.
It has seen all of his firsts:
– his first Halloween
– his first Christmas
– his first Easter
– his first Birthday
It has seen letters, poems, spoken word videos. It has seen me be nominated for awards and winning some too.
None of which would have happened before Otis. All of which only happened because of Otis, After Otis.
The day he was born it felt as though everyone around me saw this, saw him, for what they thought it was – the end. It felt as though everyone had decided his journey was over, this book was closed. 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 was stuck. I felt like I had gone from the beginning of the book to chapter 24 of 25.
I had skipped all the middle parts of this book and I couldn’t make sense of the beginning or the end until I had deciphered and tried to make sense of the unwritten in between. I constantly revisited the beginning. I tried to make up the unwritten; slowly writing it how I imagine it would be.
But it was never as it should have been. Chapters 2 through to 23 will always be empty pages.
My reason for starting this blog was to attempt to put words on those empty pages. To fill in the gaps. To give his life a middle. To make sure there was something substantial in between the beginning and the end.
I have written this journey as I have walked it. My difficult days have become somewhat stories; my innermost fears and thoughts have became words. The deepest, darkest depths of my intense grief became him.
His life has been celebrated and the gift of the 35 weeks and 1 day we did have has been received in all gratefulness. I couldn’t imagine my life not constantly being aware of the presence of his absence. I couldn’t imagine living without this Otis-shaped hole, if I had the choice of that or never knowing him at all.
After learning how poorly Otis was, 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; the strongest, most powerful kick I had ever felt him make.
It was like he was saying goodbye.
I‘m here mummy. I’m here. But I’ve got to go.
Believe it or not, I still have those moments. The ‘f**k my son isn’t here’ moments.
Because there are moments throughout this journey where you suddenly realise all over again that this is it.
This is it.
This is my life.
It will be my life, for the rest of my life.
The first year of what should have been his life were remarkable in showing that to me.
His first birthday came; his first birthday went. And in that, so did his first Halloween, his first Christmas, his first Easter. And there was nothing ‘new’ I could do for him anymore.
I spent the first year of this journey, of grieving, in denial. I was still trying to figure out how to ‘fix this’ … I spent months actively trying to change the course of my grieving for my son. I wondered day after day how I could live for him, to keep the promises I made to him that his memory wouldn’t die alongside him. I believed I had to be actively doing that day in, day out – showing he had a purpose.
Justifying and proving to people that he existed and his life matters.
Now, not so much.
I. had. him. .
That’s all the justification I need.
He is mine, I am his. I am his mother, he is my son. Regardless. No passage of time, no amount of words, no awards, no tattoos, no necklace, no pictures on show, no time, no space, no distance will ever change that one simple fact.
Irrespective of where I end up, that one thing will remain.
He is my son. And because he is my son I will carry him with me for the rest of my life; keeping his memory alive. Taking the steps he never got to take, speaking the words he never got to speak, writing the words he never got to write.
He lives through me daily in a way I didn’t fathom until recently – in ways I never imagined or realised he does.
Finding solace in the simplest of places.
Being more patient.
Kissing his sisters and telling them I love them twice before bed instead of just the once.
Never going to bed mad at someone I love.
The second I laid eyes on my son, a part of me became him and he became me. He took my soul and wiped it clean.
I’ve asked myself multiple times since he died what makes me his mother.
Is it DNA? Is it tending to his grave? Is it buying him flowers? Is it the number of tears I cry or the amount of words I put on paper? Is it supporting other people? Is it cuddling his teddy at night or looking through his memory box? Is it having pictures on display or wearing my necklace with his name on for the world to see? Is it this … this blog?
And I’ve slowly come to find the answer.
It isn’t any of those things.
It just IS.
It just is.
Today marks the beginning of the next chapter of my journey – of our journey.
This doesn’t mean I have moved on, nor will I ever. The next chapter of our journey is not one where I share here any peace or healing I find; it isn’t one where I write about happier days in moving forward; it isn’t one where I write about how this hurts any less than it did when he died.
The next chapter marks one where I say ‘see you later’ …
Today, on the 9th of April 2018, I say thank you and farewell to After Otis.
The last song has played; the curtains have been drawn; and the audience has gone home. I was scared this would leave me with an overwhelming feeling of emptiness – what can I do, now? And I was worried I would be stuck in the post play blues. I was concerned I would be sitting hoping and praying for another ‘new’ to come along somehow. Hoping and praying for the next audition – the next play – that might never come.
But it already has.
And it already did.
And it’s always been there.
And it’s always going to be there.
Four months ago I woke up one day different. Without even realising, I think.
The forced strength is no longer forced (most days); I am able to smile again without feeling guilty; I am able to laugh again without trying to stop myself; I am able to feel sadness and happiness in equal measure; and sometimes happiness more …
I haven’t forgotten; I haven’t moved on.
But I am finding the strength he gave to me. I am adapting to this new normal.
It doesn’t hurt any less, it’ll never be okay.
I’m just learning how to ‘do this’.
The magnitude of your absence is only so great due to the magnitude of my undying, eternal love for you… a love so powerful that it can only be one between a mother and her child; between a father and his child. A love so deep that it is guaranteed, and unconditional.
I so vividly remember the day of your funeral and walking out of Grandad’s house, approaching the funeral car to see your tiny blue coffin waiting on the back seat. I broke. It was so, so small. And all I could think to myself was that this little wooden box could not possibly contain you. It could not contain all that you were, all that you are, all that you would have been …
I knew in that moment that I had to do more. I had to ensure that a part of you stayed here, so I could be with you. I had to help you live. I had to do all I could to keep your name breathing. I had to live for you.
I had to make sure a part of you stayed here, so I could be with you, and so I could mother you.
And that is how I know I’m your mummy. That is how I will carry you with me today and every other day. That is how your name will forever breathe, and your perfect little feet will forever walk – because I am doing it for you.
I will celebrate that I’m your mummy. I cannot hold you. I cannot kiss you. I cannot tickle under your chunky arms. I cannot stroke your beautiful little button nose. I cannot get you dressed in to new PJs for a film day in bed with Cora, Maisie and mummy. I cannot tuck you in to bed. I cannot put plasters on your grazed knees or kiss your booboos better.
But I can love you. I can miss you. My heart can ache for you. I can have your presence near by simply thinking of you. Wherever I go, you go. I’ll carry you with me for as long as I live.
I am your mummy. Whether you’re here or not, I am your mummy.
And boy, am I proud to be so.
I love you, Otis.
Thank you to each and every person for reading and sharing After Otis at any point during its existence. Thank you for commenting. Thank you for crying with me, believing in me, sharing in our journey.
As of today, After Otis has been read in 164 countries around the world – thank you for that.
Your support has been incredible, overwhelming and appreciated.
For those who have visited this blog throughout your own journey for support or guidance or to simply feel less alone – it will always remain.
I cannot believe I’m actually saying this, after being so determined to document these words forever and always and wholeheartedly believing that I could never leave this as is … but, I guess I’ll see you later.
Lots of love,