Cody died the day he was born. Nine hours isn’t much time to spend on earth. I’m glad he was born alive though and I’m glad I got to hold him. I wish desperately that I had been allowed to feed him and still find it incredulous that I wasn’t, but at least I got to see into his eyes.
It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and it did feel like that. But for those who sadly never get to see the eyes of their little one, the parents whose baby dies before taking the first breath, I’m sure there is a soul connection of a different kind. In fact, I believe there is, or can be, a deep connection with a baby while they are still in utero. We may never be able to understand each other’s pain and loss, but I want to honour those who have suffered the death of their child at any age, either in utero or much, much later.
I don’t remember much of what happened between the time I was informed of Cody’s death at the end of his helicopter journey, and us arriving at the big children’s hospital about two hours later. I don’t remember who drive. I think we briefly stopped at our house on the way.
I DO remember the wheelchair journey from the car up to the “Grace Ward”. It didn’t feel like grace to have our baby taken from us so soon. But there were hints of it.
One sprinkling of grace was the midwife, Karen, who had come out with the NETS Team. The one who had held my baby while he died. Her shift had finished hours earlier, but she waited for us.
She, the one who had held our son as he breathed his final breath, wanted to hold us.
We wept. Oh, how we wept.
And then came the moment I did not want to face. I could not believe it was true. I didn’t want to believe it was true. But what I was about to face was an unmistakable, inescapable reality, whether I wanted to believe it or not.
They ushered us into a small, dimly lit room with wood panelling on the walls, and a sofa against one wall. We waited there, to be reunited with (the body of) our son.
They wheeled him in, in one of those plastic bassinets hospitals are so fond of. He was wrapped in blankets, and dressed in nice clothes, which was of some comfort. The plastic bassinet wasn’t so nice. I wish someone had carried him in to us, and placed him in our arms.
I held back from touching him. If I touched his cold skin, it would be true.
But they had done a remarkably kind thing and kept him warm for us. Strange to think that he was given better, more attentive care after his death, than in the first two hours of his life. He was warmer now than he was when he was alive.
Yet I still couldn’t touch him. Even if his skin was warm, I knew that it was his body in the room with us, not HIM. Not Cody. It was his shell, and I needed time to prepare myself to hold him.
Geoff went first. Oh, how thankful I was for his courage and strength throughout all of this. I fear I depended on it too much. I didn’t expect it but I certainly appreciated it.
I had to be encouraged to hold him. It certainly wasn’t something I’d planned to do when I woke up that morning. Actually, thinking about it, I hadn’t woken up that morning. I hadn’t slept since Friday night. I had gone into labour on Saturday night before going to sleep, and it was now Sunday afternoon. I don’t think it was my exhaustion that had me falling apart at the seams though. It was my dead baby, the one I loved whose body was about to be placed in my arms.
It was the strangest thing to hold him and I was tentative in my touch at first, yet once I took hold of him, I did not want to let him go.
After awhile they let our big boy in to see his baby brother. This was absolutely gut wrenching. It was certainly NOT the “hello” we had anticipated between two brothers. Travis was 21 months old, and already he was facing the death of a sibling. He had no idea of the hugeness of it all though. He poked him, cuddled him, and ate crackers while we posed for the type of family portrait we had never anticipated. The one with Mum, Dad, and two kids. One alive and munching crackers. The other, dead.
Our parents came, too. I felt their love. And also their pain. It was hurting them, too. They were still coming to terms with being grandparents, and yet here they were saying goodbye to a grandchild. Their strength and support in the midst of their own grief was a tower of strength to us. I imagine they cared for Travis for the rest of our time at the hospital. Or maybe they drove him home. My mind and heart were in that little room with the ugly wood veneer panelling.
My beautiful, desperately desired, much loved baby was gone.
The reality of it was sinking in. Through tear-filled eyes we gazed at each other in disbelief. Through our fingertips we felt his body going cold.
The staff were again so amazing. They cut off a lock of his hair. They helped us get hand and footprints of our baby. They pretended not to notice that we were finding it hard to stretch out his fingers for the handprint because his poor little body was succumbing to the hard realities of death.
It was time to go.
And yet I didn’t want to.
I couldn’t bare the thought of walking out that door without my baby.
Geoff felt a strong desire to leave, as Cody’s cold, hard body was becoming a stark reminder that this awful nightmare was, in fact, reality.
As much as I had found it so hard to hold him at the beginning, I found it almost impossible to let him go at the end.
It pains me deeply even now, after seventeen years, to think of it.
Cody Luke Ahern.
Born: 1st October 1995, 3.40am at Camden District Hospital
Died: 1st October 1995, 12.39pm at Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children, Sydney
Our only child so far who has ever had a ride in a helicopter.
Days 2 – 4
I have to lump these days all together because they are a blur. Not because it has been seventeen years, but because I was in a state of shock. These are the things I remember.
The dark solitude of night time when all was still and quiet, and there was no distraction from my pain. Oh how physical is the grief when a baby dies.
My breasts were engorged with milk yet I had no baby to feed.
My eyes were overflowing with tears from a well I thought may never run dry.
My arms were desperately aching to hold my baby.
I was bleeding, in more ways than one.
It was as though my whole body was weeping for the one who was gone.
A house filled to overflowing with friends and family who loved us.
People arriving with flowers, sympathy cards and toilet paper.
My friend Bonnie, rescuing me from the one phone call I’d so bravely tried to make to the funeral agency. The only words I got out were “Our baby died….” before collapsing in a heap, thankful for a friend standing by my side. She also accompanied us to meet with the funeral agency to make arrangements for the Thing we didn’t want to do.
My friend Pateenah, somehow managing to visit us and show such compassion, leaving her newborn at home so that I wouldn’t be confronted with seeing him.
My friend Jane who lovingly sewed a beautiful little outfit for Cody to be buried in.
Our extended families somehow managing to rise above their own despair to be a tower of strength and support for us in uncountable, immeasurable ways.
Our church family and other friends gathering around us with such love and compassion, and doing a house and yard blitz while we left the house to make funeral arrangements.
We felt carried. We somehow floated through those days in a state of shock and despair and oblivion to the practicalities of life. Other people just did it all. I don’t remember changing a nappy for the first two weeks. I’m sure someone did. Probably Geoff.
Ah yes, Geoff. Thank you for being my rock during those early days. Without you I think I would still be in that ugly little wood panelled room clutching on to the body of my second born son.