Two weeks before my twenty-second birthday I went out to see a play with my friend, it was called Reasons To Be Happy. My son was nine weeks and four days old and the title of the play made me smirk. Everyone had their reasons, but mine was, by far, the best.
I returned to my mother’s house that night excited to see Ezra. I had been away for around five hours. I jogged upstairs to her flat. He was woken by the dog, little cries of annoyance more than sadness. Silence, for the last nine weeks had been absent. Babies were louder asleep than I had expected. I had never shared a room with another person for any extended time and soon enough those huffs became a comforting lullaby. I understood what my heartbeat must have been to him.
At 5am, two hours after his last feed, I woke to silence. The world stood still. I watched him, but nothing happened. A heavy silence broken by a sound that had come from me but didn’t sound human.
Two hours later and a nurse told me to pull up a chair “to see”, but I didn’t want to see because seeing meant accepting. I had already known that my bonny, sweet baby boy was dead. Monitors has been on his chest since the paramedics had arrived and they had been flat, registering no heartbeat from then. They had filled him with fluid to keep him warm – the miracle of modern medicine had failed us before my eyes. Worst of all, I had failed him. Keep the kids alive, kept the baby alive. What sort of mother was I that I couldn’t do the most simple, basic of things?
I held him, both of us cold, in an A&E resus bay. An old lady had fallen and injured herself, she was in the bay beside us, and I wished her dead to give him life. The police were coming. I was alone, my baby was dead, and the police were coming for me. I was afraid, and in shock. Will they treat me like a criminal? I thought, or maybe said. I wished that I was dead instead of him. But I only really thought about him. Ezra. My son. The name I’d chosen before I’d even planned to have children. What happened? Had he been afraid? Did it hurt? Would he blame me, too?
The bay on the other side of us had an Infant Body Bag on the bed, and a white cardigan with yellow ducks on it. I died all over again. It was claustrophobic sitting within the pleated blue curtain, but the world was so large around me, so vast and so empty.
The police came to the house. I was without my son. His blanket and his smell around my neck. Too numb even to feel sick, or angry. But I was afraid. I was afraid to say something that would make them think it was my fault, because I already thought it was. Who else’s would it be? Where had my mother’s instincts been? One officer, she thought surreptitiously and unseen, placed a thermometer on her chair behind her. They asked if a window had been open. They asked if I took any drugs. They asked what happened. If only I knew.
He moved from my womb, to my arms, then to two hospitals, to a mortuary, to a wicker basket in a chapel of rest. I spent two weeks without my son when every single day had been occupied by him. All to nothing. I was empty. Even my own life felt a cruelty, and a betrayal. I should have been with him in those two weeks, diligently followed wherever he was taken. I should have held him longer, and loved him harder. Later, all I had were regrets, and anger.
A few months short of two years later, and my daughter is older than her brother will ever be. She is four months old, and in the dark I shoot up from my bed and reach over to touch her cheek. It’s cold. Blind panic sets in, my heart stops, breathing stops, and I shake her awake. She rouses, but not fully. Her eyes open, she groggily looks at me, and then falls back to sleep. I, however, spend the rest of the night awake, watching her, wondering if I should wake her again because he didn’t quite wake up enough.
I still wonder whether I would have the stomach to kill myself if she died, too, or if the minor hope of some future happiness – which so often feels far out of reach – would stop me. I have another reason to be happy, in Edith, but there’s a little boy missing from every photograph, occasion, whose name doesn’t appear on Christmas cards. The day that Ezra was born was a day of such joy, and now the day comes and goes with no fanfare. What’s sadder still is that his death, for the most part, overshadows his life.
Ezra had been my reason to be happy, and he was taken away from me. Having another chance at that kind of happiness was the only thing that kept me going afterwards, but now it’s always darkened by the the very real possibility that it may not last. The longer my daughter lives, the more of her belongings there is to pack away, the more of her there is to lose, the louder the silence.
For more information and support on SIDS please contact The Lullaby Trust