When Lenny died we were in shock. We went to the hospital full of excitement (well Roy was, I was in the van thinking we better get there quick this baby is coming and it turns out I was right). The rest of the labour was quick and straightforward until right at the end when his heartrate decelerated. The doctors knew he needed to be born and were ready to offer a little bit of help. No one thought he would die. Lenny was born and died within an hour of us arriving at the hospital.
Of course, every bereaved parent is in shock – no one expects their baby to die. I just describe the situation for context and to explain that we had no preparation. It was a busy Saturday a week before Christmas. Less than an hour after Lenny died (timings are really difficult) a kind midwife came in and asked if we would like to take photos – we were confused. Is that what people do? We were very clear we didn’t want them on our phones. I don’t know why it was an instinct. Particularly Roy is a very private person, he doesn’t have any social media and he worried that once the photos were on our phone we may send them on and then have no control over those images. I don’t think I even knew where my phone was – I had just given birth – probably in my dressing gown that I had chucked somewhere.
The midwife got a camera and took some photos, she seemed to take some time doing this so we thought we had a lot. She then took the camera away. Another midwife (Amazing Emily) looked after us and Lenny for a couple of days. She came and bathed Lenny right next to us so we were involved (I was too physically exhausted to help and Roy was paralysed by shock). We were asked if we wanted to dress him in our clothes. I just said no but I didn’t explain why. The reason why was that we didn’t have his clothes in the hospital with us, we had arrived at hospital when I was fully dilated so we thought Roy would get the bags later. Roy couldn’t bare to leave the room and go into the real world, potentially past happy couples leaving hospital with their babies. Also a big thing for me was the clothes we had for him were a vest said ‘welcome to the world’ and another item that said ‘let the adventures begin’ – I just couldn’t bare that. So the hospital got some other clothes which were fine and nice but they weren’t Lenny’s. I will never forget the way that Lenny bathed and dressed, Lenny, so lovingly and gently like he were her own child, she talked to us about how much hair he had and how much he looked just like Roy. She helped us to see the beauty and love amongst the horror and trauma we were experiencing – I don’t have the words to explain what a skill that is. I even remember making a joke with her about Lenny not having a huge forehead like his dad.
We spent time with Lenny we cuddled him and kissed him. I didn’t know then but I do know now that we were ‘lucky’ as he died just after he was born, he was still warm and pink and looked like a sleeping baby. I helped Emily to do hand and foot prints in ink and in casts. We talked to him and we spent about 12 hours with him. In the evening it started to feel as if he wasn’t there anymore and we asked that he be taken to the mortuary. I remember thinking that no amount of cuddling and talking would bring him back and what I couldn’t face was them taking him away. The next day we decided not to see Lenny again, we felt we couldn’t bare to say goodbye again. Leaving the hospital without Lenny was, and will forever be the hardest thing we have ever had to do. We gave Emily a hat that Roy bought early in pregnancy (being the optimist he is) and she promised to go and put it on him.
I’ve tortured myself over the last 7 months that I didn’t do enough, not enough cuddles, not enough kisses, that even though I was physically exhausted I should have bathed and dressed him. And the big one: we should have taken more photos. I only remember one of the cuddles I gave him. Some of my memories are coming back as the shock and trauma subsides and we are reminding each other. My kind friend El reminded me that I cuddled Lenny his entire life, he was held and felt love his entire life. The cuddles and kisses we gave him after he died were for us. He knew he was loved. Roy insists I was in no physical position to have bathed and dressed Lenny so soon after birth and even though we cuddled him a lot but 10,000 cuddles wouldn’t have been enough.
But the photos have been a sticking point for me. We were only given three. Both of us were disappointed there were only three. At this point we were in another room with Lenny and we had found our phones but we didn’t think to take more photos. I know part of us thought (and still do think) there is an element of giving him dignity and not taking loads of photos that he couldn’t consent to (I am aware that living babies can’t give consent to photos) but there was something about that and we still didn’t want them on our phones. Neither of us thought to ask for the camera or to ask the midwives to take more photos. We didn’t think to take photos of his hands or his feet. We didn’t think to take photos of him with us. We took the SANDS information home with us and read days later that people take photos and the kind of photos you can take – this is what I mean about how unprepared we were, not that other peoples’ situations are in any way easier or less shocking but perhaps some people are guided more and have a bit more preparation. I felt so regretful reading this.
As time has gone on I have developed a bit more compassion for those two people who arrived at the hospital full of anticipation and then their world imploded an hour later. I am proud of the difficult decisions we made and how we did so in terms of telling family, deciding to have a postmortem and deciding about Lenny’s funeral. I am grateful we have three photos, I know some parents don’t have any. I wish we had more but the three we have are of his whole body, a close up of his face and one of him cuddled in a blanket. I wish I had some of his little hands and feet but I have his prints and I wish I had one of me cuddling him but then I would only have judged my horror filled face. I regretted the photos as soon as we left the hospital and read the SANDS information but it didn’t occur to me to ask the funeral director for photos of his hands or feet. I did ask for some locks of his hair which I am glad I have. Ultimately though and this is key – no amount of photos would be enough and none would give me what I really want – Lenny here with me alive.
Roy says whenever you take loads of photos, you only ever pick out a few special ones and the three we have we would pick. He always maintains that its better to soak up moments than waste time taking pictures. That you take photos when you are happy and when things change – nothing was going to change, he wasn’t going to open his eyes or move into a different position. He also says that we have to regret something, it is part of the grief. Maybe it is something that I seek out to feel guilty about – the mum guilt is real and strong. Maybe if we had a lot of photos we would regret something else. We went to a SANDS meeting the other day and it turns out everyone there has regrets of some sort about the way they spent their time even someone with loads of photos. I would make different choices now but the shock and trauma is beginning to settle. Only today after 7 months did it even occur to me that we could edit the photos we have, maybe crop photos of his hands etc. A kind, trusted family member who is a professional photographer has offered to do this for us.
I am working on developing compassion for Mim on the 18th December and not judge her based on my thoughts 7 months on. I realise that how you respond in the 12 hours after someone you love dearly dies suddenly really is no reflection of your love for them. And if I ever want to see Lenny’s face, I look at Roy. Just like Roy but without the massive forehead.