After giving birth to Dylan, we decided not to see him.
Making a statement of it like that, feels cruel. Reading about stillbirths and hearing about it from mothers who have been through it brings me to the understanding that it’s actually not all that common to choose not to see your baby. Not counting the mothers who were historically not given a choice and were forbidden from seeing their stillborn babies: most parents want to see their child and hold them in their arms.
It is mostly but not entirely without regret that I consider our choices as compared to others. I can see how it is beneficial and I know how the parental instinct is such that most would want to see and hold their babies no matter what. I stand firmly by the choice that I made whilst simultaneously using it to chastise the mother-woman within me for her uncommon actions.
The first person ever to question my motives was another mother from a stillbirth forum I sometimes visit. Almost 5 years later she asks me ‘but why didn’t you want to see and hold your boy after you gave birth to him?’ Boom, just like that, the first question in almost all my lifetime to have ever left me speechless. I hear the question out in my head in slanted twirly font like a wicked ghost. But no audible answer comes. I scrape like a dog digging for its once buried bone and things come, in stutter-spatters, loud-sharp and angry-scared.
Two things are true and two things are really fucking hard to say. The first is that I didn’t see what good it would do. No matter how much the midwife urged and pushed for me to do so, warning I’d only regret not having taken that opportunity. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see how it would benefit either of us. He was dead: what use would a cuddle have done him? I’m sure my thought process went something like that.
And the second thing is simply this: I was afraid that holding him would fuck me up. ‘Such is the extent of my self-preservation’, I think now cynically. If this was truly my reasoning then I think I hate myself a little more for it. Because other mothers willingly open their chests as a banquet for the vulture of relentless agony waiting to feast on them after losing their child; why couldn’t I have the decency to do the same?
It’s another way that I blame myself. Another way that I dislike myself. Let it queue-the-fuck-up with all the others and wait it’s fucking turn. Because parenthood, so I’m told, is a journey of self-hatred and guilt for the choices you do or don’t make. In that sense, for certain I am a mother. Was it right or wrong of me? I wouldn’t think poorly of other mothers who would have chosen to do the same (even though there don’t seem to be any of them out there). Why can’t I take such a benevolent approach when it comes to myself?
The series of pictures that I do have of Dylan mean more to me than any other item in this world. Because although other mothers will acquire thousands, if not millions, of photos of their children; I will only ever have just that one day’s worth. Just that one outfit. Just that one face expression. And I don’t mean that in as self-pitying way as it sounds, because at least I do have that (as well as the other lovely memories I have of carrying him in my body for the brief spell that we were together).
Losing Dylan has made me weird, like a mad cross-eyed hen, pecking and clucking crossly. I sift through pictures of my pregnant belly, I linger longer than I should on scribbles in note pads from that time, I treasure all the little things and pack them around me like I’m still nesting. I want to preserve all the bits I do have of him. All the things that prove he was real. It’s the ways we keep our ghost-babies alive.
In the same vain, science has caught up with this feeling. Way quicker than I did. And my fellow ghost-mum tells me about something called a Cuddle Cot . I won’t lie; I was stunned. In my mind I called something way worse and immediately saw an army of recently bereaved mothers hurtling toward me, thirsty for my blood. And though that’s precisely what it is, I wish the inner voice (that I’ve come to accept as my own) wasn’t quite so horrid about everything. Being a bit of a cunt can be exhausting at times, I should know.
So I endeavour to say something kind about the cold cot that doesn’t sound like a sales pitch or a sunny flowery solution to a hideous unfixable catastrophe. And so I’ll say this: it is a cot specifically designed to give recently bereaved families more time with their stillborn child. Reading the real life stories of people involved I can see it as gift of sorts. A sad one, but still a gift. The mother urges me that surely if there’d have been such a device at the time of losing Dylan, I might have changed my mind. Surely I would have, wouldn’t I? And I want desperately to agree with her, just to be plain and ordinary and feel all those text-book things. So just once I don’t have to be so contrary. So I ponder. Over and over I’m chewing on it like too-old flavourless gum, drying my mouth rather than moistening it, as if it makes the slightest bit of difference now anyway.
The same conclusion finally comes: I wouldn’t have used it. Although I do understand other parent’s decisions when it comes to the cold cot system, I just can’t share them. The uneasiness with which I accept this fact makes me wonder whether I am in the wrong. Is it Dylan frowning down on me? Is it God judging me for the hideous bitch/coward/bad-mother that I am? Is it just that it doesn’t take very much for me to feel guilty? Or that I wish I’d had the courage to hold Dylan when I had the chance?
I can analyse it all I want, it won’t change the facts. Instead I’m thankful that although there wasn’t the existence of a cold cot, there was the existence of the little yellow box from Sands. With a disposable camera and other beautiful things. A place for me to keep all my Dylan stuff and a way for me to preserve the moment of his physical existence, even though I didn’t squeeze his little body tightly to my chest as I should have done, just so I could feel his body once before it dissolved back into the universe forever.