On Sunday we visited my friend Sarah. We travelled a long way in the opposite direction from the hospital. It probably wasn't a sensible thing to do. I was 41 1/2 weeks pregnant. I should have stayed close to home. But I didn't. I needed a carefree day out. I was wearing a new dress. Someone had recently given me a few maternity clothes. It was good to wear something different. The dress floated over my huge stomach and I felt beautiful and pregnant and normal. We spent the day sitting outside in the spring sunshine, and chatting and eating, and all my worries about the future disappeared for a few hours.

I went into labour on Monday evening. The hospital was 1 ½ hours’ drive away. It was pouring with rain. Andy worried about getting there in time for the birth. He needn’t have been anxious.

Labour practically stopped as soon as we arrived at the hospital. I hoped they weren't going to send me home. They let me stay. I was hooked up to a monitor and I spent hours listening to the beat of my contractions which never seemed to get strong enough to make a difference.

Some time in the night a doctor visited me. “Do you want us to treat your baby once he is born?” I had never considered they might just let him die without trying to save his life.

“Of course I want you to do everything possible for our baby. We’re hoping to take him home.”

On Tuesday morning the doctor induced the birth with a small dose of something. Not long later, around 11 am Thomas was born. There were a number of medical people in the room at the time. A doctor slipped a ventilator over Thomas’ face and started manually pumping, in order to keep him alive. His lungs were too small to allow him to breathe on his own. A nurse smiled brightly, and with a false sing-song voice said, “Wave goodbye to Mum!” before our son was wheeled out the door to the NICU. I hadn’t even seen our baby. He was just a blur to my short-sighted eyes.

I was also wheeled out the door. I went to the recovery room. Despite my tiredness and worry, I was on a high: post-birth elation. I had done my bit. Now it was up to the doctors. I ate my sandwich and drank the best cup of tea ever and felt calm until…

Another woman was wheeled into the room. She was accompanied by her husband and a toddler. She had just given birth. She had her baby in her arms. He was healthy. My arms suddenly felt so very empty. And that’s when the tears started to flow.

The tears flowed. When I arrived in my maternity room, I hid behind curtains trying not to hear the cries of the babies of the other mothers. I tried to block out all the happy sounds and all the congratulations offered by visitors. I had no visitors. I was alone.

Andy and I saw our baby but we couldn’t touch him. He was attached to life support equipment. He had been paralysed so he couldn’t move. “He can hear you,” said the nurse. “You can talk to him.” What do you say to a baby struggling to live? “It’s Mummy. I love you! Please don’t die.”

Some time that evening I approached the nursing station and asked if I should be expressing milk for my baby. I felt I should be doing something. “Don’t expect to collect much,” the nurse said handing me a glass bottle. I expected to collect nearly a bottleful. I was an ex-breastfeeding counsellor. I had previously helped mothers who had babies in the NICU. But I’d never expected to be in this situation myself. I collected nearly a bottleful of milk. I had to. I had to do something positive for our child.

On Wednesday morning a nurse came to wake me up. “We don’t expect your baby to live much longer. Perhaps you should come to the NICU.”

I couldn’t get hold of Andy. He had gone home to see to our children. But he wasn’t at home when I phoned. I dreaded being alone with Thomas when he died. I asked the priest to confirm him. He had already been baptized the previous day. A Catholic nurse joined in the prayers. Thomas became stronger. My hope rose once more. Up and down, a rollercoaster of emotions.

Andy arrived. He’d been sleeping in the car. He’d spent the early hours of the morning sitting next to Thomas while I slept. He hadn’t wanted our baby to be alone.

A friend drove our children and my mother-in-law to the hospital. We asked if they could visit Thomas. The nurse said as soon as the doctor had finished his rounds they could see their brother. The nurse arrived. She took us to the NICU. Instead of saying hello to Thomas we were told we’d have to say goodbye. The doctors had decided to withdraw treatment. They had done all they could. He wasn’t responding.

Thomas was disconnected from all the tubes and wires except the ventilator. He was placed in our arms. We passed him from person to person. We held him close. We hugged each other. We cried.

“Thomas’ heart is no longer beating,” said the doctor. His lungs were still being inflated by the machine, but his heart had stopped. Thomas had died. The ventilator was turned off. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. It was the Hour of Mercy.

Thomas was given to us after he was dressed. We spent time with him in a private lounge. The social worker came to visit us. Finally we had to say goodbye to our baby and give him to a nurse.

We returned to my room. I’d been moved to a private room that morning. I’d told a nurse how I felt like hiding in a cupboard, away from all the mothers with babies. Why hadn't they realised sooner how difficult it was for me sharing a room with mothers who were holding and feeding babies?

Life goes on. Dinner arrived. I felt guilty eating. How can a mother eat when her child has just died? I told Andy I wanted to go home. I felt I wasn’t entitled to occupy a bed in a maternity ward when I didn’t have a baby.... a live baby.

I packed my things. We left the hospital. We left our son in the morgue. We left a bottle of milk in the fridge.

On the following Tuesday, as the sun disappeared behind a cloud, Thomas was lowered into the cold earth. He took a piece of my heart with him. I was left with only memories.

These are some of those memories. There is no point to this story, no tidy ending. I've just jotted down, on the eve of his birthday, some of the things I remember. 


Happy birthday, Thomas





Introducing Bosco, Thomas' birthday bear. Thank you to all my kind friends who helped me make a decision about which bear to buy and what to name him. It was fun sharing this annual ritual with you.

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  1. A beautiful bear with a beautiful name, for a beautiful boy with a loving and beautiful family. I wish I knew what to say.. but I'm here mopping tears, and praying. ♥

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    1. Susan,

      Sometimes words aren't necessary. A friend to share a few tears with is all that's necessary. Thank you so much for your tears and prayers. I am glad you like Thomas' bear and its name. I seem to remember one of your suggestions was Bosco! God bless!

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  2. You make it all so alive. The way it feels to be at an maternity ward. The emtpy arms. The tears. I'm crying and praying for you.
    Bosco was a great choice happy eartly and heavenly birthday Thomas.

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    1. Uglemor,

      It is strange how I've never forgotten the details of what happened and how it felt. They are imprinted on my memory forever, which is good because sad though it was, I don't want to forget.

      That's a real boy's bear and name , isn't it? I think Thomas would approve. I still have to arrange his Christmas bear. More decisions!

      Uglemor, I really appreciate your friendship. Thank you for popping in so often and leaving kind words which make all the difference. I am praying for you and your family too!

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  3. Oh Sue, my heart breaks for you! I wish I could hug you so tight! I think...Heaven is so amazing; God is so good! Surely, your son is always with your family, watching over all of you. You yearn for him, but he is near...maybe even sitting in his special chair. Love unites all of you. You cannot see through the veil which separates Heaven from earth, but surely for Thomas, there is no veil. Like all Saints, he hears and sees and prays for all who call upon him. Together, with your famiily, surely God has done great things through your grief and Thomas' short life. I imagine Thomas can't wait for you to see what wonders God has worked with all of your suffering. I know this isn't much help. In your place, I would just want my baby back. God understands that too. So I'll just say a prayer for you today. Your little birthday shrine for Thomas is adorable. Happy Birthday, Thomas! You must be so proud of your beautiful, loving family! Pray for all of us please. Thank you, Thomas!

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    1. Patricia,

      Love unites all of us... That is so very true. That''s why it is impossible to forget. Hearts heal and we move on, but we still love. There is that strong bond between us. And normally life is very very good with no tears over the past. But these two days of the year are Thomas' and for some reason I have to spend them with him and remember and cry a few tears. Tomorrow will be different! Funny how the burden lifts so suddenly. I shall be back to posting my Angels stories and laughing before I know it.

      Despite everything, I never wish Thomas were here. I do trust God's plans. I guess Thomas just took a bit of my heart with him, and that bit feels like a huge hole today.

      With prayers and love for you too, Patricia. Wish we could share a hug!

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  4. Happy Birthday, Thomas! We wish you all joy as you celebrate a life of inestimable worth.
    Sue, have you ever thought about the feast on this day, the Dedication of St. John Lateran, in connection to Thomas? My thought today was that each member of the body of Christ, specifically Thomas, has a unique place within the Body & a function particular to his gifts and character. I feel strongly that Thomas' gift is for the whole universal Church, as evidenced by the circumstance that his birth falls on this great feast, that celebrating the Church edifice which is the "mother church" of all Christendom.
    By happy coincidence, our Tim's birthday is November 18, the Dedication of the Churches of Peter and Paul. So our two sons, who now share the same eternal address, somehow have a responsibility that joins them together in service to the whole Church. What an awesome thought! Someday we will see it all with the clear vision of God.

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    1. Cindy,

      Oh my! That is such an awesome thought. When Thomas died, I couldn't understand at all. One day of life is so short, such a waste of what could have been. I know everything is still a big mystery but I am now sure God has big plans for Thomas despite the shortness of his life. Most people would never consider that a baby's life could be very valuable. But I am finding out they are very wrong. And Tim too! Oh I love the thought of our two sons being joined in service to the whole Church.... a responsibility. I had never really thought about the connection between Thomas and the feast day he was born on. I do however believe that God arranges things perfectly. Thomas died at the Hour of Mercy. I didn't know this until I saw it written down a few days after his death. It seemed like God wanted me to know. And now I have something else to ponder. Thank you! I read the article you emailed. I will read it again. So much to absorb! The clear vision of God... Yes. As time passes I receive yet another tiny tiny glimpse. He teaches me something else about Thomas' life. He gives me another gift. Thank you for passing on another gift today.

      May God bless you. Keeping you in my prayers.

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  5. Prayers for you on this day. You will probably never forget the day, the birth, your son, and the emptiness. I hope that, as time goes on, healing will come. Thinking of you and sending my love.

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    1. Eva,

      Thank you for your prayers and for stopping by to offer some kind words. I appreciate it.

      My heart has healed. God is good! It is only these two days of the year, Thomas' birthday and death day, that are difficult. I guess those two days belong to him and it's okay to remember and cry a little. Time passes but love doesn't disappear. Actually it grows. I don't yearn for things to have been different but the memories are painful. Maybe someone else has been there too, so I thought it might be good to share.

      Anyway, grief doesn't exist without love and at this time of year I am surrounded by love. I am very blessed! May God bless you!

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  6. I have tears in my eyes and a big swelling of empathy in my heart after reading this, Sue. I'm so sorry you had to go through it, but I know you wouldn't have missed knowing your little Thomas, even if it was for such a tragically short time. Sending you much love this week. Lucinda

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    1. Lucinda,

      Thank you! You are so right: Difficult though it was, all that pain was worth it to have Thomas, even for that short time. Well, I still have him really! Thank you for your love. You are a dear friend.

      Delete

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