It’s almost eleven years since my son Teddy came, then left three days later. He was my much-longed-for third child, but from early on in my pregnancy with him, I knew something wasn’t right. One day on my morning walk I got a message loud and clear – “Don’t get too attached, this one won’t be with you long”. I was still in my first trimester, so I thought I was going to miscarry. I tried to shake the feeling, put it out of my mind as an unreasonable fear, but it persisted even as I carried him all the way to full term. A few days before he was born I had a nightmare, the last words I heard before waking were, “And the baby’s dead too.”
As his birth approached though, I was filled with a deep sense of calm. I spent many hours in meditation, something I’d been able to do easily ever since his conception. When he finally arrived, born in water into my own arms, he was slow to come around, but my experienced midwife and I worked together and soon he was breathing and a healthy glowing pink. I was ecstatic, my beautiful boy was here at last. All my bad dreams and messages were just fears.
But then that night in my bed at home I started to worry. Unlike my other babies who’d been voracious feeders, he was struggling to stay awake at my breast and not getting much milk. My midwife visited and checked him out and helped me to get him to feed. But another night passed without him feeding properly. I lay him on my knees facing me and asked him what was going on. I told him to make a decision – that I was here and would love him forever no matter what, but to please just eat.
My midwife visited again and together we got him to have the best feed he’d yet been able to manage and lay him beside me on the bed. Not long after she left, I noticed that Teddy was lying very still beside me. That his lips looked blue. I picked him up and ran through the house calling for help, for God, for anyone, to please, please help me. My sister who was staying rang the midwife and got her to return, then called the ambulance as I began to resuscitate him. Together my midwife and I pumped his tiny heart and breathed for him until the ambulance arrived and took over. Cutting through his jumpsuit and attaching electrodes, shooting him full of adrenaline. Nothing worked. He’d made his decision. They say that every moment is perfect. The moment of your child’s death feels very, very far from that.
Teddy was my third child and the third member of my family I’d lost in traumatic circumstances. My father had died after a long ugly battle with cancer when he was only 42. My younger brother killed himself to end the suffering of his mental illness when he was 20. Then came Teddy, my little three-day baby who died of a congenital heart defect. I thought I’d finished my dance with death and grieving. Teddy made me face all of it again.
And I’ve learnt more in the years since he’s come and gone than I ever hope to learn again. Luckily, I had been practising yoga for many years when he died, so every day I got onto my mat and cried out my pain. I learned that it was better to cry a little bit every day than wait until I couldn’t hold it in anymore and explode in unrelenting sobs. I learned that by sending out love and comfort to all the other women in the world, both now and back through time who knew the same loss, that I too was somehow mysteriously comforted. I learned that if I wrote in my journal about my grief, about Teddy, about how angry I was, how awful it felt, how afraid I was of facing other people and their fat healthy babies, of the hate and rage and hopelessness, or if I drew out my pain using pens and paint, drew hearts that were broken and hearts that had mended, that if I let myself feel my grief and cry some more, I was helping myself to heal.
I learned that in Bali, if a baby dies before it’s six months old, it’s buried in a special cemetery and revered as a god. That helped. When I think of Teddy now, I see him as a great white angel standing with me and with all the mothers who have lost their babies. He is standing with me now. Just as your babies are standing with you.
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Edwina Shaw is a Queensland writer. Her first book Thrill Seekers, based on her brother’s adolescent battle with schizophrenia, was shortlisted for the 2012 NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing. In the Dark of Night, her recently released children’s chapter book, is part of a nationwide library promotion – Summer Reading Club 2016/17. She has been widely published in Australian and international journals, including Best Australian Stories 2014. She writes regularly for UPLIFT Connect and published an article on The Gifts of Grief there http://upliftconnect.com/the-gifts-of-grief/
Edwina teaches yoga and writing at universities in Brisbane, and innovative workshops combining both. She also teaches specialised workshops combing yoga, writing and other creative arts to help ease the pain of loss.
She can be booked through SpeakersInk
You can also find her at her website http://www.edwinashaw.com
On Twitter https://twitter.com/EdwinaShaw1
And Facebook https://www.facebook.com/EdwinaShawauthor