This storm wasn’t one that we’d seen gathering on the horizon. We never saw it coming. We were thrown into the middle of it in an instant.
We knew above all else we had to stick together like superglue. At that moment, we didn’t know much else.
Everything we thought we knew, it turned out we didn’t.
Common assumptions shattered just as our hearts were doing the same.
The early days of May 2014 would not be the happiest point in our lives.
We no longer had those years of joy mapped out in front of us.
Not everyone gets to bring their baby home.
We’d been back up to the hospital after I got back home on the Wednesday afternoon for a discussion to plan what the next steps were. I can’t even remember who that discussion was with, I think it was with Dr. Johnson, our consultant. We met in the Ferndale Suite, Harrogate Hospital’s bereavement suite on the delivery unit. You don’t cover this stuff in ante-natal classes, they didn’t talk about movements, or fetal growth, or gently remind you to be vigilant, that not everyone gets their happy ending.
They walked us through the practical steps in terms of induction and delivery. Briony’s mum’s question “will she still have to deliver him?” – when you stop and think about it, obviously the answer is yes, but it’s just something that you’ve never considered, and this situation sends your brain completely haywire. Over time you must re-learn everything you thought you knew, only to find that you didn’t.
So, what are the next steps when your baby dies two days before their due date? Well, first off, the timetable doesn’t change. So “go on home and we’ll see you at 0900 on Friday morning as planned”. Therefore now you have a day and a half in complete limbo, in a vortex, a black hole that swallows up your very being, ripping all control away from you. Time stands still, because you don’t know where to go or what to do next. The entire world has fallen in around you.
On the Wednesday evening, I called Briony’s sister, Henry’s Auntie Claire. I could quite literally hear her crumble when I told her the news. I called all of Briony’s close friends, one by one. I didn’t want any of them hearing it from anyone else. There’s that notion of ‘control’ again. When everything is taken away from you, and you’re being swept along on a tidal wave of emotion, you hang your hat on any minuscule piece of control that you can grab hold of. Informing everyone that mattered most personally was one such tiny piece of control. For me, it also became a matter of taking pressure off Briony by making sure that different things were sorted out – I stood in the garden and called them, I wasn’t having Briony listen to that same conversation over and over again. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, I remember that very clearly, just a few wispy white clouds in the sky. The world outside was sunny, but our world was dark as night.
I called my work colleague and long-standing friend Mark. I don’t remember what I said. I remember him telling me that he’d take care of everything work-wise, not to worry about anything. I’ll always appreciate that gesture from him, he spoke to IT and got my emails auto-forwarded so he could take all that off my plate. I’d always been hugely focused on work and very driven, so it was a sensible thing for him to do, to reassure me not to worry about anything work-wise – he knows me very well. The strange thing, as I reflect back now years later, is that (possibly for the first time in my professional life), work wasn’t on my radar. Not on any level whatsoever. Even a few hours before, within minutes of hearing the worst news a father can ever hear, I had concentrated on making sure a surgeon and hospital had everything they needed for a surgery, without hesitation. Now, now that I was home with Briony – not anywhere on my priority list.
The next morning I got a call from my boss, Will. He was in Tokyo. I worked out later that he had called me at a time that was perfect for me but probably bloody inconvenient for anyone busy on a business trip to Japan. I’ll always be grateful for that. He echoed what Mark had said the day before, and told me to take as long as I needed. In my last blog, When the world caves in, I mentioned people who on that Wednesday supported me in a way I’ll always be grateful for – Mr. Waseem and Helen in Macclesfield, Henry’s Uncle Robin on the phone. Will and Mark certainly go on that list for the way they supported me in that moment.
I can’t remember what we did on the Thursday. We were just in a holding pattern, like a plane waiting for clearance to land at an unexpectedly busy airport. Or even a plane whose engines had all failed at the same time that was falling to earth.
I often wonder what we would have been doing that day if things had been different. Lie-in probably, lazy morning cups of tea (decaf for mum), then maybe some pottering round town to pick up some last-minute bits that we didn’t need. Packing the bag for Friday morning.
I think in life there are very few things that fundamentally knock your entire world off its axis in an instant. This certainly does. When you eventually get your world back on some kind of axis, it’s not the same axis it was before. It never will be. It’s not a stable axis either. It wobbles and creaks. It bends, and quite often it breaks. You have to keep putting your world back on its (new) axis…over and over again.
But all that was to come. For the time being we were stuck in limbo, in the blackest depths of despair. We’d come through it in time, this was the storm before the calm. But at that moment we could not see that. In that moment, this was just ‘the storm’.
All we could do was stick together. Superglue…