When people ask me how many kids I have, I say two. But the truth is, I had a third.
Another boy called Olly, who came out a bit too early and didn’t quite make it.
The day Olly died, I was sitting in a meeting when the receptionist ran in and told me my wife was on the landline. I looked at my phone and saw several missed calls. When I answered, she was already at our obstetrician’s office. She was crying.
There had been a rupture and her water had broken early. I assumed that meant that we were going to have a premmie baby. That happens all the time these days, right? No big deal. My sister had a premmie baby, and now she’s a beautiful, incredible six year old. So I raced to the clinic, worried but excited.
Once there, I sat calmly while a nurse explained to us that it was too late to perform a C-section; that Olly would have to come out naturally. Maybe it was the adrenalin, but I still thought everything would be ok. We got to the hospital, and my wife got scanned. Olly’s leg was already pushing out and cutting off circulation. It wasn’t until one of the staff held my hand and told me how sorry she was that I really got it through my thick skull.
No matter how progressive we get as a society, there are some truly toxic notions of masculinity that refuse to let go of our psyche; they have their tendrils too deep in our minds, buried like rotting roots.
Take the idea of ‘staying strong’.
When I heard that my son wasn’t going to survive, my first thought was that I couldn’t cry in front of my wife. That I had to be ‘strong for her’. Almost as though, if my wife saw me crying, then things would be really bad.
What a load of shit!
Instead, I held her close, gave her reassuring smiles and squeezes, and waited until I could excuse myself. Then I went outside into the blistering cold and cried alone, in an alley between the hospital toilets and the cafeteria, where no one could see me.
That’s how I reacted to the news of my son, and I’ll regret it forever.
Soon after, we were taken to a hospital room, where my wife went into full labour and was forced to give birth to our doomed son. There was no light at the end of the tunnel. No reward for her suffering. She had to push through the pain just to face even more. But she did it. And she will always be the bravest, strongest woman I’ve ever met for doing that.
Our obstetrician told us that there was a high probability that Olly would be stillborn, but we had to be prepared for the fact that he might be alive when he came out. That, if he was, we would just have to hold him until he passed. It could take hours, he said.
I fucking hate the fact that I was grateful when he came out stillborn. I don’t think I could have held my son until he died. We got the chance to stay with Olly for a day. We dressed him and wrapped him up and held him and each other. Our friends and family all stopped by to hold us too. But even when we were together, we were apart. Not just us and them, but my wife and I.
That kind of grief is an island, and there’s only enough room for one.
A lot of that day has become vague and blurry. But I still vividly remember the feeling of kissing Olly when he was warm and kissing him when he was cold.
Later that week, we scattered his ashes out at sea in NZ. It was a beautiful setting, and we were surrounded by our loving and supportive family.
But it didn’t really feel like catharsis. It didn’t really feel like anything.
I think my heart was already trying to compartmentalise, to move on. It can be a cold and brutal bastard, your heart.
There’s a part of me that will always feel guilty when I say I have two kids. I feel like I’m forgetting about Olly, and I never want to do that. But the truth is, he is fading. I have photos of him, but I don’t look at them.
I feel bad that talking about him doesn’t hurt like it used to.
They say time heals all wounds. I think they’re right.
Even though, sometimes, I really wish they weren’t.
Love you, Olly.