“One minute I am floating, and the next minute it feels like I have been hit by a bus.” These are the words I told my therapist the first time I visited her a few months ago. I was hurt and hopeless, and although I hoped that the pain would go away, I had learnt to live with it.
My fire was quickly dimmed before I could feel its warmth. I looked forward to the day when I could watch the baby suckle my breasts, laugh in his sleep and strap him onto my back. But he was stillborn. When my waters broke, I had mixed emotions. Although the pain was unbearable, I chose to soldier on because I looked forward to becoming a mother. On the way to the hospital, the only thing my husband talked about was taking deep breaths. Up to today, I believe that he was terrified, but he was looking forward to becoming a father.
Although we were first-time parents, I was confident that my husband and I would be great parents. In the labour room, the midwife smiled when she saw me crying and admitting that I was in so much pain, but she reminded me that holding my child in my arms would be worth it. Rob never left my side, and whenever he uttered the words “push Grace,” that was music to my ears. How could I not do my part when I knew my title would then change from Grace to Mai Josh?
“I can now see the child’s head; good work, mwanangu; if you just give me three more pushes, you will be a mother in no time,” the midwife said. I was reaching for the finishing line, and I gave it my all before I could rest. “Congratulations, it’s a boy,” the midwife said, and although I let out a loud cry, I failed to hear my son’s first cry. I was feeling sleepy and drained, but I knew that I would only doze off after holding my son in my arms. My heart was beating so fast, and the only thing that would help was hearing my son’s first cry. When the baby did not cry, I struggled to sit up straight and see what was going on, but my doctor came to my bedside to break the news before I could even do that. “I am sorry, Rob and Grace, but your child was stillborn.” Up to today, I do not know how the conversation ended, but the words that I heard ripped my heart apart. When my doctor broke the news to my husband and me that day, a part of me was buried six feet under.
My heart sank, and I struggled to express my emotions, the pain had made me numb, and I wanted to die. Pain and hurt had imprisoned me, and I could not hold back my tears. A day of celebration had been turned into a day of mourning. I was not ready to bury my child; I wanted to teach him how to write, take him to school on his first day and remind him that I loved him. I wanted to scream at the top of my voice, but I struggled to open my mouth. My joy had been short-lived. My little human never got to see the beautiful African sunset. Why did he not let out his first cry? Was I not good enough to mother him? If only I had the power, I would have let him cry and be a part of his life as long as I lived. Maybe my Maker had better plans. Rob held me in his arms, and I watched him weep over the loss of his son in silence. Although I was inconsolable, I smiled because Rob managed to express his emotions and feelings, and he did not uphold the adage “men don’t cry.” My husband managed to let out his pain and grieve rather than bottle his pain inside because that pain would consume him.
When I had managed to compose myself, Rob reminded me that it was not my fault that our son had died. How did he read my mind? These were my thoughts, and I dreaded facing my in-laws and explaining to them that their grandchild had died. I felt that I had failed my son and my husband. Dr. Oscar asked Rob and me if we wanted to see our son’s body, but I told him that our son had a name and an identity even though he had died. His name was Josh, and he was my son, and my womb had been his home for nine months. When I saw Doctor Oscar walk into the labour room holding Josh, I let my tears flow, and my vision became blurry. When I was growing up, I was always fascinated when I saw my father chop firewood and the tiny pieces of firewood fell to the ground. As Doctor Oscar’s step drew closer, the pieces of my heart were like those little pieces of firewood falling onto the ground. My heart has never healed up to today, and every time I see a mother nursing a child, it always bruises my wounded heart.
When I held my son for the first time, I remembered the journey and the experiences I had shared with him. My pregnancy was not a walk in the park, but I had learnt to deal with nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. Waking up at midnight became my daily routine, and I enjoyed reading stories to my son because he would kick whenever I did so. I loved my son, prayed for him, and was saddened that he left without physically meeting his parents.
No one will ever get used to grief; it is like an enemy that not only steals something from us but also kills a part of those who are alive. I felt weak and burned with envy when I walked back into the maternity ward and saw the other mothers holding their babies. Visiting hours in the maternity ward is a time of celebration and jubilation because close family and friends come to meet and name the newborns. I was sitting in the maternity ward with other women who had lost their children and longed for the day we would go home and cry our eyes out.
For the two days I was admitted to the hospital, the only person I wanted to see was my husband because, unlike other family members, I did not struggle to explain what I felt to him. Our pain was mutual because we had lost a member of our family. On the day I got discharged, I walked out of the hospital with a bulging stomach, breasts oozing with milk, and a packed bag with clothes Josh never wore. I shut everyone out except for my mother-in-law and Rob. I used to cry in her presence. MaMthethwa was our anchor during the time my husband and I were grieving. She was wise, and her kind words were like a warm blanket on a cold winter night.
MaMthethwa supported the idea of cremating Josh, and she advised us to scatter his ashes when we were ready. I dreaded not knowing where my son was buried or being told not to cry because I was still young and I would have other children. Having other children did not mean that I would forget about my son. Josh will forever be in my heart, and I do not want to forget his existence.
The support group that my therapist recommended has been helping me deal with my loss. Women who have lost their babies share their experiences of how they felt when their wombs rejected their babies, when their babies died a few minutes or hours after birth and when their children were born silent. This experience has taught me never to compare my pain.
Even though my son was born silent, I vow to mention his name and never forget about him because although he was born silent, he will always be my son.