For his third birthday, Aoife published a short piece in the book: Three Minus One – Edited by Sean Hanish & Brooke Warner. Her chapter features below. If you would like to read further chapters, the book is available to buy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones and all other good book retailers.
If you drive west from our apartment, it takes less than half an hour before you hit that quintessentially English countryside—woodland, rolling hills, and fields divided into patchwork quilts by hedgerows.
I’ve watched that landscape change through the seasons. Listlessly, I’ve gazed out the car window at frosty skeletal trees in winter, the burnt yellow grass in the peak of the summer, the turning of the leaves in autumn, or the snowdrops, daffodils, and crocuses tentatively peeking above ground in early spring.
We’ve made that journey often since May 2011.
His final resting place. The place where John and I will also be laid to rest one day. A place of both immeasurable pain and perfect peace.
When I had imagined the end of my pregnancy, it was all sweat and grunts, exhaustion and pain, and John urging me on, willing me to dig deep for one last push—then a rush of joy as his first little cries filled the room.
In reality, my labour was largely silent. Whispers and knowing looks. Solemn faces and broken hearts.
Shock had dragged me underwater, distorting sounds and slowing everything down. Placed a Vaseline-smeared pane between me and everyone else. Left my mouth agape, mute and ineffectual. Scrambled my brain, making every decision difficult and foggy.
Inside my head I tried to trace the way back…
John and I fell in love in a little-known ski-town in New England; all cedar-clad gingerbread houses, decked with winter-long fairy lights, sparkling in the crisp air. A small town inhabited by larger-than-life, bearded and burly, gruff Vermont-sters, frequenting the bars, glugging back frothy gallons of Bud Light to a sound track of nineties rock.
John was in his second ski season when I took a break from law school to fly out for a visit. His pseudo-celebrity status as a ski instructor had me all googly-eyed and weak at the knees. His command of the terrain, weathered complexion, and strong legs all conspired against me and I was a goner…
It was the happiest place in the world for us, and the place where John proposed to me in 2008.
For weeks after we were married we joked about how grown-up it felt to be calling each other “Husband” and “Wife.” And as my belly grew and swelled with the promise of the best chapter of our lives just around the corner, we giggled again like school kids as we talked to my bump, referring to each other as “Mummy” and “Daddy.” I remember it felt glorious, trying it on like that.
When our midwife returned, she raised the bedsheets and gently explained, “It’s time. Your baby is coming.”
A second midwife came in to assist, and I held John’s hand. In the moments that followed my boy was with me. I felt it like the sun on my skin. However gone he already was, he was there. It was just the two of us, together. He looked after me, helping me all the way. Such a good little boy. I pushed, twice, and it was done.
Seamus slipped silently into this world at 7:06 p.m. on Friday 20th May 2011. Bottom first—if only we’d had the chance to tease him about that over the years—with his little clenched fist held against his face, and his umbilical cord wound tightly around his neck eight times.
The midwives whispered as they disentangled my boy, working away at cleaning up his little limp, lifeless body before handing him over to me.
The most precious gift.
The best thing we ever did together.
And in that instant I felt like I’d forgotten to breathe, like my heart would burst with love…pure, new love like no other.
“Look. Look what we did. Look who we made.” It was in that moment that John felt like a Daddy. Wide-eyed and mouth ajar, his voice was a half whisper and higher-pitched than usual, choked in utter wonderment. His large hands tentatively took their first touch of his son, clutching his little fingers, stroking the side of his soft, soft face. His face lit up with such pride as he took his precious son carefully into his arms and cradled him close. It was the image I’d longed for…but the colours were all wrong.
I think both of us expected him to open his eyes, screw up his little face, and start to cry—but all the wanting in the world couldn’t breathe life into our blindingly beautiful little boy.
And he was. He truly was. I wish the world could have seen how beautiful he was.
In the early days, it just about broke me to say the words…“My baby died.” Hearing those naked, blunt words out loud always clubbed me over the head. The pain was so raw. It pierced and seared, and we raged and wailed.
For weeks, months maybe, as I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, a clamminess crawled through my skin, and my heart began upping its tempo as I drowned in the memories, pulled under by images I didn’t dare face and thoughts that fed the rabid anxiety that gnawed at me endlessly. Flashbacks caught me as I folded laundry or made the bed. The ghosts-of-times-gone-by bound my hands behind my back and grabbed me by the jaw, twisting my face towards that room…forcing me to feel it all again.
I thought that I might die; that my poor little heart would break and that my life would end. In fact, each morning that I woke in those first few days without him were savagely disappointing—that I hadn’t passed in my sleep, that people would not solemnly whisper of me, “’Twas death by a broken heart”. That this bloody heart kept on beating when Seamus’s gave up on him.
How had we ended up here? From choosing his nappy bag to the words on his grave marker? From picking a buggy to the outfit he would be buried in?
I wanted to watch him grow up in his own beautiful boyish way—stamping his Wellie-booted feet through muddy puddles, building sand castles, snowmen, and Lego towers, poking at frogs with sticks, digging for worms, building tree huts, roly-polying down hills, flying kites and balloons, dunking soft-boiled eggs with toasty soldiers…
But our lives were irrevocably changed. We didn’t live them anymore, just glided through, afraid to touch anything in case it broke.
Life is different now.
Now I live with it. The bottom-line pain. That pure throb and tenderness that never lessens. Just as I rise in the morning, brush my teeth, and dress, I grieve. It has woven itself into my day. The pain feels routine. As familiar as the feeling of water hitting my skin every morning in the shower, so I grieve. Sadness and longing for him are as natural and mundane as pulling on my socks. It is in every moment, in every breath, in every beat of my pulse.
And yet, I consider myself one of the lucky unlucky ones. For somewhere in among those desperate early weeks, we stepped out onto weak and spindly newborn foal legs. The lure of two pink lines gently nudging us forward. And after thirty-seven long weeks and a second labour that almost ended in a second lightening strike, Hugo gave an almighty scream and began to cry. That sound encapsulating so much—unquantifiable relief, overwhelming joy, and unspeakable pain.
He was alive. Our little bringer of happiness. Our so-so-special second son.
It’s only on rare occasions that Seamus is mentioned nowadays. Life is fantastically hectic with a toddler in tow and a belly swelling with another new sibling that we daren’t dream of taking home.
I marvel at my new plastic persona. So adept at conversational pleasantries…frothy words, silicone smiles.
But maybe that’s okay. Maybe I just want to hold Seamus a little closer. Tuck him safely under my wing and tend to him a little more privately. He’s not a story to be told, a terrific tragedy…gossip fodder.
He’s my baby.
But there are still those moments that I wish…that someone might just intuitively know…that actually, I am not okay. Yes, still.
That someone might cup my weary heart in tender hands and soothe it a little.
That even after all this time, even after mastering the art of not crying in public, even after having had another baby, and conceiving a third, I’m still feeling the sharper edges of this life.
Just hiding it better.
We are so lucky and unlucky. We are so blessed. We are still so cheated. We are so happy. We are still so sad.
And we simply love—all three.