Apologies that my posts have been a bit few and far between. I don't always have a plethora of blogs in my head, full of the latest exciting news and I originally thought this was a problem. Then I realised yesterday that it actually isn't. I mean, a blog is a blog. You can write about whatever the heck you like, that's the beauty of it! So today I'm going to write some things I have never shared with another living soul. I'm going to write about Luke.
Luke is my firstborn son. Were he still here, he and I would have been celebrating two big birthdays on December 16th. My 40th, his 18th. On the same day. But while I grow older every day, Luke will never get old. He will never drive a car, graduate school, go on a date, get drunk or do any of the other things other kids his age get to do. But who knows, maybe where he is he's doing much more important stuff. Like watching over his two younger brothers. That's what I like to think anyway.
I'm a great believer that things happen for a reason. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that. But some things I will never understand and losing Luke is one of them. The thing was, I had an inkling all along that something was going to go wrong but I told myself I was being silly and put it down to first time nerves. It was only in my later pregnancies that I realised that there were symptoms with Luke which were very different that perhaps would have given a more experienced mum an indication that something was wrong. But I was 21, just married and my family was on the other side of the world. None of my friends were having babies yet so I had nobody to compare baby stories with. The doctor told me everything was progressing well and I thought they were too so I just got on with things and kitted the nursery out in blue as there was no doubt from the 18 week scan that we were having a boy!
Luke was due to be born on February 1st 1995. The funny thing was, we always knew he was going to be born early - in fact we even joked about it. 'Knowing you, he'll be born on your birthday!' laughed Noel - and I laughed too. Of course there was no way that was ever going to happen. My birthday was in December; that was much too early! Seven weeks early in fact. But on December 14th 1994 I woke up to find a spider running down my leg. It turned out to be a very persistent spider because try as I might, it wouldn't go away, no matter how often I brushed it off. And suddenly I realised that my waters had broken.
I was scared, but excited. OK, so he was going to be early but let's face it, seven weeks is nothing in this day and age. The main thing was that we got to hospital in time, which we did. Once we arrived there, the nurses told me that I was going to have to stay in hospital for the rest of my pregnancy and they were going to do their utmost to keep the baby safely in my tummy until his due date, giving us both medication to strengthen his lungs and prepare him for life on the outside. I was pretty persisted off at the thought of spending seven weeks in hospital but resigned to my fate.
Luke however was having none of it and as the clock hit midnight on December 16th, I went into labour. No warning, no gradual build up, just straight into it. The nurses flatly refused to believe me and by the time they finally got me into the delivery room I was screaming I had to push and they hadn't even called Noel to come into the hospital yet, even though we lived over an hour away. The doctors were dragged out of bed and rushed in with their hair all standing on end. It soon became apparent that Luke was breech but there was no time for pain relief. I still vividly remember thinking I was going to die from the pain but assuring myself the worst that could happen was that I would faint. I couldn't see the things that Noel could see, like the panic on the doctors' faces that they couldn't get Luke out. Just as emergency back up was called, my baby made his entrance into the world after a three-hour labour. The doctor bundled him up and quickly showed him to me. And Master Luke William Gower immediately stopped crying and stared at me with a pair of intense brown eyes. I remember thinking at the time how unusual that was - weren't babies' eyes supposed to be blue? Either way, they were unmistakeablely brown and I thought it was pretty cool that his were different. That was the first and only time I saw those eyes open. Then the doctor whisked him off to intensive care, as they had told me would happen. I didn't mind, I was just happy he was alive and as the pethidine finally kicked in, I settled happily, hearing my baby's tiny plaintive wails further down the corridor. He was going to be alright.
'Happy birthday!' giggled all the nurses as they set about making me comfortable. Oh that's right. It was my 22nd birthday. My baby and I had the same birthday, how awesome was that! They brought me photos of him up to the ward as I wasn't strong enough to go and see him. It was kind of hard to see him under all the tubes and enormous nappy but he was doing well and besides I honestly wasn't worried. At four pounds in weight he was by far the heaviest baby in the newborn unit - he was plump for goodness' sake! Lukey and I would have all the time in the world together. Until then I looked forward to the frequent reports from his dad and grandparents, who spent hours with him when I couldn't.
What I didn't realise was that while my baby looked perfect on the outside, things were far from perfect on the inside. Luke's traumatic forceps delivery had resulted in severe brain damage. Had he lived, life would have been an immense struggle for all of us. But we didn't know any of this until two years later, when the doctor caring for me when I was pregnant with Liam showed me my notes from Luke's birth and informed me I had every right to sue the hospital and he would back me every step of the way. I didn't. What would be the point? Nothing would have brought Luke back.
My hospital room was buzzing throughout with people that day, all excitedly celebrating mine and Luke's birthday. In fact there were so many visitors that I began to feel bad. I wanted to be with my son but I couldn't get away. Eventually I was able to go to the newborn unit to see him but every time I went I couldn't stand it for long. I wanted to be with Lukey but it was so unbearably hot and I was still in so much pain from all the stitches I had needed that I just couldn't sit on the stools they had provided next to the incubators. The first night of Luke's life was endless. The doctors feared that he had contracted a virus called Strep B, in the 24 hours that he was unprotected between my waters breaking and going into labour. Apparently up to 25% of adults can have this at any one time but we don't know we even have it. Unfortunately this is not so for babies; in the majority of cases it is fatal. As we anxiously waited for the test results nobody knew whether he would make it through the night but we were all overjoyed when he did.
Day Two was the same, another constant stream of visitors and by the time I got down to see Luke, it was almost the end of the day. The nurse was lovely and so pleased to see me. 'He's been so doing so well all day!' she said excitedly. I was over the moon and took my seat next to him, stroking his tiny hand And almost immediately things started to go very, very wrong. I can't help thinking that he was waiting for me before he felt he could go; the timing was just too uncanny. Noel and I watched in a daze as alarms rang and a flurry of doctors and nurses rushed to our corner. It was all over in a matter of minutes. Before we knew it, we were ushered into another room and our beautiful wee boy had been disconnected from all his tubes, gently wrapped and brought to us to take his final breaths. The test results were through and Strep B was confirmed but it was too late, not a single soul could do
anything about it. I felt wooden, like a zombie as I held him for a few minutes, then silently passed him over to his dad. I didn't know what else to do.
The nurses came and took him and asked if I would like to help bathe and dress Luke. I said no. To this day I have never forgiven myself. I robbed myself of the only precious time I would ever get with my baby but I didn't know how to be a mum. If I had truly thought for one second that he would die, I would have spent every moment with him - but I never honestly believed he would. If I ever had the chance to say anything to him now, it would be that I hope he knew how much I loved him and wanted him to stay. That I'm so, so sorry that I handed him over, that I didn't cuddle him for hours when I could have; when I should have. Poor little guy. All I can put it down to is that I felt completely numb, everything happened so fast and felt so unreal. As it turns out, I did learn how to be a mum a couple of years later - a pretty good one I think.
Luke was buried two days later, in the December sunshine, in a tiny cemetery on a hill. Half the town turned out to support us, from the man who owned the corner shop to the girl who worked in the petrol station. It was overwhelming and very humbling. So many people helped us through that time; I know some of them will read this blog and they will always have our love and gratitude for everything that they did. Shortly after his funeral, we went and placed a bright blue windmill next to his grave. We kind of liked the thought that there was always something there when we couldn't be. Gradually, other people started doing the same with their loved ones and before long that little cemetery was covered in brightly coloured windmills.
My birthday has never been the same, it's always tinged with sadness but also happiness because it's the one day I feel close to Luke and nobody can ever take that away. The hardest part after the funeral was I was terrified that I was going to forget what he looked like. But it will be 18 years this December and I never have :-)
TODAY I LEARNED: That everything does indeed happen for a reason. We just don't always know what the hell that reason is.