The Possum Blog is now featuring the journal entries of UK mum Amy Hanbury, who is using journaling to process her grief. She and her partner Brendan lost their son, Monty Fox, as a result of an unforeseen labour complication. Her journal entires are a fiercely honest reflection of a mother's enduring pain and love, and should be essential reading for anyone trying to understand a friend or family member in the first weeks and months after baby loss.
These entries cover Amy's first 30 days after Fox's death.
On the 13th of June, 2021, Brendan and I welcomed our first baby into the world: our boy, Monty Fox McCauley. After a healthy ‘low-risk’ pregnancy and natural MLU-led labour, he was born four days before his due date at 12:04 pm, weighing a healthy (and chunky) 9lbs 7oz. He was utterly perfect and so handsome. He quite literally entered the world ‘showing off’, with thick, dark hair, the biggest lips and a dimpled chin. We decided very early on that he was going to go by his middle name, ‘Fox’, and I smiled every time I thought of him introducing himself to new people as soon as he was old enough - “My name is Monty but my friends call me Fox”.
When Fox was born, the midwife passed him to me for immediate skin-to-skin and, whilst being in complete awe of my new boy, I noticed that he looked very pale, limp and wasn't crying. I wasn't too concerned at this stage, as I assumed he just needed a quick towel rub to kick-start his breathing, and I thought his pale skin was down to vernix. It was only from the quick change in atmosphere, and urgency of the midwives, that I began to panic and knew something was wrong. Within minutes, the room filled with doctors and nurses, and it became very clear that Fox was being resuscitated. This continued for forty minutes, and at some point during their efforts they managed to spark a heartbeat. Before we knew it, he was transferred to the SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) accompanied by several staff.
After a healthy pregnancy and natural short labour it was difficult to process what had just happened. All we knew was that Fox was very poorly and needed to be transferred to Singleton hospital, Swansea, where he would be admitted to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) for further care. It was later that day that we learnt that Fox experienced what doctors described as an “event” during labour in which he was starved of oxygen, and, as a result, was diagnosed HIE (Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy):
Hypoxic = a shortage of oxygen in the blood
Ischemic = a shortage of blood flow to the brain
Encephalopathy = resultant brain damage
We reunited with Fox a few hours later at Singleton NICU to find him attached to endless wires, lying inside an incubator which he looked far too healthy to be in. There were monitors and machines all around him, keeping his little body going, as well countless staff who were constantly checking him. It was heartbreaking to see a seemingly healthy 9lbs 7oz baby, our baby, in such an environment. We spent the next 2.5 days in NICU with Fox, where we sat next to him, held his hand and tried to comfort him (and ourselves) in any way we could.
On the 15th of June, the nurses told us that they needed to x-ray his chest to check his lungs for mucus build-up, so we retreated back to the room while the nurses went ahead with the x-ray. Unfortunately, ten minutes later there was a stern knock on the door with a nurse on the other side telling us that we needed to follow her immediately. We walked into the unit to find Fox in a near-fatal state and were advised by the doctors to hold him in case this was the last opportunity. Naturally, I immediately sat down ready to embrace my son, wires and all. I certainly didn’t envisage our first physical encounter to be this way, nevertheless it was the first time I held him and it was magical. After a few minutes of being in my arms, his oxygen levels increased and he eventually stabilised - I like to think that he caused havoc to get what he ultimately wanted: a cuddle from his parents.
In the hours following his latest episode, we learned that our brave boy was not going to recover. He had shown no signs of improvement, had very little brain function and was having more and more regular seizures. Despite the copious amounts of medicine and ventilator support, he continued to deteriorate each day. We knew the inevitable was fast approaching, so we wanted our family to meet their perfect Grandson/Nephew. That afternoon, Fox was surrounded by so much love meeting his Grandparents, Aunt and Uncle for the first time.
Later that day, we were transferred to a private family room, where myself and Bren got to experience some firsts with our son; we washed, dressed, and played music to him, finally wire and tube free. At 7:30 pm that evening we said goodbye to our beautiful boy, something that no parent should ever have to do. Fox was brought to us freshly dressed and wrapped in his blanket while a nurse manually hand-pumped oxygen into his lungs. As she stopped, we played him our favourite song, reminded him to be brave and assured him that we’d meet him again soon. Before he took his last breaths, he miraculously opened his eyes - something that we had not witnessed since he was born - looked at us both for a few seconds and smiled. I feel a great sense of comfort knowing that he slipped away peacefully in our arms and truly believe that in his last moments he thanked us for letting him go.
Even though our time together was short, the love and happiness Fox brought to our lives will be everlasting and never forgotten. He taught us so many lessons but above all not to take anything for granted and to appreciate every happy moment in life, no matter how short-lived. We are so blessed that he entered our lives, and he will remain in our thoughts and hearts forever.
Our first boy, Foxy.
I feel like I am trapped in a living nightmare. I pinch myself but I don't wake up. Why aren't I waking up?
...things like this don't happen to me.
Empty arms is a real thing. Considering I've never really been "into" babies, the feeling of needing to hold a babu is strange and becoming unbearable.
I nearly rang my friend who has also just given birth to ask her if I could visit her and hold her baby but reality kicked in. I'd be holding her baby and not my own.
I've resulted to sleeping with one of his blankets - my favourite one. Initially I thought it would help but now I'm certain it's encouraging me to dream about him. The torture of waking up and realising he's not here is fucking heart-wrenching but it's worth enduring for the additional moments with him even if it's not reality.
Life has dealt us the cruelest card possible and I want to know why. No parent should ever have to bury their child, let alone decide whether to remove their life support. Deep down, I know it was the right decision for him, he'd already fought so hard and I couldn't let him endure more pain. But I do struggle with the reality and matter of the fact that we, as parents, had to make that call.
I never thought I'd experience a level of sadness to which I hate witnessing other people's happiness. But here I am. I hate hearing my friends laugh. I even hate witnessing passing strangers having a light-hearted, smiley conversation. And most of all, I hate that I feel like this.
I think I'm mostly jealous that their lives continue and mine feels like it's come to an end. I know life from now will be known as "before" and "after" loosing him and I'm really scared to embark on the "after".
Truthfully, I don't think I can do it. Or at least I don't want to.
I can't tell you how many times myself and my partner have been called 'brave' and I get it. Brave that we talk about him openly. Brave that we survive days without him. Brave that we became NICU parents. Brave that we had to make decisions parents should never ever have to make.
But I don't feel brave.
I just know that I have no other option but to face the day. Today I had to face it hour by hour and it was gruelling. If I had it my way, I wouldn't be in this shit show of a situation at all. Do I still sound brave?
I visited my friend a few days ago, the first friend encounter since it all happened. It was hard but surprisingly light-hearted because of how well I hid my emotions. We spoke about how beautiful he was, how everyone wasn't phased by his hipster name because it was totally unexpected, we spoke about the funny parts of labour I even laughed a few times.
But as I left she said how happy she was to have seen me, and it made her feel so much better knowing that I was trying to be positive. And that made me feel shit. Now I know I deliberately hide my grief and put on a brave face when meeting other people to make them feel more comfortable and I'm over it. OVER. IT.
Making conversations and encounters easier for others only makes me feel worse so fuck them. Next time someone asks me how I'm doing I might answer honestly. What's the worst that could happen?
I was pregnant, studied ultrasound scans, had a baby shower, painted his nursery, bought a pram, decided on a name, endured labour, and finally birthed my beautiful son - i.e. SO ready to be a first time, rookie Mother. But now my baby isn't here. Now what?
I've been struggling with my identity since he passed. I'm definitely not the same person I used to be. How can I be? But what I'm finding more confusing is where I fit in my friendship group now that I've lost my son. I'm not insinuating that we fall into a peer category based on whether we have children or not. But we do naturally gravitate towards people who are in a similar stage of life. The problem with that is, none of my friends have lost their babies.
So where does that leave me?
Last week we had a small family gathering where we cut a cake and raised a glass to honour and celebrate the life of my little champ. As we were looking back at photographs of myself and his Dad bathing him someone naively said, "At least you had 3 days with him. Some people don't get that."
In that moment I physically felt the pits of my stomach erupt into my chest and the rage was instant. I don't know how I held it together; maybe because I knew it wasn't the time and place but I responded with a very stern "2,5 days," accompanied by what can only be described as a death stare.
After that afternoon I realised that people are going to get it wrong. Even if they mean well. But how do I approach it? Do I correct and educate? I'm pretty sure no loss parent will appreciate the words "at least" in a sentence, even if it comes from a close family member.
Or do I brush it off and accept that they don't mean to offend and just don't understand, therefore can't help.
Sometimes I think I'm still on autopilot or survival mode (or even denial) because what brings me back down to earth is people's reactions to our circumstance.
I've had grown men weep as I tell them about my son, as well as countless messages from people that I haven't spoken to in years offering support.
The baker that made his celebration cake wouldn't charge us, and neither did the florist that made the bouquet of flowers for his funeral. In fact, she told us later that week that she had to close the shop early that day because the staff were so upset after seeing me.
I funny understand and deeply feel the impact of loosing my son but it's the reactions of others that really hit home and make me think, "Fuck, this really is the worst thing that could happen to a person and yet, this is my life."
Maybe I'm still numb to it or maybe I've lost my innocence and recognise that the shocking things aren't so shocking anymore.
I've almost accepted all of the heavy emotions that come with grief because on the days where I feel my saddest, I feel closer to my son. But there is one emotion in particular that I find difficult to digest; jealousy, Seeing my friends' babies on Instagram is quite literally gut-wrenching and will turn my 'positive' day into a living nightmare.
The sound of a newborn hiccup or cry on a watsapp voice note is like a punch to the stomach and will force me to exit the conversation without listening to the rest of the message.
And lastly, "Welcome to the World" posts - possibly the worst trigger of them all. It's these posts in particular that spark so much jealousy, anger and frustration because it brings to light the unfairness of it all; why do they get to take their baby home and I don't? Why do they get to strap them into a car seat and I leave with a memory box? Why do they get to tuck their babies in at night and I sit in an empty nursery staring at an empty crib and perfectly folded, unused muslins.
Every part of my body is reacting like I'm a new Mother yet I don't have a child to hold. My nipples are leaking and sore to the touch. I'm still bleeding from birth and dealing with the aftermath of labour. My hormones are raging and I cry when I hear other babies cry. My arms are heavy as if they knew they should be carrying another person and I'm constantly on guard - for what, I don't know. I have never felt more primal in all my life.
To put it bluntly, my body and my mind need a baby but this 'need' gets complicated when your baby doesn't survive. My first thought was to try for another but the immediate rush of guilt anchors my thoughts to the extent where the words can't leave my mouth.