Monday, 28 February 2011

To my brother

I never knew you. We occupied the same space but a few months apart. We grew, we were both nurtured and loved. By the time it was my turn, it was already too late, you were gone.

Something went wrong. Something happened to you which meant it was over before it started. You died before you were born. Your heart stopped. Mum had to give birth to a dead baby. A boy. Is that perhaps the thing that hurts the most - that you were the only boy she had and you were stillborn? I cannot imagine how it must have felt to lose a baby in those circumstances. Now that I am a mother myself, the thought alone of losing a child cuts me in two.

Photo credit: gc85
I grew up knowing about you but was never made to feel I or our younger sister were only replacements for the loss of you. We were kept light on the details, presumably because Mum and Dad wanted to shield us from what happened, and still, to this day, I don't think I know the full story. I remember where you were buried. I thought I was imagining that it was part of a playground but I think there are playing fields close to the cemetery. I have never been there as an adult. Perhaps I should. 

Thinking about you now has made me realise something. If you had been born alive and healthy, it's possible I never would have been born as I know I was born quite soon after you. That is quite a frightening thought - that neither I nor my children may not ever have existed, and possibly our sister too. Who knows? Not only is it quite frightening, it actually makes me question why. Why did I survive and you didn't? Neither of us did anything to deserve what happened to us. Should I feel guilty that I got to experience life whereas you didn't? I am sad that you didn't live. No first smile, no first steps, no first day at school. No joy at discovering new things. No sadness. Nothing.

Your birth and death coloured my own arrival. I don't blame you for that, it's just how it is. Mum worried throughout pregnancy. I think that she blames herself to this day and feels she could have done more to prevent your stillbirth. She must have carried that guilt along with me. Names were not discussed; I don't think Mum even dared to think of having a live baby, let alone its name. Dad chose my name and came up with it once I was born safely and Mum asked him what they should call me. 

Growing up, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have you as a brother. It would be wrong to say I craved it but I would have loved the chance to find out. An older brother to play different games with, someone to shield and protect me. Looking at Monkey and Missy Woo, I wonder whether our relationship would have been as close as theirs had we both survived. I also wonder if some of the things that happened to me in childhood would have done if I'd had a big brother been round to keep an eye on me. Would my childhood or family have been different, and if so, how?

Life can be full of "what ifs", but this is bigger than all of them. It's about a whole person who should have been, but wasn't. The baby that never became a boy that never became a man, an uncle, possibly a father. What if you had been born? What would you have been like? 

I have been thinking about you a lot recently because a stillbirth happened to someone I know. They may go on to have other babies. People may think that those children will be largely unaffected by a former stillbirth. I tell you now - they won't be, but you knew that already, didn't you? Unless the parents keep it a secret from them, they will always wonder about the baby that was never born that could have been their sibling. I don't feel pain. I don't really feel loss because I never lost you. It makes me feel numb to think about you. Even 46 years on, you seep into my thoughts from time to time. And I wonder. I'll never stop wondering because the questions I have in my head will never be answered. No-one can answer them except you, and you can't.

To my brother, whom I never knew. Rest in peace. 

For information and support on stillbirths and neonatal deaths, please visit the Sands website.
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