Goodnight turned out to be goodbye
I could hear the clinking of dishes being scraped and stacked in the dishwasher. We had just finished dinner at my father and stepmother's house. While everyone was busy in the kitchen, I took the opportunity to put Eric to bed. I loved how he looked at me intently as I changed his nappy. He frowned as he looked directly into my eyes. I thought to myself, "He looks so wise like he knows something that I don't. He has probably been here before".
Nine weeks prior, I had endured intense and very long labour, and this beautiful infant was my reward. His complexion was olive, his eyes piercing and colour not yet discernible. I could tell that he was going to be tall like his father. He was perfect! This profound and sometimes overwhelming love was like nothing I had ever experienced. My cup runneth over.
I cradled him in my arms as I gave him his bottle and all the while he continued to stare up at me until he began to drift off to sleep.
I lowered him into his Moses basket as if depositing a precious piece of fragile crystal. I tucked him in tightly then bent down to kiss his warm, chubby little cheek.
"Goodnight my darling, sleep tight, I love you", I whispered.
Arriving home around 10 p.m., we put Eric into his bassinet and snuck out of the room. He was still sleeping, and although he was due to be fed within the hour, I decided not to wake him. It had been a long day. Like many new, first time mums, I was exhausted, and so I took the opportunity to grab a catnap. As I lay my head on my pillow, I prayed silently to God to please watch over my baby and keep him safe.
Sunlight was streaming into our bedroom, casting a golden light across the covers. Ross stirred next to me as I suddenly sat bolt upright.
"What time is it"? He was lazily rubbing sleep from his eyes.
I didn't answer. Actually, I wasn't sure what time it was except that it was definitely morning. I was trying to calculate in my mind the time between when I had fed Eric last and now. Was it possible he had missed two feeds?
"Ross, did you get up through the night and feed the baby"?
"No. Didn't you"?
I couldn't move. I felt heavy as though my body had turned to lead. I felt the fear rise up from deep within my soul, but I didn't give it a voice.
"Don't worry", he said as he jauntily jumped out of bed and headed for the door, "I'll soon wake him".
I held my breath listening expectantly for sounds coming from the adjoining room. The only sound I could hear was the rapid, rhythmic thumping of my heartbeat loud in my ears. Nothing. Silence. I couldn't bear it another minute. I dragged the dead weight of my body from the bed and went to the door. I stopped dead in my tracks. Ross was standing in the hallway, his back pressed hard against the wall.
"Ross, what are you doing"? I snapped.
He didn't answer. He was staring straight ahead into Eric's room and not moving a muscle, he didn't even turn to look at me.
"Oh, for God's sake, I'll go and get him", not disguising my impatience.
I knew as soon as I looked at the pale, horrified look on his face, as he stood paralyzed against that wall. I think I knew the moment I saw daylight, but I wouldn't speak it. "No, no, no"!
Was I screaming? I was, but it wasn't audible. It was inside my head those loud shrieks emanating from my very core.
I clung to my denial like an imaginary buoy. I would not speak it!
I rushed forward to get to my baby. Ross grabbed me by my arms and barred my way.
"Don't go in there Carrol, he's dead"!
"No, he isn't, don't say that, you don't know", I cried out.
"He's dead", this time he yelled it with a cry in his voice.
He wouldn't let me go in. I beat against his chest with my fists screaming at him while struggling to break his vice-like grip. He wouldn't let go; instead, he steered me toward the living room and sat me down on the couch. I gave up and stopped fighting.
The telephone was beside me. I picked up the phone and dialled my father's number.
"Hello", he chirped.
"Dad, Eric is dead", I said with a bitter, unemotional, voice and then let the mouthpiece fall from my hand.
That was a cruel thing to do, leaving him confused on the other end of the phone and I knew it. I didn't care. I didn't care about anything or anyone anymore, not even my husband. Oh, how painful it must have been for him, to feel his son's cold, lifeless body in his large hands. Yet, I didn't give his feelings a thought. The only thing on my mind was, I would never, ever pray again, to a God who I now hated; and how would I ever survive this?
Sometime later, I became vaguely aware that my father-in-law was in the room, directing paramedics to my son's room. Yes, they will fix this. It's all a mistake. Ross isn't a doctor, I thought.
Dad walked outside onto our apartment's landing. I got up and followed. I stood beside him, staring at the ambulance parked in the driveway with its back doors open wide when a paramedic came out behind us. As he passed, he glanced at my father-in-law. Didn't speak, just shook his head.
Back inside, someone was asking for a nappy. "Did you get the pins"? I asked.
"We won't need the pins love", the paramedic said kindly.
"Take the pins. It won't stay on otherwise. You need the pins", I screamed.
You know the way dreams are disordered and jumbled? My day was like a dream. My friend Anne suddenly appeared. She didn't utter a word, she just walked past me, disappeared down the hall and came back moments later carrying my wash basket and left.
She wasn't an especially close friend of mine; however, our husbands were close. I won't ever forget her kindness, although I wasn't fully aware of how much this meant to me at the time. This was just a dream, wasn't it? Was she really even there?
We were at Ross's parent's house. I don't remember the actual drive there. Ross is one of six children, and most of them were here now with their spouses. I was feeling nothing. I just followed directions like a robot. "Get in the car". "Come sit over here". "Here, drink some water". I just obeyed without saying a word.
"Carrol, there is a phone call for you. It's the police". The police?
What? Why? I felt shocked and panic.
Did they suspect me of killing my baby?
"Mrs Halliwell, I just need to ask you some questions. Don't worry, it's the normal procedure", he reassured me. The Sergeant sounded extraordinarily kind and tried very hard to put me at ease.
And no, they didn't think I had murdered my son.
After hanging up the phone, I decided to call my mother and let her know what had happened.
My mother is not maternal at all, and in fact, she could be aptly described as a narcissist. She had only seen Eric once since his birth.
In fairness, she didn't drive and lived some distance from me.
When she answered the phone, I told her that Eric had died. My tone was soft without the bitterness of the call I had made to my father earlier that morning.
Her immediate response was "What did he die of"?
"I don't know, mum".
"Why won't you tell me? I bet Ross's parents know".
"No, mum, no one knows yet. Ross and I don't even know".
The policeman had indicated that perhaps the cause of Eric's death was SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Still, it would not be confirmed until the medical examiner had finished his autopsy. I told her this hoping that it was enough of an explanation.
Still, not an empathetic or sympathetic word came out of her mouth.
She went on about how she was always left out and the last to know anything. I was becoming increasingly anxious and began to cry because it crossed my mind that she didn't care about me at all. If ever I needed mothering it was now, this day, the worst day of my life.
A friend of Ross's mother was standing close behind me listening. She suddenly lurched forward and grabbed the phone from my hand.
"Whoever this is, stop berating, and upsetting this poor girl. She just lost her baby for God's sake." She slammed the receiver down on the cradle and ushered me back into the lounge room.
I didn't want to talk to anyone and didn't respond to any attempts to comfort me. I just sat and stared off into space.
"Should we call the doctor"?
"Perhaps she should have something to help her sleep". No one really knew how to handle the situation or me for that matter.
"No pills"! Ross sounded angry.
"Come on doll, we're getting out of here". He pulled me up off the couch.
"Carrol and I are going for a drive. We just need a little time to ourselves. We will be back in a while".
We didn't actually have a destination we were just driving around.
Along the way, we passed the funeral home where my baby was now laying lifeless in a back room somewhere. I began to sob uncontrollably. I had cried when I spoke to my mother earlier but not like this. The dam had burst.
"Thank God I have my boat. If you are going to be like this from now on, then I'll need an escape."
Did he really just say that?
He indeed snapped me out it. Was he doing to me what I did to my father that morning? Was he inflicting pain so that he could diminish his own? Did I have to suppress my anguish and grief to relieve him of his?
At some point during the day, my sister-in-law and stepmother went to our apartment. They removed every trace of Eric's existence except for one item of his clothing, which I still have 47 years later. I appreciated their thoughtfulness and good intentions; however, I wasn't sure that I liked it. Arriving home that night, the place felt totally empty. Not just of Eric's furniture, clothes and toys, but of any joy, love or comfort. Sadly Deirdre and mum had overlooked the one thing that would tear me apart.
I went to the fridge to get some milk for a cup of tea, something I would have done normally at this time of the night. I wanted normal and familiar so severely. The light in the fridge came on. There in front of me were the bottles of formula I had failed to give to my baby. They stood there on the shelf accusingly. You are a bad mother!
The hardest thing I have ever done in my life was standing at the kitchen sink weeping while pouring the contents of those baby bottles down the drain.
"Goodbye, my darling, sleep tight, I love you".