I’ve cycled 300 miles since I left hospital without Freddie. I cycle the same route most days: around 3 lakes, over bridges, through gates, under trees. I listen to stories and I breathe and I keep a steady pace.
Today I listened as Lyra and Will fell in love, found what it was to touch and hold the soul of another and learned what it is to live a life apart.
Mostly I look. I watch. I hunt for signs in rainbows and birds and the flicker of the sun on the water.
One day I walked down there with one of my neighbours; we’d smiled at each other a few times as she pushed the pram with the baby in it that was born less than 2 weeks after Freddie died. That day I spoke, thinking that as we had nodded to each other through our pregnancies and as she must have heard that we were baby-less, the onus was probably on me to speak first, to break the silence. I’d been so envious of her, but so glad that she at least had come home with arms that didn’t have to ache with loss.
I peeped in her pram and saw that, like us, the gods had chosen to make the birth of her first child not quite a simple as it could be. Like us, her first child had been born with something on her face that was going to cause people to look and ask and question. We talked; we shared the stories, I hope I had something positive to give – that we stood upright through that and that mostly all will be well.
I was transported back to those first days with Fran again, just as I was while we were still in hospital with Freddie. How I grieve for us then – we were so unready for that, so ill-equipped to cope with the shock and the fear it brought. Nothing has ever been quite so bad since, not even Freddie’s short life in many ways. We’ve grown so much and have so much strength between us, have got to grips with the reality that sometimes the unimaginable will happen.
I hope my neighbour’s been okay. I hope that, if it has been as hard for her as it was for me, something has at least spoken to her – “it’s bad, but it could have been worse.” I wish I could take away the dark and sad moments she may have had. I hope that knowing the tragedy playing out in our walls has given her an ability to see the edges and limits of things, edges I failed entirely to grasp back then.
Just after Freddie died I had a dream. He was in a car seat, the one Fran and Maddy used, little and frail and as pale as when he died and we were out at a circus. I knew there was something wrong, his neck seemed disjointed in some way and he could hardly breathe. I was with Fran too and I had to take her somewhere, she needed something or my attention in some critical way. I took her down a dark lane towards a doctors and realised as I got there that I had left Freddie behind in the car seat. I couldn’t get back to him and I knew it was too late – I’d left him behind and I wasn’t going to be forgiven for that. I had to choose and I chose to stay with Fran.
A few weeks ago I dreamt again. I thought Freddie was still in the hospital, that they’d forgotten to tell me he hadn’t died. I had to collect him and try to make up for the time we had lost. Freddie was with me, older and seeming to change quickly, grow up quickly. I checked and doubled checked; I was definitely awake and it was definitely real. I’d made a mistake. He was alive and growing and okay and perfectly normal and able. I kept checking that I was awake, that I wasn’t dreaming.
Then Max woke me up. The pain was unimaginable.
There’s a field full of horses near the bottom of a hill on my cycle route. As I rode along the other day, I saw a woman standing by the fence. There were tears pouring down her face and she was pointing with a finger, pointing at the field and counting. Counting. Counting. Counting.
Counting Magpies. One for sorrow. Two for joy. Three for a girl. Four for a boy.
I never go past a person looking sad without wondering if they’ve lost a child now. Without wondering if they have a secret pain that they’d tell me about in a moment if I only stopped. Because I want to tell everyone about Freddie. Keeping a stiff upper lip is one of the hardest things. Being “that women who lives at number x whose baby died” is hard too. The children in the street don’t call for my children any more. I guess they are afraid that all we do is cry and talk about dead babies.
I don’t want to be reduced to the slightly maddened, tear streaked reality of counting magpies.
Last night I dreamt I was folding nappies, ones I’ve never used, but in my dream I knew they had been in the bag of clothes that came to me from my friends but went straight to my nephew. In my dream, I knew Freddie was dead and that I was putting the nappies away forever.
Four years ago, I thought that all I had left was to try and live out the rest of my life, accepting that I’d sacrificed ever being whole again in the hope that things would be better for the other five of us. I felt like Frodo; I saved the Shire, but not for me. I cycled home tonight wondering how Will felt to find, and then accept not ever holding again, both his daemon and his first love. I wonder if Freddie came to be my daemon soul, to be the thing that I can’t ever hold but who makes me what I am.
I wish this had never happened to us. But since it has, we have to do with it what we can, with what we have left in us.