Xavier’s story begins with a holiday in Fiji. I asked my husband whether I should be avoiding alcohol and coffee – after all, there was a small chance we could be pregnant. He dismissed the idea with a scoff. And yet there I was, not a week later, holding a positive pregnancy test with a huge smile. I hadn’t really been monitoring anything, and we had a dating scan to learn that our second little child was already 8 weeks old, growing fast inside of me.
The next months flew by: work, scans, appointments and looking after Isaac, my three year old. Enjoying the company of my pregnant friends as we compared bellies and the large joys and small annoyances that come with pregnancy. I felt strong and relaxed.
On the 24th June, my waters broke at home and knowing that Isaac had been born quickly, we rushed to the hospital. I was laughing and talking to my husband and sister as the contractions became more intense. Eventually, I had to call out for a birthing suite and little Xavier was born ten minutes later, welcomed into the world by his mother, father and aunt. He came into the world so quickly. I didn’t know that he would leave it two weeks later in the same way.
We were enjoying our time as a family, welcoming our littlest man. Some people say that your first child makes you parents and your second makes you a family. That’s how I felt with Xavier. We felt complete.
Xavier was strong and fed well and regularly. Although early, he appeared healthy. We settled into a comfortable routine, enjoying the relaxed confidence that comes with parenting the second time around.
Then our world shattered. At 5:00am on Friday the 6th July I found Xavier without breath. I had just fed him at 4:30am. His body was warm but he had no breath, no heartbeat. I screamed and N threw me the phone to call the ambulance. I remember I had to repeat our address – why is she asking me again? Why is she wasting time? Panic rose, the full enormity of the situation started to dawn on me and I started to scream again. The voice on the end of the phone attempted to calm me down. She relayed instructions for CPR and I repeated them to N who was trying to breathe life back into our son. Both of us sobbing, both of us had only one word – “Please”. The ambulance arrived ten minutes later. It felt like ten hours. It felt like eternity. The paramedics worked on Xavier, moving him into the dining room to allow them height for their machines. I remember one of them asking if it was even possible to use the paddles on a baby so small. “Do it” I remember sobbing. “Do whatever. Bring him back.” Isaac came out of his room and I took him back to bed. We sat there and I held him and I prayed. It had been a long time since a prayer had passed my lips, but I begged and begged. N stayed with paramedics, relaying information back to me. Each time I would look at him hopefully and he would shake his head. Then they had a heartbeat. A heartbeat! They rushed him to hospital in the ambulance and we followed. A heartbeat I kept repeating to myself. Miracles happen I told N. We were both trying to convince ourselves. We arrived at the ER and they tried to stabilise Xavier. N stayed with him whilst I stayed with Isaac in a waiting room. The nurse came to ask what I would like – she meant a cup of tea of coffee. I said my baby back healthy please. My sister, sister in law and mother in law arrived to take care of Isaac. To take care of us.
Eventually they moved Xavier to the PICU. Eventually they stablised him to the point we could come in, touch him and talk to him. We still thought there was hope – there was still a tiny fraction of a chance. I asked them if I could express a little milk and give it to him via the IV. They did it. They must have known it would make no difference. But that something of me and my love coursed through him whilst the medicines kept him alive was important.
We were assigned a social worker. We knew that wasn’t a good sign.
Then came the terrible little room. The doctor that explained with a heavy heart and sad eyes that there was nothing to be done. Xavier would not survive without machines. He may not even survive with the machines. Even if a miracle occurred, and the odds were slender, he would have limited brain functionality – he would be severely impaired. Do you understand? our social worker asked. We nodded – we had understood that morning when we had found him. We had already understood that our son had been robbed of life. That we had been robbed of our son. We held onto each other – gripping each other like the life-rafts we were to one another. “We knew” I sobbed into N’s chest.
They moved Xavier into a room that allowed us to touch him, to talk to him, to kiss him, to watch expectantly and hopefully as each vital sign was checked. We were told there was no chance but parts of us waited for that miracle. When they finally allowed us to hold him in our arms, his tiny body full of tubes and apparatus, our attempts to comfort him awkward, I believed that the beat of my heart would call him back. That love would succeed where science could not.
We called family and friends. Those that would be the last to say good-bye to our son started to gather. They called a priest. We baptised Xavier. Those closest to us gathered in that little room. A circle formed with Xavier in the middle of it. I read a prayer, we tried to sing and each person came up one by one to lay a good-bye kiss on Xavier’s still-perfect cheek.
Then one by one everyone left, allowing us to spend the night with our son. We slept lightly, taking turns to look over Xavier. To kiss him – to hold him. To tell him everything we thought we had a lifetime to relay. The machines would dip and waver, but he would pull through each time. The morning came and we had to make a decision. He had been brave for us so long. We would be brave for him. We asked for him to be removed from the machines. He was placed in our arms, without tubes, and for several breaths he was our little Xavier again. There was no miracle but for the fact that he had allowed us so much time to say good-bye. We kissed his sweet head and said farewell. We played “Beautiful Beautiful Boy” and I thought I had my phone on repeat. It was on shuffle and the song that played as he took his final breaths was “I won’t give up on us”. The first of many gifts from Xavier as he passed from this life into the next.
The days that followed are a blur. There was shock, disbelief and love. I moved through the motions, grateful that breathing is automatic. I made an order of service for him – it had to be perfect. We chose his burial plot – it had to be perfect. I thought about how I was going to grieve – it had to be perfect. The funeral was perfect and so many people commented on it’s beauty. It was the last very public thing I did for my darling boy.
Gradually I found others that were walking this path, who were sad to have me join them but glad that I had found them. And we started to figure out how to live without one of our children. I started to learn that there was no perfect grief. That I had to find my own way and that would be the right thing for me.
Xavier is and always will be my son. Our relationship is different now – he teaches me more than I think I ever would have taught him. But he belongs to me still and the ache in my heart will always belong to him.
Over time, we began to feel Xavier in the sunshine, all around us. This poem, written a few weeks after he left us, explains why –
When you took your last breath
And to the stars you flew
I thought I’d see the brightest star
And always think of you
But when we first went outside
The sun was fierce and bright
I thought the stars are too small
I feel you in this light
I asked others to remember
When they saw the brightest star
To think of you and send a kiss
No matter where they are
But so many felt your presence
In the suns dappled rays
In the colours of sunrise
The sun setting over days
And I feel your presence
When Isaac’s playing in the sun
I see your rays touching him
I see my boys having fun
When I told your aunty
I feel you when the sky is lightest
She told me the sun is still a star
It happens to be the brightest
When I said to a dear friend
Why we saw you in the sun
She said, perhaps its not the biggest
But it is the closest one
And so I feel you in its warmth
Each day I see you yet again
And ever since we said goodbye
There has not been a drop of rain