Alternate Reality

Warning: this post is pretty raw and deals with SIDS/cot death

Have you seen that movies Sliding Doors? In it Gwyneth Paltrow lives out two possible lives.  We see two futures unfolding, each the consequence of just one moment.

Today I’m living my own version of Sliding Doors. I exist mostly in my true life, but my mind keeps imagining an alternate reality, one that I could be living today if yesterday’s events had been different.

~ ~ ~

Yesterday Will had not woken up by 7:20. That’s unusual but not unheard of. I went to his room to get him up – standing at the door with my hand ready to push it open I had a horrible sense that something was not right. In the past week or so we have been having issues with Will moving around the cot, occasionally getting jammed up against the sides and crying out for us, but once I found him asleep upside down. He sleeps with blankets (because it’s damn cold here at night and he’s always been a back sleeper who rarely moved around at night) and finding him with his head precariously near his blankets made me uncomfortable.

I think all mothers have had similar moments of fear; SIDS is most mothers’ worst nightmare. I’ve certainly had a sense of foreboding before but it has always been unfounded, when I push open the door I find that all right with my world and my son’s smile has swept away the fear.

Yesterday that did not happen.

I actually stood still with my hand on his door and braced myself for what I might find – it sounds morbid but my sense of disquiet was so intense that I was preparing how I would tell my husband that something terrible had happened to Will. I went into his room and walked towards his cot. In the dim light I was half-way to the cot before I could see that Will was lying upside down and on his tummy, with his face buried in the blankets. He always stirs when I enter his room but yesterday he was still. Deathly still. I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing at this point. I put my hand on his shoulder – nothing. I said his name and gave him a little shake – nothing. All sense of control shattered and I screamed his name.

And he screamed back.

My little boy was just fine, with the exception of being somewhat terrified after being woken from a deep sleep by someone screaming at him.

But in the second before he woke, I lived what felt like a lifetime of a different reality. In that second, my son was dead.

I scooped up my crying child and ran to my bedroom where my husband, startled by my scream, was halfway out of bed. He held me while I held Will, held him tighter than I ever have before, concentrating on his breaths, his warmth, his wriggling – anything that proved just how very alive he was.

And then we went on with our day.

~ ~ ~

Only, it’s not that simple.

I experienced a terror so profound that I can’t just forget that it happened.

It feels like the hangover you get after a particularly bad nightmare. I keep having flashbacks of that second. That terrible second in which my son had died. I’m going about my day but I’m also living a second reality. While I’m watching my son play I’m also on the phone, making funeral arrangements. While I’m putting him down for a nap I’m also staring blankly at an empty cot crying for the child who should be in it.

I know that my son is healthy and safe. I know that my experience yesterday was such a small, insignificant thing compared to what so many people have gone through. But I feel traumatised. I’ve cried (albeit briefly) no fewer than three times today, and last night I stood at Will’s door for a full five minutes, too scared to go into his room to give him a dreamfeed.

I will never forget how I felt, and I think I will appreciate every second of Will’s life that much more because of it. But I don’t want to feel haunted by it – and I think that’s why I’m writing this post. I’m hoping that by putting my experience down as words it will become something a little more mundane, a story rather than a nightmare.

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4 Comments

Filed under Fear

4 responses to “Alternate Reality

  1. Trinity

    These kinds of things are, indeed, quite rattling…and the rattle does linger. We bedshare, which can be considered controversial, but can be done quite safely. Though we make our bed safe for the three of us to share sleep, I have this lingering fear that if something were to happen to Arlo (like SIDS), it would be attributed to suffocation or overlaying or whatever–basically we’d be painted as the irresponsible parents who could have prevented our baby’s death. We have a king sized bed, use very light bedding (a sheet and a light, flat quilt) and minimal pillows. Except we have a platform bed, and there is a 6in gap between the top of our bed and the wall. We don’t have a headboard, and the gap never worried us until Arlo began sleeping with us. So, we tightly rolled up and bound a couple of king sized pillows to stuff in that gap to prevent him from falling in it. The pillows are dense, not squishy at all, but one night I woke up thanks to engorged breasts and couldn’t find Arlo in the bed. I FREAKED OUT. He had scooted himself up to the top of the bed and was face down (head turned to the side, but I couldn’t tell in the dark) and motionless on those pillow bumpers, and I did the same thing you did: scream, wake the baby and the husband. Arlo was just fine, but the whole experience scared the shit out of me. And like you, in that split second all I could think was, “How am I going to explain this? This is all my fault!! What have I done???” So intense, so scary.

    Also, there are the times when I am upstairs, and Arlo and N are playing downstairs and Arlo falls/hits his head and cries that wail of a dealthy injured baby, and I have this intense chemical reaction to that cry of his. This happened last night while I was making dinner, and I bolted down the stairs to soothe Arlo, who was once he was in my arms, easily comforted and quite fine. But for an hour or more during and after dinner I was all jangly with adrenaline. Not fun.

    All that to say you are not alone in this, which means it is a mundane and commonly-felt feeling. X

    • Tio

      Thanks, I feel better knowing I’m not the only one who’s had this kind of experience.
      Even though Will has never shared our bed, I woke up one night frantically searching for him in the blankets and I almost pushed H out of bed checking that Will wasn’t under him. I actually got out of bed and was searching through H’s pile of clothes next to the bed before I realised that he was in his own room!
      Anyway, the fog seems to have lifted and I feel much better today!

  2. NatureGal

    I’ve been following your blog for a while (after finding it during a search on pituitary adenomas…I have one as well), but after reading this felt compelled to comment. I also have a son (now 20 months) and have experienced the same terrifying feelings, though for slightly different reasons. My little one has reactive airway disease, which caused some serious breathing issues when he was younger. Every night before bed, we creep into his room to check his breathing and make sure he is okay. More than once, I’ve had that moment of panic when I couldn’t hear his breath and reached down to touch him, fearing he wouldn’t respond. Fortunately, he always has and his issues have decreased as he has grown. These experiences are neither small nor insignificant at the time they occur and shaking that “what if” feeling is difficult, but we can’t live in the past, right? As you said, appreciate every second!

  3. How terrifying for you.

    I am never comfortable with D sleeping, he is a wriggler who generally sleeps on his tummy and sometimes he’s so still that my heart is in my throat as I carefully check to see if he is warm and is breathing.

    For me the worst was when he was younger, the moment in the car when the screming stopped and everything went quiet had me pulling over on roads all over the place just to check he was sleeping and not anythng worse.