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.