father’s day

My son Joseph died when he was six days old.

I don’t get the chance to talk about him much.

People get uncomfortable when I do. For my benefit, I think, they try to move the conversation on.

We went to the hospital because there was blood. Not much. Just some.

“It’s an infection. It’s just an infection” the doctor says after checking a urine sample.

“But, just to be on the safe side we’ll have a quick look”

“Oh” she says.

We’re rushed up to the next level of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and put into a room of our own.

Nurses and doctors come in to look and check.

I phone our parents.

The baby has been inside for 20 weeks.

Two nurses came in to the room.

This child has a 50% of surviving they say.

Even if it does survive there is a 90% chance it will be disabled. And if it is disabled then there is a 50% chance it will be severely disabled.

They tell us that the best thing is to try and keep it inside for as long as possible.

For what feels much longer than the three days it actually is, we wait. My partner on stronger and stronger pain relief

Me, my mother in law killing time.

Doing crosswords.

Waiting.

There’s a doctor who looks a bit like John Malkovich. An Irish nurse.

And then it happens. Our son stops waiting.

So small, so thin skinned. Fragile.

His mum is terrified that her sweaty hands will do damage to him as he’s brought up for her to see.

Luckily, we had a boy’s name picked out. Joseph Prentice. She likes Joseph and Prentice after my grandpa.

Almost immediately he is put into a clear plastic bag and taken away.

The noise and chaos of his birth followed immediately by silence.

Joseph spends the next six days in the neo-natal ward.

This should be a horrible, depressing place. So many sickly children and anxious, terrified parents.

Doctors and nurses whose patients have never known anything other than hellish pain.

Yet, I have never been anywhere with so much love and care.

For some reason all the nurses seem to be called Margaret. They are all, each of them, incredible.

Lights and bleeps and noises. Alarms that mean a drip needs changed rather than emergency. The Margarets are used to the noise.

Next to us in the unit is a baby who had a stroke when he was born. Others were born early or born with oxygen in the brain.

We smile at the other families but we don’t talk.

It’s not that we don’t care or that we don’t want to care. Our own child is all we have space for.

Joseph was the earliest. The smallest in the unit.

He is perfect. The fingernails. His bony fingers and knees and toes. From far away he looked half done, up close you can see the tiniest detail on his knuckles and ears.

We can put our hand into his incubator and softly touch his head.

There are tubes to help him breath and help him take milk. There are monitors attached to him.

He wears a small, tiny, knitted hat, that dwarfs his even tinier head.

On the second day he is able to hold our fingers in is hand.

By day three he opens his eyes and looks out.

He sleeps with one arm above his head. Something I do. The nurses would gently pull it down and he’d still stick it back up.

On day four, one of the Margarets says, “If he keeps going like this, he’ll be out in time for Christmas”.

Day five is when they realise there’s a problem with his bowel. A surgeon from Yorkhill comes.

It will be a near impossible operation. He will likely die if we go ahead with the procedure. There will be complications and risks. He will definitely die if we don’t.

We are told we can go home or we can stay in the hospital.

I can’t really remember why, but we go home. It‘s close by.

On day six we’re phoned at 4am. We need to come in.

Joseph is dying.

There are no other parents in the unit, but still the nurses pull a screen around us.

We sit with him. They gave him pain relief to make it easier. The tubes and lines are taken out, and for the first time in his life we hold him.

We take it in turns to hold him until the doctor tells us he’s gone.

We hold each other.

The funeral.

Scattering his ashes on the beach in Golspie. Our family behind us.

Grieving with his mum.

Grieving on my own.

Going back to work too soon. Working too much.

Unable to talk to her.

Her shouting at me. Me calling her a cunt.

Making it all better.

The birth of our healthy, beautiful strong daughter a year later.

I think about him every day.

His name is my daughter’s middle name.

The box of his things that I have to see every time I move house.

I’ve not stopped feeling sad when I think about him or talk about him, but it reminds me that I had him.

It was only six days but I got him for those six days. He was mine.

I want to talk about him.

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