The Yusuf whom you do not know.
A small road lined on either side with beautiful green trees leads to the entrance of Reading Cemetery and Crematorium. Enter its large iron gate, take a few turns and drive for a few minutes, and you will pass by large lawns of lush green grass, interspersed with grey tombstones and flowers of every imaginable colour. There’s a small, separate section towards the end; a particular grave, not more than 1ft by 3ft. The old, dusty register at the reception of the cemetery has a name marked against that particular grave: Yusuf Hammad Kazi.
Halfway into our first pregnancy, my wife developed very serious complications very suddenly and there was no choice but for her to deliver our little baby boy prematurely. I remember the last scan we saw of him before the procedure began: there was a tiny little heartbeat, but a heartbeat nevertheless. All I remember from that one week in the hospital is feeling more pain than I ever have in my entire life. In between uncontrollable wailing and streams of tears, I said to a very close friend on the phone: I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.
I’m finally writing this now because I feel that I owe this much to him, at least. I had been hearing the term ‘you’ll make a great dad one day, Hammad’ for quite some time now. And to some extent, I had started believing it. I really didn’t care much for how people thought I would be as a father anyway. I was much more focussed on how my relationship would be with me little baby boy and I loved the thought of that. Yusuf made me want to straighten up my act, even little things that I had been ignoring before. I wanted so badly to be his role model that even a lingering thought which perhaps could influence Yusuf negatively in the long run was thrown out of my mind. Yes, there were folders being created on my Google Drive marked ‘Baby stuff’ and ‘Baby and Daddy stuff’ and ideas and files and invoices and shopping lists were being thrown into those folders. But the real folders that mattered were in my mind and in my heart. It’s only afterwards that I realised how much I was looking forward to having a little baby of my own. When you lose someone with whom you have spent a lot of time, what pains you more is the regret of knowing that you won’t spend any more time with that person in the future. With Yusuf, we lost all of that future. The pain is not because of ‘what was’ but rather the loss of what ‘may have been’.
In our experience through this horrifying facet of life, we discovered a few things: miscarriages, stillbirths and neo-natal deaths are more common around us than we thought. Almost 15 such deaths occur every day in the UK and I can’t even imagine how many there must be in my own country of Pakistan. Only when I opened up to a few people about this loss did I find out that either they themselves had gone through a similar experience or someone they know had lost a baby at such a stage. I thought that it was probably a typical aspect of the conservative Pakistani culture that prevented the bereaved parents from openly speaking about it themselves or mentioning it in a conversation. It does seem, however, that it’s the same in the UK. Does a baby lose his or her worth if he or she cannot make it past the mother’s womb? I also realised — and this I had had an idea of even before — but not a lot of people know how to condole properly. We heard comments like “chalo koi baat naheen, Allah aur deyga (don’t worry, God will give you more)”. I sometimes feel that the loss of a baby who passes away before or during normal childbirth isn’t given the same respect and dignity as someone who is older and who has lived for a number of years.
Through this journey of pain, regret and loss, my wife and I both grieved differently. And while it’s fine to grieve in different ways, the most important thing is to make sure you do grieve. It’s not only a natural process of healing, but a very important one. For the seven or eight days after our loss, I was in a very bad state. I had episodes of crying throughout the day and each episode was a gut-wrenching one. I cried until my eyes swelled up and my stomach hurt. But I never held it back and that’s one of the things that helped me move on with life. Men sometimes feel the pressure of always having to put up a stoic front at emotional times. This pressure is partly put on them by society and partly by themselves. I was actually told to ‘hold myself together because I was the man of the house.’ I’m not ashamed to say that I made no attempt to ‘hold myself together’. I feel that if I hadn’t been in the state of complete and utter breakdown during the first week then I wouldn’t have been able to heal and help support my wife later on, when she began to grieve. We both also took comfort in meeting with a very caring support group: the West Berkshire SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity). We met with people who had gone through similar pain and we felt comforted in the shared empathy and feeling of understanding. We have also found a lot of comfort and strength in spirituality. I have tried to exercise my faith in the absoluteness of God’s decisions and to accept our inability to understand what His reasons are. In this thought, as well as asking Him for strength and patience, I have found the ability to move on with life and to accept what happened without resentment or anger.
15th August was Yusuf’s due date. It has taken me all this time to muster up the strength to write about what happened in March of this year, but I felt this was a way for me to tell people about the Yusuf most don’t even know existed. And whether his passing away is brushed under matter-of-factly as a probable outcome during a pregnancy or as a pat-on-the-back which indicates ‘move on’, the reality is that Yusuf was my little boy and his short presence and forever-long absence is felt every day by his mum and dad. For a mother who delivered a baby who didn’t live through it and for a father who buried his own little boy, we will have to continue to live our lives, albeit surely with a piece of ourselves lost to that fateful day.
When a child loses his parents, the word ‘orphan’ is used. When a husband loses a wife, he’s called a widower and wife who loses her husband is called a widow. But what do you call parents who have lost a child? Perhaps there’s a reason that there isn’t a word for it.