It’s hard to find any joy when your baby or child is sick or dies. I remember it feeling so strange to laugh at the Gavin and Stacey Christmas special only a couple of days after she died. It felt like a betrayal to be smiling at anything. But in the hours, days, weeks and months after Etta died, there have been lots of things that have made us laugh. Mostly Ezra because being 2 years old is hilarious and a toddler’s worldview is quite ‘unique’. Our nieces have also brought us some great entertainment along the way. So this post is about all the children in our family and all the gems they have offered us! ❤️
The much anticipated first meeting between siblings- Would the older child be jealous? Would they love and accept them straight away? Would they be able to say the baby’s name? Well, I needn’t have worried about any of that because Ezzie refused to accept that Etta was not ‘Baby Shark’. Pinkfong has a lot to answer for. And by some small miracle if you haven’t listened to Baby Shark yet… don’t. Who knows why Etta was ‘Baby Shark’? It might have been because she was in a ‘fish tank’ (incubator) or it might just have been because it was the baby he knew best. His strong willed refusal that she was called Etta, provided a much needed giggle for the other parents and NICU nurses too! My brother bought Etta a shark onesie for Christmas and I really wish we could have put her in it! But it’s in her memory box now and it’s a video I love to watch and show Ezra again and again.
“Your baby died.”
There’s nothing like a child’s honesty for telling you how it is. As a primary school teacher, I feel like I’ve experienced many of these nuggets of honesty. Like the 7-year-old girl who said “You look like you’ve got a baby in your tummy” before I was even thinking about having a baby in my tummy. (It was just a figure-hugging skirt ok?!) Or the 5-year-old boy who saw the overweight family support worker walk into our classroom and shouted loudly “She’s a fat!” Not ‘she’s fat’ or ‘she’s a fatty’ but she’s a fat. Children do not mince their words.
So it was no surprise really that when I saw my 3-year-old niece for the first time after Etta, she wanted to tell me that my baby died. More than once. She was of course trying to make sense of it herself and her mummy told her that I didn’t need to be reminded of this fact. But really I think children have got it sussed when it comes to speaking to grieving parents. They don’t sugar coat it- they lay out the blunt facts. I wish I could speak openly like that. The first time I had to tell someone what happened, it was in a park surrounded by laughing children and I choked on the words and tears ran down my cheeks. But children acknowledge the facts and talk about death freely- I wish adults could speak to me like that, rather than there being a huge elephant in the room with the words ETTA DIED scrawled across it!
Etta on the cross
When I think back to the days in Bristol after Etta died- they are bleak. I think of crying all day and being in agony as my milk dried up. I think of trying to force a smile for Ezra and for those still celebrating Christmas in the outside world while it felt like my world had ended. But there is one moment that brought genuine laughter and I hope it’s the one that will stick with me from those days, rather than the countless miserable ones.
We received a text from Sam’s brother with some pictures that our nieces had drawn for us and Etta. The first from our 6-year-old niece contained what you would expect- hearts and flowers and a lovely message.
But the card from our 4-year-old niece took a slightly different tack. Being the daughter of a vicar, she had related Etta’s death to the only other death she had learnt about: the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And therefore, we received the shockingly macabre ‘Etta on a cross’ picture. At which point, Sam and I burst into laughter and I remember saying ‘Well it could be worse, at least she wasn’t crucified’. Nothing like a bit of crucifixion to set things into perspective. I will be forever grateful for that message as a glimmer of joy in such a dark time. I think it made us realise that we were still the Sam and Em who could laugh together. And of course a reminder that comfort and joy can be found in the unlikeliest of places!
It was Etta!
We’ve tried as much as possible to keep speaking to Ezzie about ‘Baby Etta’. We have photos up around the house and on our phones to show him. I got sad one day when he could only remember she was called ‘Baby’ and not her name. (But at least it wasn’t Baby Shark!) I know it’s up to us to keep her memory alive for him because he was so young when he gained and lost his little sister. So it was a big surprise when last week some of Grandpa’s Easter chocolate went missing. Somebody in particular was looking very guilty… When we asked Ezzie what happened to Grandpa’s chocolate he answered very quickly “Etta ate it!”
Despite there being quite a big flaw in this plan, there was something very lovely about Ezzie blaming Etta for the cheeky thing he’d done. It felt a little bit like what life would have looked like if she was still here with us: the mischievous big brother blaming things on his little sister. I have a feeling it might carry on happening with Etta becoming like an imaginary friend. Most of his dolls are called Baby Etta now and although I think he’s confused about why his baby didn’t get to come home, I also think he doesn’t have any sad feelings when he thinks of Etta. Who could wish for anything more than only happy memories of a person?
I really wish that Etta could have grown up alongside all of our wonderful nieces and her brilliant brother. I feel sad that they’ll never be able to play hide and seek in a big group, squabble over toys or share Christmas together. But what have I learnt from these wonderful, funny and poignant little moments? That happiness is possible in grief, acknowledging Etta (even if it’s her death) is always better than ignoring she lived, things could definitely be much worse and Etta will always be part of our family no matter what. We’ll make sure that she’s never forgotten.
And I probably shouldn’t wear a tight skirt to work again…