The following letter was written by Alanna Salter to her little boy Theo when he was 9 months old. Alanna and her husband Simon are the creators of Still Parents a retreat for other bereaved parents, in memory of their daughter Isobel Olivia, who was stillborn in June 2015.
today on Monday the 13th of February 2017, you are nine months old.
That might not seem like a long existence but already you have taught me a great deal about myself, what I am capable of, and how to deal with life’s challenges.
Being pregnant with you was the scariest time of my whole life, I was so worried we would lose you. I had to learn how to be scared – every minute of every day – but still carry on with life, go to work, see friends and cook dinner, when all I really wanted to do was hibernate and hope the weeks would pass. I learned how important it is to keep active, to exercise and to always have lovely treats to look forward to! Every Monday, Daddy and I would go and see the doctor for a scan to see how you were doing. Every week we were sure that this would be the week we were told you were either dead or dying. We used to sit in the waiting room feeling sick, with our hearts racing, holding each other’s sweaty hands. I learned that no matter how scared I was, it didn’t have to stop me from doing something, I could be scared and still do whatever it was that was terrifying me, like going back to the maternity hospital or to pregnancy yoga. Often it actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, the power of my imagination worse than the reality. Now I can’t imagine being too scared to do anything that’s important to me; I know I can face any fear. You taught me that.
When you were born, you were so small and perfect. New to the world, you had everything to learn. I’ve watched how you’ve grown and changed, how every day you manage something that just yesterday you couldn’t do. I’ve seen that growth doesn’t happen by accident, you work so hard for every ounce of development you achieve. I watch you try to do something tricky, you can’t do it and yet you try again and again, sometimes falling over and getting hurt (when I am too slow to stop you!) and other times frustrating yourself. I think “That baby is crazy, why doesn’t he realise he can’t do it, and give up?” But you are so determined. Every attempt leaves you that tiniest bit stronger – it’s such slow progress it’s imperceptible. But then one day you are strong enough and you manage it. Lifting your head up, rolling over, sitting up, feeding yourself, crawling, these are all skills that didn’t just arrive fully formed, you worked hard for them, day after day. I’ve realised there isn’t really a first time for rolling over, or sitting up or crawling – there are hundreds of attempts that get closer and closer and then evolve in to the realisation of the milestone. I see this is the same for me and the things I want to achieve, the ways I want to grow and change. Instead of thinking of failed attempts and giving up, I need to think of practice, and getting stronger over time until it comes with the ease you now have with rolling and sitting, as if they were things you could always do.
Right now you are trying to walk. All you want to do is stand up and be walked around the room. You are so unsteady and need a lot of support. You keep taking massive steps that unbalance you! It’s hard to imagine how you will ever be able to balance and take those steps on your own. But I know that you will keep trying until you master it and that some day you will be walking and running and jumping as if you were never nine months old and unable to stand unaided. You are my inspiration little one.
You are so good at living in the moment baba. This is mostly a helpful skill to keep. When something unpleasant is over and you are distracted, it is instantly forgotten, the perpetrator immediately forgiven and all is right with the world. It always amazes me how quickly you go from crying to laughing. Your little face that was so sad lights up, and the eyes that were wet with tears are now crinkled with mirth. Something I need to work on is letting hurtful things go, not holding on to resentments, and enjoying the good moments without always feeling a tinge of sadness for what has gone before.
Sometimes though I wish you could understand that your hard times won’t last too long. You hate getting your nappy changed – especially when it’s dirty as it takes a bit longer! You hate having to lie down as you like to be sitting up and seeing what is going on! If you only knew that it would only take a minute or two I think you would find it easier. It makes me think of how the same is true for me. Often when I’m struggling with something hard like feeling sad, or worried or guilty, part of the problem is that I think I might always feel that way. I am trying to think of your nappy changes and that “this too shall pass”. I can cope better with hard things when I stay in the present and remember that I won’t always feel that way. I think of how sometimes you are so cross with being changed that you try to wriggle away, bat your arms and kick your legs! It actually makes the nappy change take longer than if you just lay there still (also it can get poo everywhere!). I think sometimes I fight back with my emotions and can make things worse than if I just accepted them for what they are and dealt with them.
Daddy and I are learning to be playful again. That is something we lost when Isobel was born asleep. Once we thought we might never laugh again, but you are so funny though wee Theo that you make us laugh every single day. We don’t care how silly we look or how awful our singing is, if it makes you laugh we will look like fools! Your little giggle is so infectious and it’s without a doubt my favourite sound in the world.
Already we know you are a very clever boy little monkey. Another thing you are very good at is seeking help. If you can’t do something or get somewhere you want to get, if you’re hurt or upset, you cry out straight away. Now you also know to lift your arms up and yell when you want to be picked up. I don’t know why we lose that skill as we get older. Sometimes I’m so sad or lonely and all I want is to let someone know that I need help, what I should do is cry out straight away like you do, and lift up my arms to the people that I know are there. For some reason I stop myself from doing this, maybe because I don’t want people to think I’m not coping. I think I should take my lead from you and call for help at the first sign of trouble! I love that you are so confident that someone will come when you cry. I hope you always know that I and others will drop everything to help you when you need it, all you need to do is shout.
Daddy and I are not the Mummy and Daddy we would have been to Isobel if she were here. We are different in some bad ways but maybe in some good ways too. We try and appreciate every moment with you little one, even when you are being a little terror or it’s 5am and we still haven’t been to sleep! We know we are so lucky to have you.
We love you so much precious Theo, not just for coming along at a time we were sad and bringing us joy, but for your smiley sweet stubborn snuggley little self.
You are now crying upstairs as Daddy is putting you to bed so I better go and help!!!!
All my love,
P.S you’ve been saying ‘dada’ for months now, I think it’s time to say ‘mama’!