Declan’s death from SIDS makes the mother always cry.

“When my husband Cody and I first met, it was one of those moments where we just knew. God had timed everything perfectly, as I found out I was pregnant not long after. We both had daughters from prior relationships, Reaghan and Paisley, so we were delighted to learn we expected a son. Declan is an Irish name that means “full of goodwill,” and James is my father’s and brother’s name.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

My pregnancy was easy, and I was looking forward to starting a family with my little boy, our family’s lone brother. Our parents were thrilled because he was the first grandson. My spouse was looking forward to a life with his kid and was adept at tea parties and clothes by this point.

Declan was born on the 18th of April, 2017. I went in for new employee orientation. I was psychologically prepared for an epidural and looking forward to some comfort after a few hours of labour. Unfortunately, my epidural did not work, and I was already pushing by the time the anesthesiologist entered the room to help me. It had been a harrowing and emotional event. All the pain and fear vanished as soon as I heard him cry and saw my darling child.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

With a head full of blonde hair, he weighed in at over 9 pounds. With chubby cheeks and gorgeous eyes, he was the ideal newborn. You don’t truly understand love until you see your partner holding the child you’ve made together. I was very proud of myself for giving birth physically and feeling every moment of it. He was worth it, and he continues to be worth the anguish and sorrow I experience without him every day.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

He was a simple child. Declan slept for lengthy periods at night, continuously smiled and cooed, and everyone who encountered him fell in love with him. I enjoyed putting him up in his little costumes and savouring every moment with him. I took an extended maternity leave and was fortunate enough to spend 24 hours a day with him, which may seem daunting to others, but it was not difficult for me. It felt natural.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Looking back on my time with him, I often wonder if he was so nice because he knew his time with us wouldn’t last long. Cody and I married four months after he was born. We weren’t in a hurry to get married, but for whatever reason, we scheduled one for the end of August of that year.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Our children marched down the aisle, pulling a radio flyer waggon with Declan hanging out in the back as an official joining of our family as one. My favourite memory from that day is dressing my son and his sisters in small suspenders and dress pants. It was a chance for our entire family to meet our newest member. Some people only saw him that day and assumed they’d get another chance later, but they didn’t.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Fall arrives swiftly, and I am surprised to hear that I am pregnant once more. It wasn’t planned, and the news didn’t make me happy. I already had my little child, and I wasn’t ready to expand our family. Being newly pregnant and caring for an infant was difficult for me. Declan started childcare with a friend from high school who lived just a block away from our house when I went back to work. My best friend’s son attended there, and he and his parents were pleased, so I was as well.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Cody and I accepted my father’s invitation to go to Las Vegas, and Declan came along. Our trip was set for a week, during which our elder daughters were with their other parents. Declan flew for the first time at the age of seven months. Declan took in all the sights and noises as we strolled past casinos and down the strip with our stroller. We went to see the Grand Canyon one day, which neither Cody nor I had ever seen before. Not only because we went on a helicopter tour and sailed down the river but also because Declan was there to share the experience with us.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

Because he was always curious and aware of his surroundings, he was a joy to take everywhere. Even mundane chores like going to the grocery store were more enjoyable since he was in the cart with me, allowing me to kiss his forehead a million times. He was always there for me, pleased to be there. We had a gender reveal party and discovered he would have a baby sister. I have images and recordings of him at that party and at that particular time. I’m grateful he was there for so many of my life’s milestones.

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

I’m not sure if it was my mother’s intuition, but I had a feeling something wasn’t quite right during my pregnancy. I had a hard time bonding with the baby growing inside me because I knew one of my children wouldn’t survive; I didn’t think it would be my son. I vividly recall our last morning together.

It was a typical Monday morning, and I was getting ready for work while preparing him for daycare. My father drove me to work every day and dropped Declan down at the daycare across the street. Declan enjoyed rearranging the shoes near the front door, so I let him make a mess while I finished cleaning and getting us ready for the day. I recall him wearing a slouchy sweatshirt that early spring morning, but I assumed Mom would remove it once he arrived at daycare. I almost brought him to work with me, but I decided to let him go with less than a week until my maternity leave began. I figured I’d have plenty of time before his sister arrived, leaving only him and me at home.

I received a missed call shortly after arriving at work from childcare. I recall thinking that it was probably something trivial like a bump on the head or a runny nose. ‘Declan was taking a nap and didn’t wake up,’ I got the worst sentence of my life when I called back. I needed to go to the hospital before he was taken there by ambulance. I couldn’t drive alone, so I contacted my father, who arrived in minutes, and we were on our way to the ER.

I had to phone my husband and ask him to come with us. I didn’t know what else to do or if he was okay. We made it across town in record time, and I’m trying to calm myself with my father behind me, telling me it’s probably nothing and that he’s fine. Because horrible things like these couldn’t possibly happen to me at this stage in my life, surely, this was an exaggeration, and I was just a hormonal pregnant person acting up.

I sensed something wasn’t right when I dashed into the ER and saw someone waiting for me. I couldn’t hear my son crying in the triage room as I had hoped. This miserable man took my hand and led me into the rear, down the long corridors, till I spotted my husband kneeling on the floor outside the room door, his face buried in his hands, soiled from labour. I peered behind the curtain to see my son in only his diaper and surrounded by a dozen doctors and nurses trying to restart his heart.

There were several cops around, and I spotted one of them staring at me. I didn’t know what to say, so I sat motionless in my chair, watching my husband pace and cry, ‘Come on, buddy, come on!’ I’m not sure how long we were in that room, but I couldn’t understand what was happening in front of me. According to what I was told, the hospital chaplain was by my side the entire time, his hand on my shoulder. Cody and I took a quick walk down the hall and noticed many people outside the room, including nurses, personnel, and EMTs, who all knew who we were and why.

In my entire life, I have never felt more helpless and terrified as I did in those moments. We returned to the room as the doctor approached us with the news I didn’t want to hear. ‘Just f**king tell us!’ eventually said, Cody. ‘I’m sorry, we did everything we could,’ the doctor could only say, sounding like a movie line. Because my son wasn’t dead, he couldn’t be in a movie about someone else’s life! The day before, we had shot his 11-month milestone photo. I’ve already planned his first birthday celebration for a few weeks. In his room, he had the decorations and his party dress.

It didn’t hit me until they stopped attempting to resuscitate him and placed him in my arms, covered in a sheet. His eyes were open, but he was nowhere to be found. That brightness that defined him as ‘him’ had vanished. He just stared blankly into the void. His scent was also gone, the smell that all mothers recognise as their child’s. He had a tube down his neck, and when he exhaled his last breath in my arms, all the emotions I held back began to flow. My tears dripped down my son’s skin as I grieved all over him. I’d never seen somebody die before, and now I was trying to remember every detail of his face, as well as the weight of him in my arms. That was the last time I saw him alive.

Ask any grieving parent what they fear the most, and the answer is simple: they fear their child’s memory fading. On the other hand, if you ask a bereaved parent what helps them get over their grief the most, they’ll tell you that talking about their child, saying their name out loud and talking about them as if they’re still an active member of the family, is the most effective thing they can do because they will always be to us. Death is not a pleasant subject to discuss, yet it is unavoidable for us.

Social media have persuaded us to put our best foot forward, show how beautiful our lives are, and be cheerful. When a stranger asks how many children I have and mentions my son Declan, I eagerly accept the awkward silence and stares. I realise my response is unusual because young people do not die. Babies shouldn’t die, but they do, and if ‘the horrible stuff’ in life was accepted more readily, mothers like me wouldn’t feel so alone.”

Courtesy of Lindsay Paulsen

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