Saturday 16 December 2017

The night we lost our baby Aine -- aged just one month

Áine Nolan was born on December 1, 1980 and died of Sudden Infant Death Sydrome on December 31, 1980. This is her mother's story. By Mary Nolan

Still grieving: Mary Nolan visits the grave of her adored daughter Aine, who died aged one month. Photo by Dave Meehan
Still grieving: Mary Nolan visits the grave of her adored daughter Aine, who died aged one month. Photo by Dave Meehan

Mary Nolan

'It's a girl!" they chorused, placing my newborn in eager, outstretched arms on December 1, the most precious Christmas present ever. How I instantly idolised every inch of her, especially her sweet, beautifully shaped, rosebud mouth. Precisely like her brothers' -- an exact replica of their Dad's -- there was a tiny dimple right in the centre of her chin.

Following three boys, Áine's arrival was greeted with delighted excitement from family, friends and neighbours. One friend joked on her card: "Well done! Now you won't have to apologise to all those people!"

I really empathised with her, to such an extent that I experienced a degree of resentment at all the jubilation, even suffering a pang of pity for the non-existent baby boy.

A flying flag and fluttering pink banner proclaimed: "Welcome to our baby sister" on arrival home. Pink everywhere! Having shopped, Áine's daddy magically produced even pink meringues.

The three little brothers crowded round, vying to hold her, mind her, love her. I announced to all and sundry that my husband now loved another woman, discovering his delightful daughter in his arms at every chance.

Flipping through a magazine during a rare rest, I snipped out a heading titled "Daddy's Girl," taping it prominently on Áine's cot. In the evenings, the boys in bed, my husband not yet home, I revelled in private, girlie chats with my darling daughter.

I promised her what a beautiful teenager she would be; how all the boys would be crazy about her; her Mom would ensure she ate plenty of fruit and drank lots of water for flawless skin and an enviably slim figure.

Oh, no! I will never allow you to bite your nails, I would admonish sternly. We discussed how we would go shopping together -- especially for shoes and bags. I just knew she was in total agreement. Why else would she gaze straight back at me with such absorbed attention?

At 7 am 31 days later, I awoke abruptly, looked in the crib, and screamed despairingly, heart-rendingly, agonisingly. My husband leapt up. We attempted mouth to rosebud-mouth resuscitation. Not rosebud any more.

Rounding the bend as we dashed frantically down the stairs, I noticed the train on my glamorous, diaphanous night-gown floating behind. How odd to notice that detail, at that time. Hammering at the next-door neighbours' door we pleaded frantically, "Please mind the boys!"

Panic-stricken, desperate, we hit the road only in spots. Arriving at the hospital, breathless, knowing, we handed her, still warm, over. When the nurse re-appeared almost immediately, we didn't need to ask or be told. Shown to a seat, we huddled closely, wordlessly. With a strangled sob, my husband choked: "Your milk is still warm in her". We dissolved into each other.

Continued on p34

Continued from p33

How is grief measured? Word spread. People came. Shocked. Stunned. Utterly saddened. That night, the bells rang out at midnight, signalling the New Year. Family, friends and neighbours all joined hands as we kissed and hugged, drenched and drowning in each others' tears.

Next day, we collected the small white coffin, with its even smaller burden. Áine's daddy drove and who knows what his thoughts were? My mother and I sat in the back, never closer, a hand each on the casket.

There was a singular peace on the journey -- at least we had claimed her and she was not miles away now, alone in an alien environment, among strangers.

Fragrant posies of flowers bedecked the Church, tenderly prepared by the elderly nun who tended the altar. At the grave I observed, with that odd, now-familiar, cool detachment, each and every face and knew I would always remember them and be forever grateful for their support.

The excruciatingly raw, terrible grief softened and shaped itself into a fond tenderness, into a few cherished memories, into everlasting love. The fewer the memories, the more they gleam, like the purest of gems.

Mine, though meagre, are more precious than gold. Like, remembering how, when the babies were being bathed in the hospital, I unerringly identified her cry.

How, calling to my mother on the traditional visit en route home, there was a tray prepared for afternoon tea, including a miniature pink cup and saucer, part of a tea set I owned as a little girl. The symbolism was so charming.

And attending the boys' school nativity play, Áine dressed as if to attend a premiere, the childish voices singing "When a Child is Born ... "

I deeply appreciate anyone speaking her name or remembering her birthday, and the pleasant, warm feeling soothes like balm.

Certain songs -- particularly 'Somewhere over the Rainbow' -- brings my dead child gently, vividly, whispering, to mind.

This is my story. Áine's daddy and brothers have theirs.

Irish Independent

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