Before Hugo, I would jump at the chance for a cuddle with a baby.
Since Hugo, I have actively avoided babies. Out and about, I avert my eyes; at the sound of a crying baby I leave wherever I am; and I try to not look at photos of other people’s babies.
It is too painful, too raw. Too much of a reminder of what I have lost.
This week, Martin and I met with a dear friend. My friend and I had been pregnant together, and her estimated due date was just two weeks before mine.
Of course, nothing worked out as planned for me.
I had not seen my friend since before Hugo was born, when she visited me in hospital the day after I was admitted. Since then, she had moved away and we had not seen each other during that time.
As we were on holiday near where she had moved to, we made plans to meet up. My friend was incredibly sensitive and asked if she should arrange for her partner to look after their baby while we met, but as Martin really wanted a cuddle we asked her to bring the baby along.
I felt rather panicky at the thought of seeing the baby.
When we arrived at the café, I was incredibly nervous – not at seeing my friend, but at meeting her baby. I didn’t know how I would react, or how I would cope. We greeted each other with teary hugs – me with my back to the pram. I could not bear to look at her baby.
The baby started to grizzle, so my friend got him out to comfort him. Martin got the baby interested in his little toy bunny to help stop him grizzling, and asked for a cuddle. Martin looked so comfortable, and my heart simultaneously broke and melted at the look of sheer joy on his face.
Every day, there is a Hugo-shaped hole in my chest, my arms feel empty, and the sense that something is missing is intense. So often I have a visceral desire to be with Hugo, to have him in my arms again.
At five months, my friend’s baby is at one of those lovely stages where he is taking an interest in the world, everything is new and fascinating, and everything should be explored. I was so looking forward to experiencing that stage with Hugo.
Seeing Martin with the baby, I couldn’t help but imagine that he was Hugo. I surprised myself with an overwhelming urge to hold the baby.
I needed to feel that baby in my arms.
The baby was passed to me. I could feel my heart racing, threatening to beat out of my chest, but I felt a wave of tranquillity too.
He settled in the crook of my arm. He had been grizzling before, but quickly calmed.
Tears flowed when the baby gripped my finger. All babies like to grip fingers of course, but as Hugo also gripped my finger on the night we met after he was born – it was our first touch – it was incredibly poignant.
The baby looked up at me with his beautiful clear blue eyes as I cried. For a few moments, that Hugo-shaped hole felt filled as I projected how Hugo would have looked, and how it would have felt to have held Hugo if everything had gone how it should have gone. The sobs came and I blew my nose one-handed, reluctant to relinquish the wonderful feeling of having my arms cuddle a baby.
Hugo and my friend’s baby should have been friends. They should have grown up together. They should have played while their mummies sat and chatted.
That cuddle gave Martin and I an insight in to how it should have been. We keep looking at the photos we took. We both have beaming smiles in those photos. We think of the photos we should have with Hugo, proud parents watching our baby grow up.
Nothing is as it should be.
Cuddling the baby is something I could not imagine doing a couple of months ago. It helped that the baby belonged to one of my closest friends and it felt safe: I knew that if I felt I could not cope after even a couple of seconds of cuddling the baby, I could hand him straight back with no problem. I could run out and she would not be offended (while I had envisioned doing that, I didn’t). I was free to cry, to express my emotions, to be myself.
After our meeting, I felt emotionally drained. Such a simple thing – cuddling a baby – but such a huge and vital step for me.
In amongst the emotional exhaustion, the cuddle enabled me to feel hopeful about the future.
Hope is a wonderful gift.