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Although I had been a bit sick during the 25th week of my pregnancy, it was otherwise a healthy one. Our little baby was growing really well and was very active. His heart was always strong, and we knew that we had a real little sportsman on our hands.

We were both so excited. We finally decided to buy a house for our new family and soon found the perfect family home. We moved in as soon as we could to get settled. The family came to help out with painting Matthew’s room, and his ouma made some lovely curtains, blankets and quilt covers for him. The whole family was looking forward to meeting this new little one. He was to be my mom’s first grandchild and my grandparents first great grandchild. He was and is very very special to many people.

The baby showers I had were just wonderful. We received so many gifts that we hardly had to buy any clothes or toiletries. Jaco, my husband, was even made a part of one of them thrown by his friends from work. We had to feed eachother purity, drink out of bottles, and he had to wear a pillow under his shirt so he could get an idea of how it feels to have a baby inside. Matthew was coming at the right time – Jaco’s friends were also in the process of getting married and starting families. Matthew was to be the first boy in the department – and a strapping one at that. We could just picture him.

We were already talking about schools and his future. We had so many plans for him and for our new family. Our lives had already changed for the better. Now he just had to show his beautiful face.

Finally, after two weeks of contractions and being dilated to two centimeters, it was decided that we should be induced on 14 August 2002. We weren’t worried as we were now full term so he wouldn’t have any problems. 14 August was actually the perfect day – a Wednesday – the day Alpha was held at church – a Christian course I had attended while pregnant, and after which all my church friends had named little Matthew – ALPHA.

I hardly slept the night before – I was finally going to meet my baby face to face and look into his eyes. I kept dreaming of hearing that first cry – I’d heard them so many times while in the labour ward when previously admitted – now it was my turn.

I was up bright and early to be at the hospital by 5:45 am to get the labour going. I was induced and the contractions started very soon afterward. It was happening. However, I had a nagging thought – what if I must have a caesarian? I really didn’t want that. So when I was examined and hadn’t dilated any further, I was upset and started to worry.

The worry soon changed after my waters were broken and I started dilating more quickly – and the contractions came much stronger and more painful almost immediately. I told my husband to tell my mom that she had lied about the contractions – they weren’t uncomfortable – they were sore!!!!! Very sore. Sore enough for me to request an epidural – which really relaxed me and I had a smile on my face again.

I had the monitor on so could hear my baby’s heartbeat, and as I had been in a few times before and knew what was supposed to happen, I started to stress a little when his heart dropped slightly during some contractions, but after putting on an oxygen mask and lieing on my left side, his heart became stable.

So it was all looking fine and now I was dilating. Then I felt some kind of pressure and called my midwife, Marie (who was really wonderful) – she checked and I was fully dilated. Perfect timing as my gynae was on the line. He was informed and was on his way.

Ok, this is it. I was told just a few good pushes and he was out. It was almost 16h00. Marie told me to start pushing during contractions but I was worried he would just kind of pop out. She assured me that he wouldn’t, so I started to push. As I couldn’t feel properly, instead of pushing from the bottom I would push from the top of my tummy, which apparently, with an epidural and the first pregnancy and birth, is normal. So now I had to learn to push.

My gynae arrived and prepared himself, and helped the contractions on with something in the drip. As I couldn’t feel the contractions, Marie would tell me when I would have to start pushing. Jaco put some gloves on so he would be able to cut the cord when he was delivered. THIS IS IT!

So I pushed and pushed. Nothing. Then my gynae asked for the suction machine. OH NO. I had read about this – my poor baby. I didn’t think I would have to go this far. Then after that didn’t work – FORCEPS. Now I was really getting worried, and very tired of pushing. They called other nurses to come and help push the top of my tummy above our baby to help push him out. We kept checking his heart and suddenly it dropped – almost stopped. Now that was it. I started praying out loud for God to help us. Jaco was told he couldn’t cut the cord as arranged as we had to get him out and on the table as soon as was possible. The paediatrician was called in to help for when Matthew finally came out. He was posterior facing, which meant it would be more difficult to deliver him, and the cord was wrapped quite tightly around his neck. Oh my baby.

I looked at Jaco. I had never seen such pain on his face. I could see in his eyes that this was just as traumatic for him as for his wife and baby, maybe even more so as he could see everything that was going on. I knew from looking at him that this was really serious, and I felt so desperate to hold him at that time and to just tell him it would all be fine, but I was just as worried and didn’t know if it would all be fine.

Then I felt it – I felt his head right there. It was as if my body opened up for him. The most amazing feeling. Now I could feel his head I knew just exactly how to push. Finally his head was out, then soon after his body. I felt no pain, but I felt him as he left my body and I feel so blessed to have been able to feel him as he passed out of me into the world. He weighed in at 3.865kg. It was 16h37.

No cry. The sound I had waited for never came. He was put onto the little table and was given oxygen. Jaco watched over the doctors with our little baby while I was delivering the placenta and getting stitched etc. After a few minutes, he was shown to me for just a few seconds then taken to ICU for observation and some oxygen. I remember asking the doctor to look after my baby, and “is he ok?” He was ok and he would be looked after.

Jaco went with to the ICU while I was still getting cleaned and stitched. I had to be cut quite badly in order to get him out. Jaco was back and forth between his sick wife and his beautiful baby. Due to the epidural I was very sick and couldn’t keep even a sip of water down. I was soon taken up to my room where my baby would join me a bit later and I would be able to feed him for the first time.

I was so desperate to go and see little Matthew, but the nurses said I should rather wait until I was feeling better before I go. It wouldn’t be good for him if I wasn’t not feeling good. I guess I could understand, so I just concentrated on getting better. Then Jaco left having been told our baby would be ok. He was going to celebrate becoming a dad, and would be coming back early in the morning.

I was so proud of our baby. He had got healthily through the pregnancy, and now through our traumatic birth. He was so strong. I couldn’t help but feel pride at this baby. I couldn’t really remember his face having seen it so briefly, but soon I would see it every day. I couldn’t wait.

I managed to get some black rooibos tea down and keep it down – I was almost ready to go and see my baby. Maybe feed him. Then a phone call from my husband…

“Get down there. There’s something very wrong”

I pressed the emergency button and the nurses soon came in to take out the drip and catheter, and one of them phoned down to the ICU. She said that they just needed to speak to my husband and I about something, but I was scared. Something was wrong.

As the nurse wheeled me to the ICU and we were outside the door I said, “I’m scared”. I was too scared to go through the doors – I just knew that my life would be changed.

We went through and a nurse came to me and said, “The doctor’s busy trying to resuscitate your baby”. I was in shock. No – not my baby.

I was wheeled to a little room where I just started crying for my baby. Screaming, crying. I can’t really remember. Praying for God to help my baby. My husband wasn’t there yet – I felt so alone. It was the strangest feeling. It didn’t feel real. I felt detached from my body. I was looking down at myself crying for my baby. It felt like it was someone else’s nightmare. This wasn’t real, but I carried on screaming and crying anyway.

I felt Jaco’s hand on my shoulder. He didn’t say a word. None of us could. No one knew what to say. Not the nurses. Not us. I just kept on crying for my baby to be ok. The doctor came in and said something to Jaco. I asked him to do whatever they had to do to save my baby. He just said “We’ve done everything we can”.

I couldn’t accept that. He couldn’t die. How? He was healthy. I was supposed to feed him soon. They’ve got the wrong baby. They must have.

Some time later the doctor came to ask if we wanted to see him. Jaco said it wasn’t a good idea. I was too hysterical. They had given me an injection and some pills already. It didn’t feel like anything was helping. Why though? When my baby had suffered why mustn’t I? I was too scared and in shock to see my baby. I thought he was gone by that time and I couldn’t imagine seeing him if not alive.

Then soon afterwards I found out they were still busy trying to revive him. I was told he was getting injections etc. I questioned whether I should see him, but Jaco didn’t think it was a good idea. I just imagined tubes and needles everywhere. I didn’t know if I wanted to see him like that. At the same time though I was desperate to be with him.

Jaco wheeled me to my room to lie down, which I wasn’t too keen on, but I didn’t care really. My life was ending with my baby. He left me to go and be with Matthew, and the nurses then gave me hope again. With God anything is possible. With the new found strength I gave them a friend’s number from church, a Christian Counsellor, who could get the prayer chain going. They went to try get hold of her then the door opened.

It was like a movie – when the doctor comes in to give bad news to a family member. The head of the ICU walked in followed by Jaco. I looked him in the face and I knew. He was gone. No. Not my baby. He was fine. He is fine. No, I want my baby. All that I could say was “I want my baby”. I needed him so badly. He was supposed to need me, his mother, but I needed him now more than ever. I felt that if I cried enough for him he would come back. I’ve never cried so much for so long. I just kept on and on. I don’t remember much else.

Matthew was pronounced dead at 23h07 on 14 August 2002. He lived for 6½ hours.

Nancy (from our church) arrived with her husband Geoff – they had managed to get hold of her. They were really great from what I remember. After some time she insisted we see Matthew. The nurse had already tried to get us to see him but I couldn’t think of seeing him like that. You imagine such terrible things. Stiffness. Him being cold. We agreed with Nancy eventually and the nurse brought him in. I put on my glasses and looked at him lieing in her arms. He was so perfect. He was so beautiful. He looked just like he was sleeping. He looked just like his dad. Then he was unwrapped and his arm and leg just fell out and hung lifeless. That was it. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t hold him after seeing this. So my husband and I touched his peaceful, soft face while Nancy prayed. That was the last time I would see my son.

I gave some clothes to the nurse for him to be dressed in, and one of his teddy bears from my office baby shower that I had brought for him to the hospital, and Nancy went to be there with him while he was being dressed.

Nancy and Geoff really helped us through, and I am very grateful for them persuading us to see him.

Jaco’s parents soon arrived from Krugersdorp and Nancy and Geoff left. All I remember is crying, then they left. I was given some more pills, and the nurses brought in a bed for Jaco to stay the night with me at the hospital.

During all this, my mother had no idea what was happening. All she knew was that she was a grandmother, and was trying to get used to the idea. It’s such an overwhelming feeling becoming a mother, never mind a grandmother. We hadn’t been able to get hold of my family so left messages for them to contact us.

At 03h30 the my cell rang. It was my mother. She asked “What’s wrong my lovie?”. I just said, “Mom, he died”. I actually said the words. For the first time I said the words, and would have to say them many times again. I just cried. She was leaving Mooi River to come and be with us.

A little later my phone rang again. I couldn’t make out who it was at first. It was my sister, Sherina, from England. She couldn’t stop crying. She just kept saying she’s so sorry. She said she would come but I told her it wasn’t necessary. However, she insisted she was going to find out about flights.

Then my grandmother from England phoned. “Leial, I’m so sorry. I’m going to put the phone down now as I can’t talk.” She was also in tears. We were supposed to be celebrating our baby’s birth, and now we were crying over his death.

One of the most terrible calls was from my office. One girl and her husband had been to visit us after he was born to bring him a teddy and me a milk stout to help with my milk!! They were all going to come at lunch to see us. They had no idea of the horror we had been through over night while they were all sleeping peacefully in their beds with their children close by. “Are you feeding your baby” was the question asked. I couldn’t talk, as I was crying so much, so I gave the phone to the nurse who was with me at the time and she had to tell them. The pain was excruciating. It is still as I write this.

Nancy and our rector Mark came to see us at about 8am to talk. Mark had lost his son just two years earlier during a robbery at home. I had always questioned how they could go on living when their child had died. Now I had to do it. We talked about Matthew and his funeral, and prayed together. God had sent these wonderful people into our lives just 10 months earlier, and now I really knew why. We needed them.

The doctor said I could go home, which I was so desperate to do, although I was in a lot of pain. I just wanted to get away from all the crying babies I had heard all night through. We just waited for my mother to arrive.

I remember her walking in, passing by the rest of the family saying “I’m just going to see Leial first” and we held eachother and cried. It felt so good to have her there with me. I really needed her. I asked her to go and see Matthew if she would. She didn’t really want to but went, and is now so glad she went. She held him and looked at his hands. She bonded with him and that meant so much to me. Jaco’s brother and mother went with her to see him as well, although Matthew’s ouma and oupa had seen and held their grandson the night before.

Jaco, his father and brother went to arrange the funeral while my mom, mother-in-law and I went home. The sun was shining and that just wasn’t right. How could the sun shine and everyone be happy when our baby had just died and we were all so sad. It should be a miserable day. The first thing I did when I got home, was to walk into his beautiful bright room, and I broke out in tears. We all stood in there for a few minutes, arms around eachother, crying. We should have been in there putting him to sleep. I ached for him so much. I wanted to hold him, to feed him, to look into his eyes.

Some time later, a lady from the university phoned asking us to donate his heart valves. It was urgent. How she got our number we don’t know, but we thought if we could help another baby then we should. I insisted though that I must know the people and wanted to be a part of their lives. She told me to phone another doctor to ask about the details of the people. He just said that we mustn’t do it if we don’t feel comfortable. They have many heart valves and keep them in storage for years sometimes until needed. That really upset me. We were going to have our baby cut for what we thought was a matter of life or death.

A few days later my sister arrived from England, which really helped. She brought a book on “Losing your baby in pregnancy or the first year” and some poems. She kind of became my slave along with my mom. She has lost 3 babies due to miscarriage so could understand in a way what I was going through. I am so grateful for her coming all that way. Thank you Sherina.

My mom was really amazing. It would have been too much to expect Jaco to tend to my every need. He was also mourning, so my mom took over caring for me, as I could hardly do anything. I just lay in bed all day. I got up to shower and go to the toilet, and every second I was in pain. I think it was a whole lot worse because Matthew wasn’t there.

We received so many flowers. It felt good that there were so many people who cared for us, but I looked at the flowers thinking they were supposed to be because of his birth, not because of his death. I got many sms’s and phone calls from my father in Spain, grandparents in Scotland, aunt and family in America and England. Thank you to you all. It was hard though as I didn’t want to really speak to anyone. However, I am grateful to every person who called, sent messages and to those who sent flowers. I realised that although our family is spread across the world, we all care very much for eachother. I got messages from family I hadn’t heard from in years. Thank you once again.

Nancy and Colin came to discuss the funeral arrangements with us. It was just so unreal. Arranging our baby’s funeral. It just didn’t seem right. It was all very emotional. Trying to decide if we should take photos to put them on the front of the leaflets. I was adamant at first that I wanted everyone to put a face to him to make it more real for them, but I ended up giving in and putting a little angel on the front. That is, I guess, how he looks now though – he is an angel.

The funeral was difficult, although I had been given tranquilizers. I just cried. I never knew they made coffins so small. I just wanted to go and open his coffin and hold him so badly. I don’t remember much of the funeral, but it was beautiful. Everyone has said how beautiful it was. I am very grateful to my sisters Sherina and Heather, my sister-in-law Pauline and my friend Gaelle for being able to read poems and a letter I wrote to him for the funeral, as I know it is the most difficult thing to do at that time, and to all those who were there. Thank you also to everyone at St Wilfrid’s, Nancy, Geoff and Colin for helping out and being there for us.

Jaco and I carried Matthew out in his coffin, placed him in the hearse, and carried him to his grave which is in between all the other little children and babies who have gone before him, including Kyle and Ryan, the twins of Liezle, a friend who works with Jaco. It was the hardest thing I will ever have to do in my life. I pray I never have to do it for one of my children again one day. Good bye my precious son.

I never imagined this would happen to us. Not like this. It was so unexpected. I miss him so much. I have accepted it, but it takes a while to realize that he is never coming home. He’s never going to wear his clothes, sleep in his room, feed from my breast. I’ll never see him again.

One thing is for sure. If I had the choice I would do it again. I’d rather have had him and lost him than to have never had him at all. He has been a blessing to us in many ways, and I think to many other people. He has made everyone realize that we are not in control. Life is so precious, it shouldn’t be wasted. It could happen to anyone tomorrow. (Although for some time it feels like the only bad things that happen are to you).

He has made me decide to do something with my life that I really enjoy and want to do. I have always wanted to help people and now I can. With this experience I know I can help many other people out there. We are not the first to go through something like this, and won’t be the last. With this support group, in memory of our Matthew, I am able to keep his memory alive.

As he is looking down on us, his mom and dad, I want to make him as proud of us as we are of him. He is our angel. He is our first born and always will be. He is alive with our Lord and in our hearts, forever.

Regrets & Suggestions

I look back now and remember how scared I was of my dead baby. However, if I could do it again there are some things I would do differently. I hope that this helps those who have lost their child recently and still have some time.

I regret not being with him as he died
As it was very unexpected, when we found out he was being resuscitated, and there was no chance, we were in such shock, and I was quite hysterical. I couldn’t stop crying and wanting my baby – to be fine. I just imagined needles and tubes everywhere, and couldn’t bare to see him like that. Hearing later on of how they did everything, it wasn’t what I expected, and I would do anything to have been there with him, and for him to die in my arms. I feel as though I left him alone.

I regret never holding my child
I feel as though I have really missed out on an important part of the bonding having not held him. I also feel guilty as his grandparents did, but his own mother never did.

I regret not having photos
We couldn’t imagine having photos of him being dead. We only have 3 photos of him in his coffin on the day of his funeral. If my mother and sister hadn’t insisted having a photo of him, I would not even have had these. If I could do it again, I would have someone take some really good photos of him lieing on the bed, in his crib, and in our arms. I am grateful though for the ones that I have, and I carry him around with me everywhere.

I regret not having other mementoes
I thought of requesting a curl or lock of his hair, but no one offered so I thought that maybe it’s not something people do. Maybe it is too morbid. I should have listened to myself and asked for one. He is my baby, and whether morbid or not, I had the right to request what I wanted. I only also have one footprint in a little booklet with details on mourning. I now wish I had some certificates with his footprints, handprints and photo, including his name, and not just “baby de Wet”. He wasn’t just a baby, he was our baby, Matthew.

Positive Outcomes

Matthew has really changed our lives, and to him we are grateful.

Our relationship has become stronger. He has really brought Jaco and I together.

Our families have come closer together. They all had to live with eachother in the same house for a few days, and really formed some strong bonds. If it hadn’t been for Matthew, this would never have happened.

Matthew has made our whole family come closer together even though we are so far away from eachother.

He has touched many other people, making them realize that life is not to be taken for granted.

I am no longer afraid to die. I think because my child has gone through it and he looked so peaceful, and I know that when I die, he and I will be reunited.

My faith in God is so much stronger now. That is one thing that has pulled me through. I feel closer to God.

I have realized that life is not worth wasting. I want to help people and make a difference. I think I have finally found the reason I was put here. To help those who are suffering from a similar experience. How can I waste my life when my baby never even got to live his.

To our baby
Thank you Matthew for coming into our lives even though you had to leave so soon. We wish you didn’t have to go. You have really made a difference in the short time you were on earth and have touched more people than most ever will. We can’t wait for the day that we meet again. We will always miss you Matthew. You will always be our little baby and will have a special place in our hearts. We will remember you and tell your brother/s and/or sister/s about you one day. We love you.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nonny permalink
    February 12, 2016 7:33 am

    This brought tears to my eyes…it reminds me of THAT fateful day. It’s been six months since I lost my Ocean, and I always wonder what she would be doing at this present moment. One thing we know is that life is never the same after going through such…THANK YOU for sharing with us and may our beautiful angels rest in eternal peace.
    May God be with you and your beautiful family

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