Our world has always been filled with stories and adventures. When we decided we wanted to extend our family beyond each other and the cats, we knew we were setting out on our greatest adventure to date. Our decision to become parents was made when we were hiking in the Black Forest in Germany, and we realised together that we couldn’t avoid the longing to share our adventures with our hypothetical children any longer. Our hike that day started out as a stroll, yet we ended up walking for hours and coming back with the grandest of plans. Our lack of preparation and casual approach to life didn’t worry us at all, we would figure out parenting just as we did with the rest of our lives, off the cuff and with a big step in to the unknown. We knew we would find our feet eventually, just as we always have.
Six months after our back packing trip in Germany, we had taken quite a few more steps in to the unknown, all in the name of our brand new family member. We gave our notice on our apartment and brought an affordable, conventional house near to our family and a great primary school, and started gathering everything we would need for life with a little one. As our family life grew, so did our plans for our baby. We regularly sat together as a family, telling our bump shaped daughter about all the places in the world we longed to show her, and reading her stories that brought other worlds to us. Our favourite bedtime story, “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, became the basis of Norah’s new world. We painted scenes from the book to hang in her room and talked about the ‘wild rumpus’ she was taking us on with her arrival.
On our last weekend together with just the two of us, we planned two days filled with all the things we knew we wouldn’t have much time for once Norah was here, a long weekend including plenty of eating out and wandering around quiet spaces. In our first lesson of parenting trumping best laid plans, my waters broke at 6am that Saturday morning. We made our way to the hospital in a bundle of nervous laughter, which increased dramatically at the sight of my husband in theatre scrubs. Our daughter, Norah Olive, was born a few short hours later, at 13:19 on the 24th June, weighing 9lb 6oz, in an instant that felt like the accumulation of every step we had taken in our lives together so far. In that moment I saw my daughter’s face for the first time, with her Dad’s brow and look of curiosity, and my cheeks and grouchy facial expression, Norah was the very best of us combined.
We spent the next couple of days recovering from birth in hospital, trying to master the art of breast feeding and adjusting to our new three hourly cycle together, whilst catching as many moments as we could between sleeping and feeding to stare in wonder at our daughter. By the time we left the hospital and settled in at home we had a new found confidence in our parenting abilities, and alongside feeling very fragile from sleep deprivation, we felt blissful and complete. All of our anxieties and apprehension about life as new parents melted away, we had begun to find our feet.
Just as were settling in to our new selves, our lives were changed beyond recognition again. In the early hours of the morning when Norah was just a week old, Norah stopped breathing. She was in my arms at the time, and I felt her hand turn cold in mine. It felt as though time shattered along with us, within minutes were standing in the same hospital as Norah’s birth, this time in A&E with a swarm of doctors surrounding our daughter. We waited for what felt like through night and day, and in and out of weeks, until Norah was stabilised. She had been in cardiac arrest for 36 minutes; she was on ventilation support and in an induced coma. We were transferred together to the closest Paediatric Intensive Care Unit with an available bed, over an hour away from home. The longest day of our lives became the longest week, with every day and night merging together just as it had the week before; in contrast with our highest highs came our lowest lows.
Over the course of the week that unfolded on the PICU, countless tests and scans and meetings were held to determine Norah’s prognosis, and vainly attempt to find an answer to why our daughter stopped breathing. We wanted to help our daughter in any way we could, and although we were desperate for her to stay with us, Norah had sustained devastating brain damage and was not able to breathe for herself. Just two weeks after her birth, Norah died in our arms. Just has her birth and life had been, her last day was filled with adventure, stories, music, and life. We spent some time together as a family after Norah took her last breath; free from wires and intervention, Norah was still. Even in sickness and death, our overwhelming urge as Norah’s parents was to hold her close and stare at our daughter in wonder.
In the hours that immediately followed Norah’s death, I felt time shatter once more; with every second we spent with Norah, we drew a second closer to having to part. We planned a lifetime with Norah, and even a minute short of this would have felt like an eternity without her. Norah was carried away from us and in that second I felt every piece of our future collapse along with me. The journey out of the hospital felt as though we were wading through a thick fog, we had no choice but to leave Norah, but every step was agony. The world around us seemed oblivious; our lives had buckled underneath us but reality was unrelenting. We found ourselves back home, everything remained as we had left it, yet nothing felt familiar. Cards wishing their sympathies began to line up next to those celebrating and congratulating, the cruel irony of this didn’t pass us by. We were utterly devoid of the ability to do anything beyond breathe; it felt as though we had stopped living when Norah did.
Parenting became our lifeline in the purgatory we were trapped in, connecting and grounding us to Norah in whatever way we could. We poured every ounce of energy we could muster in to planning Norah’s funeral, writing a ceremony to celebrate her and travelling across the country to collect a hand crafted cotton shroud adorned with an olive branch for her burial. So much of Norah’s life was spent indoors; it felt imperative to find an outdoor space for her funeral. We found her home in a natural burial ground come nature reserve, which was perfect for our Wild Thing. On the day of Norah’s funeral, we spent our final morning together as a family, trying to fit a lifetime of love in a few short hours. In what felt like our final act of parenting, we buried Norah together.
A few months after Norah’s burial we planted a Field Maple tree with Norah in another act of unconventional parenting. It was tall and wild just like Norah, and gave us space to reflect on our lives as Norah’s parents. Although it felt as though part of us died when Norah did, a much greater part of us was born when Norah was. We could never have imagined our leap in to the unknown would find us here, parenting our daughter from afar, overwhelmed by grief and love. But without our darkest days we would never have had our brightest moments. Norah gave us life, and love, beyond measure. As we navigate our new wilderness, Norah remains at the centre of our world, and continues to bring light and love in to our lives.