Hunting through my 11-month-old son Declan’s drawers, I found a cute sweater with a soccer ball on it that he hadn’t worn before.
‘Here you go, buddy,’ I said, tugging it over his head.
It’s a bit tight, I remember thinking.
It’s funny how I can recall that Monday morning – March 19, 2018 – with such clarity. The weekend before it too.
I remember clearly the sound of Declan’s walker as he toddled around our driveway, the taste of the salmon we ate together, Declan’s screams as I tried to take his 11-month milestone photo.
There will be other photos, I laughed, as I saw the resulting picture.
But the reality was, there weren’t any other pictures.
There weren’t any other weekends or rushed Monday mornings.
I only have those few memories to savour – because they were some of the last with my son.
Dropping him off at daycare, I thought I’d done the right thing.
I worked in a kids’ store and often took Declan in to work with me.
I’d thought about doing so that morning but it seemed silly to upset his routine.
Besides, he only had a few more sessions there before he’d be home with me again.
I was 31 weeks pregnant and about to go on maternity leave before I had his baby sister.
Later that morning, I checked my phone and saw I’d missed a call from daycare.
Declan’s bumped his head, I thought, as I rang them back.
But, I was greeted with the worst words of my life.
‘Declan was taking a nap and didn’t wake up,’ his carer told me.
My precious boy was being taken to hospital in an ambulance and I needed to get there, fast.
Calling my husband, Cody, 32, I told him to meet me there, while my dad, Jim, raced to pick me up.
‘Declan will be fine,’ Dad kept saying.
But when I ran into Emergency and a nurse was waiting for me, I knew it wasn’t good.
The poor man held my hand and took me to where I found Cody, kneeling on the floor, his face buried in his hands.
Next to him on the hospital bed was Declan, surrounded by a dozen doctors and nurses trying to start his heart.
He looked so tiny.
I just sat in a chair silently and watched as Cody paced up and down, yelling, ‘Come on buddy, come on.’
I couldn’t wrap my mind around what was going on in front of me.
And then it was over.
‘I’m sorry, we did everything we could,’ was all the doctor could say, like some line from a movie.
It didn’t hit me until they put my baby in my arms.
That sparkle that made him ‘him’, was gone. His smell was gone too, the smell that all mothers know, the smell of their child.
And then all the tears I had been forcing back started falling.
I cried all over my boy and at the same time, I was trying to memorise every inch of his face and the weight of him in my arms.
I passed him to Cody and to Dad to say goodbye.
I didn’t want to give him to the nurse, but she promised she would take care of him.
They wanted to check me over to make sure I was okay.
But how could I ever be okay?
We all went home in a daze, where we had to break the news to his big sisters, Paisley, then 11, and Reaghan, six, mine and Cody’s daughters from previous relationships.
Declan’s clothes were still strewn around his room. His toys were where he’d left them.
And all night I woke to his phantom cries, but when I rushed to his cot to check, of course he wasn’t there.
Over the next weeks, we were told Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) would be the most likely explanation.
It made no sense to me. There was a less than one per cent chance of this happening at his age.
Nevertheless, an autopsy later confirmed SIDS.
By now, I’d given birth to our girl, Delaney.
What if she dies without warning too? I panicked.
I’d creep into her room at night, kneeling beside her cot to hear her breathing.
Declan will never leave me but having Delaney gave me a reason to keep moving forward.
I wanted to focus on being a decent person for my girls and to honour my son by being kind.
We were blessed with baby Finley last year and I’m pregnant again, this time with a son.
No baby can ever replace Declan, but losing a child has given me a whole new appreciation for my family.
I’m so lucky to have them and to be able to share Declan with them.
We have photos of him everywhere and my Instagram, @paulsen_partyof8, is a place where I share our story and connect with other families who have lost children.
Declan was only here for 11 months but he’ll be part of our lives forever.
What is SIDS?
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old.
As the cause of SIDS is unknown, there is currently no way to ‘prevent’ the syndrome from occurring.
But you can vastly reduce your baby’s risk of SIDS by:
- Putting them to sleep on their back.
- Using a firm sleep surface and keeping fluffy blankets and stuffed toys out of their cot.
- Not overheating your baby or their room.
- Not smoking while pregnant and not allowing anyone to smoke around your baby.
For advice about SIDS and safe sleeping visit rednose.org.au