Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Matthews Story

This story was originally published on the Sands Australia website

Matthew's son Jack George Wilkes was born on April 26, 2009. This is Matthew's story:

'Never had I been more excited about anything, than when my wife, Megan told me that she was pregnant for the first time. I was so excited about having a baby and being a father. I thought of all the usual things fathers think of - that our baby will be perfect in every way; how I will always protect him or her from any harm; that I will always make our baby's needs my priority; and so forth.

At the time I was a police officer and thought I was invincible and very strong. I always felt that I could take on the world's problems, and that I could help others through their difficult times. I was not, however, prepared for how to protect myself, Megan or Jack from what was to come. I would have to learn that as I went along.

On the 25th of April, 2009, I finished work and went to Meg's parents' house for dinner where I met up with Megan. Megan's brother, Matt and his girlfriend were also at home. I think back to how we were all laughing and joking without a care in the world. It was such an enjoyable night. Meg was at 37 weeks gestation and, like most pregnant women, was tired, sore and run down. I remember how after dinner she went to her parents' bedroom and lay down on the bed to rest.

A few moments later Meg's mother went to check on her. She came straight back asking for me to go to Megan. I went into the room where Megan was lying on the bed. She said that she had not felt any movements from our baby for a while. I began to talk to my wife's tummy which would usually cause a reaction from our baby, but nothing. We decided that we would go to the hospital to simply check that everything was ok.

When we went to the hospital we were placed in a room where a midwife tried to find the baby's heartbeat through a monitor. When she could not find the heartbeat she asked that we be patient as she would need the obstetrician to come and use the ultrasound. She was incredibly kind and compassionate. I think I knew from that moment something was very wrong; I saw the look in her eyes and how she became tense and guarded when she spoke to us.

After about 15 minutes the doctor came into the room and used the ultrasound machine. To this day, I will never forget the words she used: "Ok, so this is your baby here, and unfortunately the heart is not beating, I am so sorry."

My wife began to cry and as I hugged her I cried too. I remember thinking to myself, "I don't know what I am supposed do." I was told later that I had actually voiced this thought aloud. All I could think was: "why us?"

As a police officer I was used to dealing with people that were heavy drug users, alcoholics and violent people. A majority of them had healthy kids and I thought, "why doesn't this happen to them?" A thought I later became ashamed of, as I would never wish this sadness on anyone.

I remember my mother- and father-in-law arriving at the hospital, both of them so heartbroken. I called my family who live 1000 kilometres away and told them our devastating news. They were also overcome with grief and a feeling of helplessness. It all felt so unreal like I was in a horrible dream and couldn't wake up.

At the time I felt very alone with my family being 1000 kilometres away, but then my mother-in-law hugged me and told she loved me. I remember my father-in-law patting me on the back and making me feel very much a part of the family, something I am sure I always had been but had never noticed until that day. I still feel an enormous sense of gratitude towards Meg's parents. I had immediately become closer to them at that time and I am sure they felt the same.

Being part of such close families, our baby's death not only affected Megan and me, but all of our family and friends too.

The following day my wife was induced and she went into labour to have our baby. During that time my mother and father arrived. I remember my father hugging me and telling me, "Hey mate, Dad's here, Dad's here." I remember thinking that Dad had spoken the exact words that I had needed to hear from him. He was someone that I could lean on, to help me gain the strength that I would need to support Megan through this horrible day. I remember my mother hugging my wife and telling her that she loved her.

Like most young men, I knew that my dad was the best. He didn't let me down this time either. He knew precisely what to say to give me the strength and resolve that I needed to keep me going throughout Megan's labour, for I knew that the despair that I was feeling was also being felt by her. She needed me now more than ever as she gave birth to our darling boy. After a brief hug and kiss, Mum and Dad, together with Megan's dad and her brother were taken from the labour ward to a special private chapel to wait.

I clearly remember trying to reassure Megan with words like, ‘we will get through this together', ‘we will be ok' and ‘we will have more kids'. I remember how strong she was the whole time. She was a rock that was being pounded by the waves, but she knew what she had to do and she did it with dignity and strength for our baby. I was so proud of her. A short while later our baby was born. Jack (after my wife's Papa) George (after my grandfather) Wilkes.

I went to the chapel and told everyone that we had a baby boy and told them his name. We returned to the labour ward where, through our shared tears, we comforted each other as best we could. We spent hours with Jack, just cuddling him and crying. We knew our lives were never going to be the same again. We had Jack baptised and eventually my wife and I decided that we needed to say goodbye and allowed the midwives to take him from the room.

I remember when I got home, going out the back to feed my dog, also named Jack, a gorgeous German Shepherd. I gave him his food and then sat down with him as he ate. Mid-way through his dinner he looked up at me and he knew something was wrong. He walked over to me and put his chin on my lap and then buried his head into my chest. I began to cry and he would not leave my side. I often think it strange how, when the sad memories materialise years later, I still find comfort in the memory of my loyal, old friend.

When I came back inside my wife had gone to bed but our family was still there helping us. I remember getting a cup of tea in the kitchen and Megan's mum coming up to me and asking if I was ok. I replied, "All I want is my son." She hugged me and said, "I know." She was an amazing help to me and Meg at this time as were all of the family.

A few days later we had Jack's funeral and Meg and I were overwhelmed by the number of friends, family and work colleagues who came to show their support. It was a special day for all the wrong reasons. Meg and I cried until we thought there could be no more tears left inside of us, but when I looked around I saw our friends and family crying too. They all shared our pain. I chose the song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow" by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole as I felt it best represented how I would like to remember my son. Almost four years later that song still makes me cry.

My parents left about a week later to go back to Sydney, as I knew would eventually happen. They had been amazing, Mum's cuddles and Dad's words comforted me so much. I cried as they drove away but knew that they were always only a phone call away and still are.

One friend and work colleague at the time refused to budge from my side and he stayed very close to me the entire time. As police officers we always kept each other safe and I think he took that a step further and kept me safe out of uniform too. I will always be grateful and he knows who he is.
Then suddenly one morning, about five months later, Megan came to me and showed me a pregnancy test. She was pregnant again; it was relief and sadness all at once. I was so scared that this would happen again and so was Meg. I admit that the pregnancy was agony for us both, but we remained positive although we often cried together and regularly shared our fears. We even bought a personal Doppler to listen to the heartbeat of our baby every day. My wife was induced at 37 weeks gestation and we had a beautiful baby girl who we named, Poppy.

I cried so much, but with happy tears this time. My wife was my hero and I will always remember what she said to me, "We did it. Oh my god this one is making noise." My mother-in-law and I hugged each other and we both hugged the midwife, thanking her for helping us on this fantastic day. I remember saying my daughter's name for the first time, ‘Poppy Ann Wilkes'. I hugged her for the first time and there had never been a better feeling in all of my life.

Eighteen months later we had our baby boy, Archie Jack Wilkes. Again, the duration of Meg's pregnancy was a very difficult time for us both. We had our fears, but we were blessed with a beautiful, healthy son. Again, I remember my wife saying Archie's name for the first time and his first hug with me.

I consider Jack as one of my children and even correct people when they say, "You have the cutest TWO kids." I often respond with "Three." Then I'll smile and wink at them. We always include Jack's name on Christmas cards, birthday cards or other gifts and greetings and we always will.

I am now at a very peaceful part of my life. My children are my life and everything I do, I do for them: from recreation to work and everything in-between. My wife and I are more in love now than ever before and I think that is something we can take from our experience with our gorgeous boy, Jack - we have him to thank

It is funny, sometimes the remarks my wife and I make to one another in reference to Jack often bring smiles to our faces now instead of tears. We are able to laugh again and that helps us to be better parents to Jack even though he is not physically with us.

Having Jack has taught me so much about myself. I have learned that my children are paramount in my life. I have learned the importance of supporting your partner and accepting their support back in times of difficulty. But most of all I have learned that as human beings we are resilient, strong and, given the right support, can get though bad times and create good times. I learned that we can fill a hole in our heart with love and with the memory of those that we love. I think that Jack was simply too beautiful for this earth and as a result he is in a better place. Wherever he is, I am sure he is patiently waiting for his mother and I to join him one day, but he will have to wait a little longer yet.'

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