Mom to Matthew Christopher Joye
Born on January 10, 2003 and died on January 11, 2003
My name is Yvonne Joye, I am 41 years old and eight years ago we lost our fourth child and third son Matthew, 24 hours after his birth.
You know, I never used to do the lotto. I just never had the expectation that I would know that level of good fortune in my life. The flip side is also true. I never expected to know any great levels of misfortune either. We were just an average suburban couple, trying to provide a home and a childhood to our kids and all in all life delivered on what we put into it – no more, no less. We were even.
Today my perspective is a little different. I now see life a little like an earthquake – some people are killed outright and others emerge unscathed. There is no meaning to why some survived and some didn’t but needless to say any survivors are thankful and are glad. I suppose we, as a couple, were a bit like that. We dodged the falling debris – family sickness, children with special needs, financial outlays for care of an ageing parent. It wasn’t that we were selfish but because it didn’t affect us, it didn’t really belong in our life, we didn’t really question it only to say “thanks be to God, we don’t have that kind of worry” and we were glad.
That is up until a December day in 2002 when we were told the baby we were expecting was seriously ill. People often say to me “Do you ask yourself, why me?” In truth, I never did, I just couldn’t believe it was me. I mean this was me, my ordinary life. Of course, we had our problems, stupid, silly things yet not to negate them real and consuming but ultimately solvable. However, when a problem of this magnitude steps into your life, you realise you have no control, none whatsoever.
They were unable to confirm how serious the condition was and we would have to wait until the birth to know. They were certain however that our baby would need to undergo a series of operations and even at that life expectancy would not be great and quality of life would be seriously compromised. You know even as I write this and it is all this many years hence, I still find it very difficult to believe this actually happened to us and I think that suspension of belief is how I got through the rest of the pregnancy. I mean, the baby was kicking fiercely, I could almost see his heels coming out to meet me. How could a sick baby do that? Of course they had an explanation for it, the baby was perfect whilst inside me. The issues would kick in on birth. They say not to wrap your children up in “cotton wool” I just wanted to wrap him in my womb forever.
We were living in an era of the pursuit perfection in Ireland, classed as the “Celtic Tiger”, where superficiality ruled the day whether it be material goods, a good night out or a charter of personal goals that must be met and achieved. Along comes nature, it throws a wobbly and life is never quite what it was.
Despite our little world falling down around us, we still have to maintain normalcy, smaller issues and problems still exist and when people say you are great for coping, you look at them and think “what in God’s name am I supposed to do, run around naked and scream and holler?” We still had three toddlers’ needs to meet, a normal childhood to deliver to them and we had our pride.
Our child died. He didn’t get to have an operation.
Then, comes the sympathising stage. I found this very strange. Up to this point in our lives, neither Niall or I had lost a person close to us – another lucky dodge. Everyone was kind and nice but I found it all to be misplaced. I knew I would one day again go to the beach, I’d would lick an ice-cream, hell I might even make love again. I am not dead. Matthew is dead. Who sympathises with him? People were sad for me but I was sad for Matthew.
After losing him, I felt redundant. I was all geared up for sleepless nights, random feeds, endless nappy changing and soft, sweet smelling skin. When I came home from burying him, I walked into the house and found I had nothing to do. I tried to look to the old routine but that’s just what it was, old and I was really looking forward to the new one. The other thing is that no one really wants to talk about it. We had just done up our house and it was a great distraction when everyone came to visit but I could almost hear their thoughts “lovely house, shame about the baby” and I thought to myself, we are now the benchmark, the lowest denominator – “Well, at least we don’t have Niall and Yvonne’s worry”, I could hear them say to each other later in the privacy of their own homes and I imagine they were glad. Sure hadn’t we been like that ourselves.
I wrote a book called “Ten Fingers and Ten Toes”. It is our story, a snapshot of 13 months of our life where everything went so very wrong. It is a story of marriage, parenting and coping with an unfolding tragedy. I think I wrote it primarily to still the silent scream that yelled inside me every time I was asked “How many children do you have?” To those who know, whether it be, the embryo that never took, the miscarriage that was never revealed, the still birth, the cot death that is just too heartbreaking to talk about, you know how many children you have but how do you answer the question? I always wanted to tell the truth but I had to admit it would be a “conversation stopper”, it would make people uncomfortable, best to keep it quiet – best all round really. So I always say “three” but the scream inside me contradicts me, yelling “you have four, you have four” and the guilt that floods me at the denial of my fourth child does not ease with frequency.
The title of the book has taken its name from the hours leading up to Matthew’s death, when we knew we were losing him. It is often a great boast of new parents to cry out on announcement of their new addition, “He/She has ten fingers and ten toes” lending the impression that all is perfect and right with the world. Matthew had all ten fingers and ten toes, I counted them though it was something I had never done on my previous kids. All ten fingers and all ten toes were present and accounted for and I remember thinking with anger, “God, we could have managed without a toe, a finger but we could have really done with a heart”
The thing is that in the days, weeks and months after the death of Matthew, I really did want to talk about him, I really wanted everyone to know how he was, what he looked like, who he looked like. Yet no one asked me. Just as I later learned how not to make others uncomfortable, others did not want to cause me discomfort. So no one got to talk about him. Sort of denied again, if you like. All with the best of intentions.
Words of comfort were that Matthew spared us, had he lived that it would have been a hard life, a drain on us, a drain on our children with a lifetime of worry. In the year after his death I thought about this a lot and to be honest at a level I got solace from it. Then a neighbour of mine gave birth to a very sick child. I watched her leave every morning for Crumlin Children’s hospital for Sick Children, day in, day out and God, did I envy her. I knew then that I would have done it, I would have done it gladly and I would have done it proudly. He was my son. For better or for worse has a home in parenting too.
I developed a routine in the weeks after losing Matthew. After dropping the kids to school I would take a quick run to the grave. It wouldn’t be for long, two three minutes max. I wouldn’t wail or cry, I would just stand there and look into the grass under which he lay. I guessed I need something to do, for him. I needed him to dictate some part of my daily routine – surely he deserved that. I told no one that I did this. They would think I wasn’t coping, that I was depressed, going mad. I thought they would think it weird. In fairness, I would have thought me mad and weird, if I had not become the new “myself” post Matthew. Then my mother came to visit and she questioned the exaggerated school run – I couldn’t lie. Neither could I look at her while I explained. She listened and she nodded and she told me it was all perfectly normal. I looked up at her, now I thought she was mad. “Sure” she tells me “didn’t Jesus himself want his own mother brought up to heaven, body and soul?, you go, you be near your son’s body only next time, bring me!”
We are just an ordinary couple living an ordinary life. Sometimes life throws up on you but at the end of the day we still make love, humour still has a home and I have four children.
P.S. I now do the lotto!
Yvonne can be contacted at email@example.com
Ten Fingers and Ten Toes can be purchased at www.bookrepublic.ie and on Amazon in October.