Choosing to read his autopsy report

So, I made the decision a little while ago that I was going to read Theo’s autopsy report.

Trust me, as the words come out of my mouth, I am still in utter disbelief that this is even my life, let alone that this is something that I felt I needed to make the decision to do.

It goes without saying that this was a deeply personal, emotional and tough decision for me to make. It’s not for everyone and I understand why people make the decision not to read a report like that. To this day, my own husband has never asked me for a copy or to read it and I respect his decision.

But I read it. And then during the following weeks, I read it again and again. And then I printed it. I highlighted words I didn’t understand and then spent hours googling them. Then re-read the report with the hope of understanding more.

For me personally, this is somewhat of an ‘achievement’ – I know this sounds weird. We’re just past the 12-month anniversary of Teddy’s passing and I’ve had these documents for almost as long, sitting in an unopened email from my doctor.

I keep a pretty tight ship when I comes to my inbox so that little red dot that encircled the number one telling me there was just the one unread email, haunted me daily. I knew exactly what it was. I couldn’t bare to open it but every time I saw it, it stung.

For anyone who has been in this position, making the decision to read a document like this fraught with danger. It cannot be undone. Nor is a document like this designed to be read by those grieving the loss. Its clinical. Its factual. Its devoid of any emotion or sentiment.

I’ve openly talked about Teddy’s diagnosis and prognosis – it’s not like I wasn’t aware of what was contained on those pages, but I was also very aware that there were details that I didn’t know and I wasn’t sure if my heart could cope with this ‘extra knowledge’.

Verbally being told what’s wrong with your baby by empathetic medical professionals is hard enough but digesting it in black and white is a completely different story. I had read and intensely researched his condition. I’d joined a support group. But I felt detached, I was reading and learning about other people’s babies – none of it was about MY baby.  

It’s one of those things when you’re dealing with grief, I feared if it would make me spiral back into the dark places that I’d fought so hard to get out of. I deliberated if reading it would bring me more anguish. There was also the possibility it might bring me some comfort – was his diagnosis correct, what it as bad as they said? Did I really need to know all the details and what was I looking to achieve by reading it? Am I just doing this to torture myself because I feel guilt that I as his mother, couldn’t do anything to protect or save him?

There was only one way to find out.

The truth is, there was an immediate flood of tears. I was inconsolable. I was mad at myself for reading it.

But then as the days passed, I started to pick out the details I loved knowing about him. Things I’d never have know if I hadn’t read the report. Yes, there were things related specifically to Teddy’s condition and it was incredibly hard to digest just how sick he was.

But there were also things in there that helped me to know Teddy more, just like any other mother would. He had the right number of fingers and toes. I found out the measurements of his feet and hands – the length of heels to his toes, the length of his wrists to fingertips.

These tiny, seemingly insignificant measurements helped me know him more intimately. It helped me to see him differently because up until that point, everything I was told about Teddy pertained to his diagnosis, the things that were wrong with him, the reasons he’d never live, his imperfections.

No one ever talked about the things that weren’t wrong with him.

It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel after reading it. I’ve drafted a dozen different paragraphs. I worried that what I said might hurt someone else because we all know this loss is complex, everyone’s experience is different, it’s so profoundly personally and I recognise that how I cope and the steps I take to help me deal with my grief, is certainly not right for everyone.

Thing is, when I thought about leaving it out, it also didn’t feel right.

My emotions about reading the report don’t fall strictly fall into either category of being profoundly healing or damaging.

It was hard. I would go as far to say that at points in time, reading it was fucking brutal. Goggling words and having the meaning of those words land on me. They helped me to comprehend Theo’s condition and what was being said on the report, but it was like walking through a field, waiting for the next step to be on an emotional landmine. There were a lot of tears. It brought up a lot of anger.

But at the same time, I do feel a sense of comfort and that perhaps this was healing for me.

I’m grateful for those few little details I now have. I’m grateful I have some knowledge of Theo that is more just his diagnosis. I know more about his little body, positive things. I see him in a different way. I’m glad I was able to learn more about him and I’m glad I’ve been able to look beyond the broken parts and see both the beauty and preciousness of the little body that was growing inside me. I have a more complete picture of my boy and for now, that’s all I can really take away from it.

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