Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Quake baby's legacy of love

Breanna Gowland says Baxtor made her feel happy and complete. Photo / Supplied
Breanna Gowland says Baxtor made her feel happy and complete. Photo / Supplied

Breanna Gowland's last hours with her baby Baxtor were filled with love, giggles and happiness.

They played, they laughed and she put her firstborn down for a sleep - never imagining it would be for the last time.

At 12.50pm on February 22 last year, he was tucked up in his bed, safe and sound and sleeping peacefully.

A minute later, he had suffered fatal injuries after the 6.3-magnitude quake rocked Christchurch, causing heavy masonry to come loose and fall on him as he slept.

Baxtor was rushed to hospital, but there was nothing doctors could do to save him.

Now, for the first time Ms Gowland feels strong enough to speak about her baby, who was born in the wake of one earthquake and died in the midst of another much more terrifying and violent.

She still cannot speak about what happened to Baxtor, who would have turned 18 months old yesterday, or about how she found him and how medics fought to save him.

She is still overwhelmed by guilt and pain and has struggled under that burden since the moment she realised he was gone forever.

Her memory of that day is too raw to delve into. But she clings to the memory of "playing with Baxtor and making him giggle" before putting him in his bed for a sleep.

"The rest, to tell you the truth, I don't want to remember and have been trying to forget for the last year," she said.

Since the quake, and the days following when she had to bury her beautiful boy in his tiny white coffin, her life has turned upside down. She is now living in Australia, where she is trying to cope with her loss.

"I feel like a completely different person. Bax made me happy and complete. I can't even describe how whole you feel when you become a mother and I now just carry around an immense feeling of loss and guilt instead of my baby boy."

Baxtor Warwick Gowland was born on September 17, 2010 - 13 days after Christchurch was shaken by a 7.1-magnitude earthquake.

Named after his grandfather - alongside whom he is now buried - Baxtor was a healthy little boy with big wide eyes and a smile that melted the hearts of everyone who met him.

"Everything he did made him special," Ms Gowland said. "From the way he lifted his head and rolled over at only a few weeks old - much to the surprise of one of his midwives - to the cheeky way he would cry to get my attention, only to giggle when I went to see what the fuss was about.

"He was incredible to look at. He had a wiseness in his eyes and the kind of face I was worried about not being able to say no to when he got a bit older.

"Everyone who met him, even friends who told me they were not at all maternal, seemed to just fall in love with him and were the ones who wanted to play with him most."

Baxtor was one of the first three victims to be named by police. The words "Baxtor Warwick Gowland, age five months" will never be forgotten by those who watched the live broadcast in which a sombre police officer identified the first people confirmed dead.

The first image of Baxtor followed. He was dressed in a Santa suit, staring inquisitively at the camera through his big brown eyes.

Last September, despite the tragedy, a poignant party was held to mark the anniversary of his birth.

"Family and friends gathered ... I just wish he could have been there to get messy with the Blue Teddy Bear cake," said Ms Gowland.

As someone in the family said, 'He made his mark on the world', and I can only imagine what he would have grown to be like if he were still here."

On Wednesday, the anniversary of his death, those closest to Baxtor will gather again. "I'm going to be with the people who knew and loved him too and honour his memory along with all the other people we lost," his mother said.

"There are a lot of tears at the moment due to this anniversary coming up. You just never imagine something like this would happen to your child.

"To be honest, I feel like the emotions, for me, are only just starting to surface. I think I've been feeling his loss a lot more now than I did at the time, perhaps due to the shock and numbness I had from it all.

"I kind of feel like I've been stuck in a bit of a time warp. There's also a bit of denial."

Ms Gowland and Baxtor's father, Shaun McKenna, have kept his memory alive through a tribute page on Facebook. They write to their baby regularly, and have left heartfelt messages for him on what should have been special family days.

" ... me and your mum both know you were and still are the best little man in the world to us," Mr McKenna wrote at New Year.

And, in a touching birthday tribute, he wrote: "Knowing you was the best time of my life. Love and miss u every day xxoo dadda".

- NZ Herald

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