Would I ever know when the right time was to take Esme off the ventilator? When I made that decision, I would know that the next day and the rest of my days, I would never get to hold her, see her, hear her or watch her grow up. She would be gone but not gone from my heart. In the middle of the night and the early hours of the morning I was haunted by these recurring thoughts. I dreaded the day. I didn’t want it to happen. I didn’t want to have to drag myself through it.
I felt sick and unable to eat anything. I forced a belVita Breakfast Biscuit in me with a sugary cup of tea. I couldn’t believe this day was happening.
Connor and I went in to see the girls. I just looked at my Esme. I had no words. I couldn’t talk. I just held her. She lay so still. Her poor hands had become so swollen. Why did this have to happen? Why wasn’t she given a proper chance at life?
The registrar apologised and said she was still unable to get in touch with the photographer from Remember my Babies, a charity who have professional photographers volunteering their services for the benefit of UK parents who had lost their baby before, during or shortly after birth. Maybe this was a sign not to take Esme off the ventilator that day. I don’t know. We had been told these photographs were beautiful and although hard at the time, parents had felt grateful to have such precious moments with their baby captured.
Esme’s nurse had managed to find some ink and printing paper for Esme’s hand and foot prints. As a special needs teacher I thought I’d be quite good at this but the nurse was far better. My hands were too shaky, my heart beating too fast to concentrate. It was a hand and foot print that I never wanted to lose. I would never get the chance to do another one. I admired the way Esme’s nurse spoke to her, the way she gently applied the ink and then placed the paper with such precision to achieve the most perfect prints. Connor also did a great job.
Unlike the outfit I imagined I would wear to Charlotte’s and Esme’s christening, I had only the clothes Connor had managed to grab on the previous day. I settled on my ripped jeans (my only jeans) and a t-shirt with feathers over the shoulder. I imagined these feathers would help lift Esme up to heaven.
During the night I had thought about what to dress the girls in to be christened. What Esme wore, I wanted to have in her keepsake box, for Charlotte, and what Charlotte wore, I wanted Esme to wear on her last day and be buried in. I wanted her to always feel like she was getting a hug from her big sister. The pain as I write this steals my breath. I long for my girls to have grown up as twins. I guess they always will, but in a different light. Charlotte will always have her guardian angel. It just brings me great sadness that I know who it is. The feeling is very bittersweet, as I couldn’t wish for a more beautiful guardian angel for Charlotte than her twin sister, Esme. It just breaks my heart, as her Mummy, that she was taken from me.
The christening was to be at 1pm. Before all our family arrived, I spent time proudly dressing Charlotte and Esme, making sure their incubator nests were tidy and the muslin cloths (used as sheets) coordinated well with their outfits. We had two nurses and a ward sister with us that day. Connor and I had got on very well with the two nurses over the summer and the ward sister was the lady whom I’d grown to love with the bright pink lipstick. I couldn’t have wished for more fabulous people to get us through the day.
Before everyone arrived I went to go and express and took the opportunity to ring Connor’s sister. I felt sad that she felt so bad that she was not able to come. I understood. I didn’t want her to feel that way. I hope I managed to comfort her. I knew that if she had been able to come she would have been on the next flight. I had her support, her love, her kind words, I didn’t need any more.
When my family and Connor’s both arrived I experienced an unexpected wave of relief and happiness. They had come to support us and see our two girls on their very special day. It meant so much to me that some of Connor’s family had the chance to meet both his daughters.
The Family Room became our base for the day. I later found out my sister and her boyfriend (now husband) went to the hospital canteen and practically bought everything and cleared the shelves. My sister had to then wait awkwardly whilst Bill went and got cash out as they didn’t accept card payments. They did a great job, there were teas, coffees, milk, biscuits, sandwiches, crisps and chocolate. A perfect feast for a christening.
Over the course of the day, I grew to quite like the Family Room. There were smiles shared, hugs given and sounds of laughter. The room no longer felt like the ‘bad news room’ or a room which terrified me, but had turned into “a real Family Room”. I often think about what the word ‘family’ means to me and the two words that stand out are ‘love’ and ‘support’. It was a place where I could go to and feel able to breathe.
I don’t think I’ve ever longed more to be held by my Mum and Dad, than I did that day , except I couldn’t do it. I could hardly say more than two words to them. Today, I still remember the feeling of being ice cold and the unwillingness to be hugged by my parents. It upsets me so much that my mind and body felt unable to accept any form of comfort. Maybe it was self-protection. I still haven’t worked it out. But what I do know, is they will always be there for me and I hope they understand I had no choice but to be like that.
Later that morning, I noticed that lots of our family were in the Family Room so I went to see Esme. One of Connor’s brothers was there holding Esme’s hand. It was so lovely to see. I felt lucky that he didn’t want to leave her side. It felt so special to me, to see him holding her hand. He wasn’t scared of her, he wasn’t afraid to get too close to her knowing this would be his last time. He loved her.
As 1pm drew closer, the Vicar arrived. I began to feel even more sick and lightheaded. The day started to feel real. This was actually happening; we were getting Charlotte and Esme christened that day as we had to say goodbye to Esme. She was too poorly to fight anymore. She was never going to come home. Even though she is buried in our village, it hurts me so much that I never got the chance to carry her through my front door.
Connor and I had been introduced to the vicar the day before. We liked him. He asked us who we had chosen for godparents. We had completely forgotten about this. A decision I imagined we would have more than thirty seconds to make. We didn’t need long, it was clear who we wanted to choose to be their godparents. My sister, her husband and Connor’s eldest brother and his wife were going to be Esme’s godparents and my brother, his girlfriend, Connor’s other brother, his wife and his sister and her boyfriend were to be Charlotte’s. Later that day my sister’s husband hugged me and said he was honoured to be asked to be Esme’s godfather. This made me so proud of Esme, I felt so happy.
The nurses had managed to pinch chairs from around the ward and squeezed them into the room. Connor and I sat in two armchairs between the incubators. I held Esme and Connor held Charlotte. The service was beautiful. It couldn’t have been more perfect. The vicar said such kind words and I felt so blessed to have the chance to have my girls christened.
I held Esme tightly. I looked around at all my family and smiled like a proud mother does at her baby’s christening. It took all my strength not to break down. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want my family to see how vulnerable and frightened I really was. I spent the entire day feeling numb.
The nurses and ward sister were all incredible. I later found out that they had missed their lunch break and instead lived off snatched jelly babies. I’m eternally grateful for what they did for us that day. They were so calm and kept reassuring me, kept looking out for me and were always there for me. I’m choked as I write this because without them, I imagine I would find it more difficult to find peace. They made the day which I dreaded, a day filled with love and happy memories and ensured I had no regrets.
Just like I imagined their christening would be if it was in a church, I wanted photographs of Charlotte and Esme with their godparents, with my family, with Connor’s family and everyone together. I was reminded of my wedding. I didn’t want to miss any possible photo opportunities. I also wanted to give anyone the chance to hold Esme who wanted to. A cuddle that would have to last them their lifetime. An opportunity for them to say their goodbye. Something that I didn’t wish to take away from them or from Esme. I was so proud of Charlotte and Esme. Their machines rarely alarmed. I think they couldn’t believe their luck over how many cuddles they were getting.
That afternoon, the ward sister came over to me and said “You’re struggling aren’t you?” She must have seen my pained expression watching Esme. She had been keeping a close eye on me and for that I am grateful. I just kept looking at Esme and thinking “How will I ever know when the time is right to take you off the ventilator?” The nurses said there was no rush and only when we felt ready. But it was the machine that was keeping her alive. No one could bring back my Esme, my little girl who was once practising yoga moves and wriggling around the incubator. I felt I was keeping her on the ventilator for purely selfish reasons.
I went to say “Hello” to Charlotte and she raised her hand as if to say “No, Mummy, I’m fine, go and see Esme.” She made me smile. My darling Charlotte, looking after her little sister and telling her Mummy what to do.
I gave our family chance to say goodbye to Charlotte and Esme. I couldn’t look at their faces. We hugged one another, knowing the next time I would see them, Esme would no longer be with us.
When everyone had left, Connor and I sat down in the Family Room. He told me his family said I was so strong and they didn’t know how I was doing it. I explained that I got my strength from my girls. I have never met two more courageous, brave, strong and beautiful people in my life and they belonged to me. It was the love I had for them and the support from my husband that made me so strong.
We went on to discuss what his eldest brother had advised us before he left. He had said “Not tonight. Today has been a good day. You want to remember it as a special day, the day they got christened.” He was right.
To my surprise, I had made so many heartfelt memories that day. Fond memories which will never leave me. I’ve never felt the power of love like I did that day and it felt like a heavy weight was lifted when I knew I wasn’t going to say goodbye to Esme that day. I wasn’t ready. It wouldn’t have been right to do it on such a day of celebration. It wouldn’t have been fair on Charlotte or Esme. It was their day and they had had a lovely time together surrounded by the love of their family.
As Connor sat lost in his own thoughts, he started tapping the rocking chair next to him with an outreached hand. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by an unfamiliar sensation and blurted out for him to stop. The whole room started to make sense. It was not a room to be feared. It was a room which held many sad memories, many broken hearts and many tears. I could feel the pain of other mothers who had held their little baby until they drifted peacefully into heaven. I could see them sitting in that chair, holding and rocking their baby, I could see the bath where they bathed their baby for the first and last time. I could see them reading stories to their little one, holding them close, not knowing how long the cuddle would last and understanding this was the last cuddle. The pram was there, where they could push them around. And a cradle for them to be rocked to sleep. In particular I could feel the presence of the lady whose baby boy was in the incubator next to Charlotte’s. I can still feel all those saddened memories today. I’ve never had the feeling before and haven’t had it since but in that split second I could see and feel everything.
That evening, Connor and I spent time cuddling Charlotte and Esme and doing things together as a family which we had craved for so long. In the back of my mind I had started to plan her funeral. I desperately wanted to find a book which I imagined to be Esme’s favourite. As I held both girls and started to read the story my Aunty had bought, ‘My Little Star’ by Mark Sperring and Nicola O’Byrne, I realised it was describing Esme. It was beautiful.
Before I went to bed that evening, I couldn’t shake the deep thoughts that kept running through my head. Was the first time Esme became poorly and her lungs collapsing a test to see how well we coped? Were we being prepared for when the day came and we found out Esme wasn’t going to make it? Would we still be able to be good parents to Charlotte? Did God really give his battles to his strongest soldiers?
I awoke at 3am with a feeling of urgency to see Esme as I knew this would be our last night together. I walked into their room and went over to see Charlotte. She was lying on her side, keeping a watchful eye on Esme. Always looking after her little sister. They were always there for each other. I whispered to Charlotte, “You must be shattered, Mummy’s here now, you need to get some rest.”
I pulled up a chair next to Esme and lowered her incubator so I could hold her through the windows and she could hear my voice. I asked the nurse if she had a pen and paper. The nurse respectfully left me with just my girls. I kept looking over the incubator to check on Charlotte, she was fast asleep. Even though Esme’s eyes were closed and most of her face was covered in tape, I knew she could hear me. Together, we wrote all about her, all my favourite things about my darling. I would say “What shall we write next Es?” and she would move her feet. Ahh I thought, you want me to tell everyone you’re a dancer. We wrote until we felt we had mentioned everything. We called it ‘My Bright Shining Star’.
These memories of Esme will always be with me, so in my darkest moments, when I feel like I’ve forgotten what it was like to be a mummy of twins or I feel memories of my darling Esme are fading, I will gain nothing but hope, strength and courage.