My Esme

After finishing my writing with Esme, I felt much better. I felt a weight had been lifted knowing I had captured everything I wanted to remember about her. A piece of writing about my baby girl that would stay with me for life.

I was relieved that the staff looking after Charlotte and Esme were one of the nurses from the christening and the ward sister with the bright lipstick. I felt I knew them well and that they would guide and support me through every step of the way. Supportive messages from my friends and family enabled me to put one foot in front of the other.

The hospital had managed to get in touch with a lady photographer from Remember my Baby and she was arriving at 10am. This was going to be our only family shoot with Esme in it and I wanted to look my best. I showered and put on my make up. I wanted to look back at the photographs and see a proud Mummy of twins, smiling with joy. In years to come I didn’t want to see a Mummy whose heart had been broken. A year on, I still haven’t managed to have a professional family photograph of the three of us. I said I would for Charlotte’s first birthday but her birthday came and went. As much as I would love one, at the moment I can’t, my heart isn’t ready.

Before I went in to see Charlotte and Esme, I took a selfie and sent it to my friends. I looked fresh faced and smiling. It was my brave face. I wanted to believe I was this person in the photograph but inside I was broken and I was frightened. I didn’t feel this was my life. I didn’t want to believe that today I would witness Esme die and that tomorrow I would no longer see her pretty face or be able to hold her hand.

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As I walked from our bedroom to the room where Charlotte and Esme were, the nurses smiled at me. They were heartfelt smiles. They didn’t need to say anything, their smiles said a thousand words. One of the nurses looked after Esme the day after she was born. I remembered that day. She had excitedly showed me Esme’s diary that she had started writing that morning and she and Charlotte’s nurse had had great fun decorating them with stickers and felt tips.

Before I went to express, I got the girls ready for their photo shoot. Esme was still wearing her christening outfit but I changed Charlotte the night before as I didn’t want her to dirty it for Esme to wear later that day. Just before the photographer arrived, we moved Charlotte into Esme’s incubator. This was the first time they had lain next to each other. The nurse warned us that twins often got up to mischief and would grab their brother’s or sister’s wires and tubes. Charlotte and Esme just snuggled into one another.

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They were so perfect together. I was surprised to see that once they were next to each other, they looked very similar. I always thought that they were quite different but now I could see they shared many similarities; their cute little button noses, their little stubby chins, their elegant long fingers and their delicate small shoulders. It shocked me to see how much stronger and healthier Charlotte looked in comparison to Esme. Although I knew Esme was poorly, I was unaware just how weak she was.

The photographer arrived and my sickness returned. This was the start of saying goodbye. After the photographer left, it was only a matter of time before we took Esme through to the Family Room and took her off the ventilator. The photographer was a lovely lady. I really warmed to her. She was gentle, spoke softly and kindly and worked quietly.

After finding out about Esme, Connor and I had decided that Campbellinas would become a charity, a charity which we hoped to set up and raise money to support neonatal units. As the Little White Company elephants were the first toys we had bought Charlotte and Esme, we decided that would be the Campbellinas logo. I wanted to capture this and carefully positioned the elephants with their trunks touching above Charlotte’s and Esme’s heads.

During the night I had dreaded the photoshoot but I ended up really enjoying it. It felt so special to be posing in front of the camera with our beautiful twins. Photographs which I knew I would treasure forever.

Then we had the chance to give Esme her first bath. While I was pregnant, I had often thought about all the fun times Connor and I would have bathing the girls. In aquanatal I had bought one of those plant pot shaped baby baths and I had laughed with my friends about dipping one baby in, passing her to Connor to dry and then bathing the next baby. I had read about the best time to bath twins  and remembered reading that one lady’s twins would go hyper if they were bathed before bedtime. It dawned on me I would never have these memories and they would all just be in my imagination.

I’m not too sure Esme enjoyed being bathed. I laughed when the nurse got the oxygen canister and put the tube into the water and turned the bath into a jacuzzi. I don’t think Esme was too impressed with this new luxury. She opened her eyes and looked at me as if to say “What on earth are you doing to me Mummy?” I replied, “Sorry Esme, but you needed a bath.”

Connor carefully dried her and we dressed her in the sleepsuit Charlotte was christened in. She looked beautiful. As we looked at Esme, freshly bathed and in her clothes, we looked at one another and knew the right time was drawing closer. The day was unfolding and everything was going just so.

After I came back from expressing, we told the nurses we were ready. They asked if we wanted to take Esme to the Family Room in her incubator or if we wanted to carry her. Connor wanted to carry her. The nurse attached Esme’s breathing tube to a portable oxygen canister and he gently picked her up. The Family Room was only about 50m away but my legs and my body felt every step.

We sat down on the sofa which we had sat on so many times before. The ward sister reminded us of what might happen to Esme when they took her off the ventilator. She explained Esme might be with us for a few minutes or she might be with us for longer. It would be up to her.  However, she might make rasping noises when she was near death.

I felt so scared but I didn’t want my baby girl to see it or feel it. Connor passed Esme over to me. I held her so tightly. I wanted her to feel nothing but love. I wanted her to go to heaven knowing that she had a strong mother, who was not in fear but was there for her every step of the way.

Just before the ward sister removed the ventilation she asked us if we wanted her to stay. We did. As the nurse gently removed the dressing that was keeping the breathing tube in place, she revealed Esme’s beautiful face. She had the face of an angel. I’d never seen Charlotte’s or Esme’s face without any tubes or wires on them. She took my breath away.

The breathing tube was removed and Esme lay so still in my arms. Occasionally her finger or foot would flicker. The ward sister checked her heart rate and it had slowed right down. Tears started rolling down my cheeks. The nurse and ward sister said they would leave us and would come back in half an hour.

Greyness started to appear between her eyes and began to spread over her eyelids. My baby girl. Time passed over us as we sat looking at our precious girl. My eyes taking in every little feature, desperate to remember and capture everything. I started to feel the warm sun, shining through the window and warming my back. The room was soon full of dancing sun rays. My heart filled with love. My Grandad was here. He’s here to help us. Connor felt it too. My Grandad stayed with us for the whole day.

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Very suddenly, Esme’s body began twitching, her eyes opened and she started making loud gasping noises. I panicked, terror gripped me and Connor ran to get the nurse. Esme calmed down a little and as I looked at her, all her colour had come back in her face. The ward sister checked her heart rate and couldn’t believe it. She explained that in all her years of working (she was close to retirement) she had only come across this once before. She explained Esme had resuscitated herself and her heart rate was back to normal. “What?” I asked. “How did she do that?” The ward sister told us her body had wanted to keep breathing. Oh, my goodness, she was a clever girl!

I couldn’t believe it. “Esme, you rascal.” I told her. That day, over the space of twelve hours, Esme more or less resuscitated herself every hour. We would notice her body become really still, her face would become very pale and then greyness would appear between her eyes and around her mouth and would slowly spread outwards. Every hour, Connor and I would say, “This is it, she’s going.” I would hold her so tightly and Connor would stroke her forehead. I would say, “You’re ok Esme, Mummy’s got you, Daddy’s here, you’re safe. we love you.” Each time we would think she was gone, her eyes would suddenly open and she would make this horrific rasping noise. Each time, Connor and I nearly jumped out of our skin.

By the seventh hour, and the umpteenth time of jumping, I could feel a smile begin to creep over my face. I said to Connor, “Is it wrong that I’m starting to find this funny?” Every time Esme resuscitated herself, we would jump so high, I would feel as if I was about to drop her. Connor said “No, he was beginning to feel the same.” I couldn’t believe our girl. Even at this stage, she continued to make us smile. We mentioned this to Esme’s nurse and she totally understood.

I barely cried over those twelve hours. I had to be strong for Esme. Every time she resuscitated herself I wanted her to know she was safe, to see her mummy smiling at her so she never learned what it felt like to be scared. I wanted her to know that we were forever proud of her, that she was going to be ok wherever she was going next. I wanted her to feel nothing but love and happiness.

There were so many people up there who I knew would be so excited to see her. We told her all about the people she was going to meet and how they were so excited to meet her. My Grandad, Connor’s Grandma and his Uncle Greig. My Nanna was going to teach her how to make cakes. She was going to be able to create all sorts of mischief and go on many adventures with my old dog Stan. I told her that I couldn’t wait to see her again and give her a big cuddle and see those big blue eyes gazing into mine.

I will be forever grateful to Esme that she gave us twelve hours with her. I felt she chose when to die and she took any guilt away from us. We got a chance to be a family together. Some of my most treasured memories were created in those twelve hours.

One of my favourite is of watching Connor playing a game with her. Her little face looked so happy and content. Even though she was heavily sedated on midazolam, as he tickled her feet, she smiled and looked in her element. I tried playing it and her face didn’t change. It was obviously her and Daddy’s game.

The ward sister came to see how we were doing. I needed to go and express and Connor needed a cup of tea. She said she would gladly hold Esme and said we should go and get some rest. Although this was very kind of her, I didn’t want to leave Esme’s side. I will never forget watching her cradling Esme. I loved the way she spoke to her, just like she was with any other baby or how I imagined friends and family would coo over her when I brought her home. My heart filled with pride.

There were times in those 12 hours when the midazolam would wear off. This confirmed to us that we knew it was the right decision as when that happened, she would screw her face up in pain, her body would go solid, she would arch her back in my hand and would have seizures. This would shatter my heart and make me feel so weak that all I wanted was to make it happen to me instead. I wanted to take the pain away from her but I couldn’t. I felt nothing but helplessness. But at the same time I couldn’t allow her to see me like that. I needed her to know that her mummy was so proud of her and loved her for everything that she was. This was how I protected her and how I remained strong. I wanted her to leave this earth feeling so strong, not scared or frightened of anything. I held her securely in my arms. I did not cry. I spoke to her with a calm voice and told her I loved her so much. I loved her all the way to the moon and back again. That her Daddy loved her more than 40 streets. I read my favourite story book which described her beautifully ‘My Bright Shining Star’. I wanted her to know that her mummy loved her so much and would hold her forever. I wanted her to feel nothing but love and security. I told her every time she had a seizure “I’ve got you, you’re safe, I love you!”

The nurse came in and rubbed some more midazolam inside her cheek. Esme’s body started to relax. I relaxed. She said “You two are being so brave.” I felt very proud when she said that.

There were times when Connor felt he could take it no longer. He clasped his head in his hands and said “I don’t know how you’re doing it. How are you staying so strong?” “I have no choice.” I replied, “I’m doing it because I have to.”

As night time approached, Esme started to get weaker. The greyness reappeared more often within the hour. After midnight, it began to get painful to watch as she resuscitated herself each time. I could see her body tiring, her energy was deserting her. Connor and I willed her to let go, to give in to it. She didn’t have to continue fighting anymore. She was going to be ok.

At around 1.30 a.m., she let out a big rasp. I said “Esme, please, don’t do this to yourself.” I prayed, it was time for her to stop suffering. It wasn’t long before the greyness reappeared. This time felt different. She didn’t move. She just lay in my arms so still. She looked so peaceful. She was gone.

My heart, my mind, my body cried.

She wasn’t coming back this time. Connor went to find the nurse. She checked Esme’s heart rate and let us know she couldn’t hear anything. She went to fetch a doctor.

Esme passed peacefully away in my arms at 01:45am on the 30th August 2016.

I lay her in the cradle, safely wrapped in her pink blanket, with her favourite toys, the White Company elephant and hippo, the bright colourful teddy and the other teddy she was given by the nurses when she was born. She had her and Charlotte’s buddy blankets with her. She looked so peaceful. She was in heaven. She did not have to fight anymore but she could now live the life she deserved.

Everything is stripped back to what actually matters: love, peace and hope. I am forever grateful that she taught me these three things in their purest form.

I am so thankful of Esme’s nurse who stayed with her when we left. I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her lying there by herself. The pain was softened by that kind nurse and I asked if she could read Esme, her favourite stories and not leave her by herself.  The nurse told us she was going to enjoy sitting keeping her company in the Family Room and do her mountain of paperwork. I asked what would happen when she had finished her shift and she explained Esme would go to the hospital mortuary. Connor had to keep reminding me she was now up in heaven but it made me feel so sick that her little body would be lying in a room with other dead people. I left strict instructions that I wanted her to stay exactly how she was, in her clothes and blanket and with all her toys. I wanted to always be able to picture her, the way I knew she loved.

Before we left to go home, we were given a yellow box with butterflies on it. This had been kindly put together by other parents who had lost their babies. We were also handed her other yellow box with all her keepsakes in.

I went in to the Family Room to give Esme one last kiss. I was relieved that her forehead didn’t feel cold. It hurt so much to turn my back and walk out of the ward, knowing that was the last time I would ever see her.

As Connor and I walked out of the hospital, we passed two nurses. I noticed they looked at the boxes we were carrying and gave us emphatic smiles. They knew.

It was a strange, surreal drive home. As we drove up the country road to our village, Connor had to slam on his breaks as the biggest badger was crossing the road. It stopped in the middle and eye balled us and then carried on waddling across. “That was weird” we said to one another. We walked into our house and went to stand in the garden. The sky was bright with stars. We had been standing looking at the sky for no longer than thirty seconds when the tiniest, brightest star shot through the sky. I burst into tears of relief; tears of joy.

There isn’t an hour that goes by and I don’t wonder where she is and what she’s doing. I look for her everywhere. I look for any sign that will let me know she’s ok even though I know deep in my heart she’s happy as she is now free and she’s forever grateful that we gave her that opportunity to live in peace with no fighting or suffering. I feel lucky and blessed to have those feelings.

I love you with all my heart Esme Ann Campbell xxx

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7 thoughts on “My Esme

  1. ‘Miss Reily’ as I know you by – you were Chloé Davison’s year 1 teacher in Coxhoe Primary and she still remembers you fondly. I remember how excited the whole class was when you got engaged! I have just read your entries, beginning to end and am sitting here inconsolable. I felt I had to message.

    My heart has been in my mouth as you have recounted the times of danger your beautiful girls have been in. I was praying that wasn’t the end result ….. am heart-felt sorry to you, your husband and your families. No parent should ever have to go through that. . . You had the strength to write during that time and even though the memories you have will stay clear as yesterday, you can look back and reflect as time moves forward.

    I vividly remember Daniel’s birth & how he stopped breathing the day after & was in intensive care. The same happened to Chloé. I remember like it was yesterday & the fear waves over you all over again. That was nothing compared to everything that your girls have been through. I can’t write anymore as will sound cliched – I just wanted to say how unfair life is sometimes.

    What struck me was the shift in your writing. At the very start, you described your anxiety and physical symptoms which I could sense through the quick style of writing. At the end, you seem much calmer and softer in your writing. Your little girl, Esme has perhaps helped with this?

    I’m so sorry if you feel I’m speaking out of turn; was just an observation from sitting for past 2 hours reading…..

    I’m sure you’re cherishing every moment with Charlotte and wish you all the best for the future xxxx

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    1. Hi Suzanne, thank you so much for your message and getting in touch. It’s really lovely to hear from you. I loved teaching Chloe. I hope you are all well.
      That is so interesting to hear about my style of writing. You haven’t spoken out of turn at all. I only started writing about two months ago so it is all from memory. I’ve never had a time in my life where I can remember every day or hour a year on. Esme was the reason I started writing so I like to see it as a gift from her. I think in general I feel softer and calmer and you’re right, Esme has helped me every step of the way.
      Lots of love xxx

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  2. Your writing is simply amazing. The way that you describe both the physical and emotional aspects of where you are, how you feel etc made me feel as if were right there with you experiencing every moment. Obviously I am so glad that I wasn’t but you gave me a greater understanding of what you all went through. What a special little girl Esme is and by the end of the blog I felt like I had learned about what an exceptional character she became in such a short time. She taught you so much in both life and death and you have every reason to be so very proud of her. I am sure your blog will also help Charlotte gain comfort and understanding from the loss of her sister when she is older. I feel proud of you all and I don’t even know you. Thank you so much for sharing your story and helping others. Stay strong and brave. Jo xx

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    1. Hi Jo, thank you for your message. I’m so pleased that came across about Esme, one of the main reasons I started writing. She really has me taught me so much, more than I thought I’d ever know or be aware of. Lots of love Amy xx

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  3. I feel I must leave you some words though off course nothing can take away such pain. You have shown just how true it is that we are braver than we think we are when all we can do is put on that brave face. Esme will always be your inspiration with your writing and no doubt will keep you right along the way. Thank you and your lovely husband for sharing your precious images. I am a photographer myself and understand how very special these photographs will always be. I am fighting breast cancer at the moment and after reading your story I feel I to have to keep that brave face on and fight, for all of you and for your beautiful brave daughter. I am writing a book about my journey and yours has given me some inspiration to keep at it. Bless you all and thank you for allowing us into your world. Much love to you all xxx

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