Wednesday 31st August
I was giving Charlotte a big cuddle when my mother in law arrived. She was flying back to Northern Ireland later that day and wanted to see her granddaughter. Charlotte was rather wriggly on my chest, compared to her usual cuddle, when she would just snuggle and sleep. The nurse explained she could probably smell my milk and was getting hungry. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. I asked if I could take my top off and see what Charlotte did. I still felt that I had to ask permission before I did anything with Charlotte, even if it was the most natural thing in the world, like breast feeding. Whilst it was lovely to share this special moment with my mother in law, it was also slightly awkward to be sitting there with my boobs out in front of her. On the other hand, anything seems to be perfectly acceptable once you have given birth. Sure enough, Charlotte moved all the way down and started nuzzling. I’m not sure I can explain how elated I felt. All those hours upon hours of expressing felt worthwhile just to have this moment. I cried tears of happiness. Charlotte and I could do this together. I needed her as much as she needed me.
Later that day one of my school friends visited. It was so lovely to see her. It made me relax and feel reassured, knowing my friends were there for me every step of the way. She brought a present for Charlotte, a little wooden star which said “Shine Bright” on it I proudly hung it on Charlotte’s incubator. It looked so perfect and special. As I looked at it hanging there I felt like Esme was always going to be looking over her big sister. I still keep it, hanging over her cot. She asked me how I was and I replied, “I’m fine, I’m honestly ok, Charlotte gets me through each day.” Looking back, I was probably numb and in shock, yet deep down I knew we had done the right thing and I knew, and still do know, that Esme is happy. I’m not sure Charlotte will ever know how eternally grateful I am to her for getting me through each day, every day, I feel like I am the luckiest Mummy in the world to have a daughter like Charlotte, who can pull me through my darkest moments and give me hope.
My friend noticed the tiny baby next to Charlotte and felt very upset seeing her so small and fighting for her life. I explained it was not an uncommon sight in neonatal intensive care but even I hadn’t seen a baby that small before. She asked if Charlotte and Esme were that size. I honestly didn’t know the answer. I couldn’t remember. I knew they had both fought for their lives as hard as that baby. She hoped it would continue to fight as hard as mine had done.
This tiny baby upset me. It hurt to see her so small, not safely inside her mother’s tummy and fighting so hard to stay alive. I found it hard to cope with the fact that this baby might not make it home either. Before leaving, I spoke to the ward sister about her. She listened and suggested she would see if she could move Charlotte to a different position.
We had to leave Charlotte early that day as we were meeting with the funeral director in the evening. I was very nervous about this. I’d never been involved with this side of things when a family member had died. I’d had to fold the order of service booklets for my Grandad’s funeral but that was about it. Thinking about it, I was most nervous about hearing ‘Esme’, “death”, “dying” and “daughter’s funeral” all in the same sentence. It would make life become real.
On the drive home, Connor was hesitant and nervous. He asked, “Have you thought about what you would like Esme to be buried in?” I had. I felt physically sick at the thought of seeing a baby sized coffin. Connor thought the same. He explained he had found a wicker willow coffin that looked more like a Moses basket. I felt so grateful Connor had researched this. The basket was perfect.
I started to think about her funeral. I wanted to throw Esme a big party. My little girl deserved nothing less. I wanted it to be the most perfect day for her. I was so proud of her. I hoped that the village hall would be available to hold Esme’s wake. I didn’t like to call the event her funeral or afterwards, her wake. It sounded too serious. Instead I decided to call it Esme’s Celebration Day and then Esme’s Party in the village hall. I have only recently, managed to call the day her funeral, it sounds right now.
We ate a delicious shepherd’s pie, cooked and delivered by one of our friends, and hoovered and tidied the house in preparation for the funeral director arriving.
I needn’t have been nervous about meeting the funeral director. He is probably one of the kindest, most sensitive gentlemen I have ever met. He put our minds at ease, was respectful of all our wishes and somehow made me look forward to the day.
We discussed what songs we would like and I asked if it would be possible to sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. I had found out the song had more than just one verse. We decided on a proposed date, Tuesday, 13th September and where we would like the burial to take place. He suggested ideas for what we could bury Esme in and one of them was the basket. I gave him strict instructions to how I wanted Esme in the basket; exactly the way I had left her. It was so important to me for her to be the way I remembered. I wanted her favourite toys around her and I was going to buy some special writing paper to copy the writing we did together, ‘My bright shining star’.
He said he would get back in touch to confirm the date and to let us know when he had collected Esme to take her to the Chapel of Rest, near where we live. His wife did the catering, so that was also sorted. Our job was to plan the order of service, order the cake and think about how I wanted to decorate the church and village hall.
That night I dreamed about Esme. It was the most realistic dream I’ve ever had. I woke up so happy. It has dawned on me that I haven’t dreamed about her since.
Thursday 1st September
That morning, flowers and cards started arriving. It felt surreal to be opening the cards, knowing that they had been sent because I had lost my daughter. Inside were beautiful, thoughtful messages that made me feel loved. I have kept all of them in case one day I want to read them and remind myself of these feelings of love and hope and how special Esme was to everyone we know.
When we arrived at the hospital, I headed to where Charlotte‘s incubator had been the previous day. As I hurriedly walked through the room, I glanced at a baby in an incubator and thought “She looks familiar, she’s very cute,” but kept walking. I was halfway across the room when I realised I had just walked past my own daughter. I laughed at how silly I was and profusely apologised to Charlotte. I looked across to where the tiny baby had been next to Charlotte and saw an empty incubator. I knew. My heart went out to the family.
The ward sister came to talk to me and asked if I was ok coming back to the ward every day. I replied, “I’m honestly fine, I feel at home here and I have built a strong friendship with many of the nurses.” The ward sister explained that Charlotte was doing well and there were different options about where she could go. Charlotte would soon be stable enough to go to the special care baby unit in Harrogate or if we wanted to keep the same consultants, she could move to St. James‘s, five minutes closer to home and where many of the premature babies born in the Leeds General Infirmary (LGI) go until they are big enough to go home. The ward sister informed us the neonatal unit at St. James‘s was a much calmer, quieter, more homely place than the one in the LGI. I said I would discuss it with Connor, but when Charlotte was well enough, we would probably choose to keep the same consultants and go to St. James‘s. For now, I was more than happy to come back each day. I felt anxious about going somewhere new and having to adjust and explain that Charlotte was a surviving twin and I had lost Esme at seven weeks. I wasn’t ready for another change in my life. I felt safe at the LGI.
My sister visited in the afternoon and as I cuddled Charlotte, we put our feet up and started planning our Campbellinas premature baby clothing range. I was in my element. I had so many ideas for the Mums, Dads and ‘premmie’ babies. I hoped to sell the premature baby clothes and a percentage would go towards Campbellinas. I loved thinking about all the different designs and keeping my mind busy. I needed something to focus on and dream about, to take away the reality and the pain.
My friend and cousin asked if there was anything they could do to help. I asked if they could research any poems to be read at the funeral.
We listened to the radio whilst driving home and began thinking about which songs we wanted to be played. I thought of Coldplay, “A Sky Full of Stars“, but then decided it was a bit too much. Take That “Rule the World“ started playing on the radio. We both fell quiet listening to the lyrics. We agreed this could be the entrance music. We later decided on Elton John “Tiny Dancer“ for the exit music. It described Esme perfectly.
The funeral director phoned in the evening to let us know Tuesday, 13th September was fine for the funeral but that the vicar was away on that day. However, the licensed day reader who was a lady from the village was willing to take the service. I was pleased about this. I had met her a couple of times whilst on a dog walk and had always enjoyed talking to her. She would be in touch shortly to discuss the funeral arrangements.
Before I went to bed, I played Tiny Dancer. I danced around our bedroom, holding my arms just like I held Esme. I could still feel her little body safely in my arms. I gently swayed to the music with tears of sorrow rolling down my face.
To this day, I can still hold my arms in the exact position that I used to hold Esme. When I hold my arms in that way, it brings me great heartache and longing to hold her and see her just one more time. Buried deep, there is also the feeling of comfort and reassurance, knowing that I once held her in my arms, that Esme was here and that once upon a time, I did get to hold my twin girls together.