The proudest walk of my life

Friday 2nd September

Driving to the hospital, I started to make arrangements for Esme’s funeral. My friend had researched local people who baked cakes and found a few contacts for me. I phoned one lady and explained what had happened. I asked if she could design a cake with two butterflies on it and some stars. I wanted a two-tier cake, the first layer a Victoria sponge decorated in white icing and the second layer a lemon cake decorated in pale pink icing, both with a gold ribbon wrapped around them. The lady said she would sketch the cake and then email it to me. I finished the conversation feeling pleased with myself. I was enjoying planning Esme’s Day.

During the journey, I also got in touch with Mothercare to return one of the cots. I remember speaking in such a businesslike manner and trying not to think that the reason we were returning a cot was because my baby had died and never made it home. I could feel a lump developing in my throat. I fought back the tears and sickness that threatened me at each word I said. Connor and I had had many conversations pondering over how we would fit two cots into the girls’ nursery.

I spent the afternoon holding Charlotte and planning Esme’s funeral. My friend and cousin had sent me some beautiful poems to choose from and my sister was getting to work designing a star on the front cover of the order of service.  I arranged with my friends to come around one evening the following week to discuss how to decorate the village hall. I also got in touch with a friend in the village who is a florist. I was to go around to her house one evening the following week. I wanted to look my best, so I booked to get my hair and nails done. The day was coming together well and I felt like I was being a good Mummy to Esme and doing her proud.

The funeral director phoned that evening to let us know he had collected Esme and had taken her to the Chapel of Rest near to where we live. This made me feel quite sick. I couldn’t imagine her little body travelling in the car. I was desperate to ask what she looked like but I knew his answer wouldn’t be what I wanted to hear. He also mentioned the wicker coffin he had in mind was too big and he had ordered another one. I reminded him again how I wanted Esme positioned in the basket.

Saturday 3rd September

Just as I arrived home after walking the dogs my mobile rang.  It was the neonatal unit calling. My heart began racing and I answered it with urgency. It was Charlotte’s nurse. The feelings of fear soon lifted as I realised she was laughing down the phone and surely if there was something wrong, she wouldn’t be laughing. It was the same wonderful nurse that had looked after the girls on the Saturday we found out about Esme and on the day of their christening. The nurse kept starting to talk, then stopping and sounding like she was catching her breath with excitement and then started talking again in short bursts. I just stood in the kitchen smiling, I wasn’t too sure what she was going to tell me but it sounded like good news.

She excitedly said that she had just got the phone call to say, if it was ok with us, Charlotte was good to go to High Dependency in St James’s that afternoon. I couldn’t believe my ears. I almost had to sit down with sudden dizziness that this was actually happening. My baby girl, my little warrior, had done it. She explained she had put in the referral for Charlotte to move that morning and it normally takes a few days, sometimes a week to get the go-ahead but they had space for her. She had phoned ‘Embrace’ (a highly specialist transport service for critically ill infants and children) and they were free to transfer Charlotte from Leeds General Infirmary to St James’s. This availability at such short notice was also quite a rare occasion. It felt like it was meant to be.

I shouted “Connor!” so loudly that of course, he panicked and then told me off for scaring him like that. I apologised and excitedly told him the news. He didn’t believe me at first and then before I knew what was going on he grabbed the car keys and was ushering me out of the front door. “What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”

On the drive to the hospital, we laughed and thought that since Esme had left the hospital the day before, Charlotte must have thought, “There’s no way I’m staying here either, I’m going too.” The feeling that Esme had passed on her strength to Charlotte was magical. We were bursting with pride for Charlotte and we practically ditched the car and ran to the neonatal ward.

Embrace were due to arrive in the next hour. While the nurse was busy filling in paperwork, I did Charlotte’s cares and changed her into my favourite sleepsuit, ready for her adventure. We decided that I would go with Charlotte and Connor would follow.

It was a surreal feeling as I looked at the transport incubator and watched Embrace gather all the information they required. We were actually leaving intensive care. I felt sad to be parting from the staff at the LGI yet I was ridiculously proud of Charlotte. I felt safe with the LGI team looking after her, I trusted them. They had been right behind me every step of the way, they knew everything. I was anxious about St James’s. Would I be able to build the same relationships and maintain the high level of trust?

Charlotte looked so small and lost but ever so cute inside the transport incubator. She had to wear tiny ear defenders. The Embrace team were brilliant and filled me with confidence with how cautious they were that they had everything in place before setting off.

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As I walked out of the neonatal ward doors, my legs felt wobbly and my heart was beating out of my chest. We had made it. I don’t think I have ever felt more proud than I did walking with Charlotte from the neonatal ward to the Embrace vehicle. I beamed with joy.

I was greeted with many sympathetic and worried looks. I had forgotten what the sight must have looked like to others. For them to see this tiny baby inside the incubator, with breathing tubes and wires attached to her. I wanted to shout from the rooftops “She’s done it! We’re going to high dependency. We’re one step closer to going home!” I just smiled at them.

Just before we climbed aboard, I took a selfie with my little warrior.

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It was only when the Embrace team were securing the incubator in place that I was struck by the thought, “There should be two. I should be leaving to go to St James‘s with two incubators.” I felt my heart wrench but my thoughts were soon broken when I was told to take a seat. This was the first of many times when I wondered what life would have been like if Esme was still here.

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It was only a ten minute drive to St James’s and when we arrived, Connor wasn’t too far behind us.

The nurse looking after Charlotte greeted us with a warm smile. I listened as she and Embrace exchanged notes and I added at the end that Charlotte was a surviving twin. I told her about Esme. Within the first year of losing Esme, I felt the need to tell anyone new that Charlotte was a surviving twin. I now pick and choose when I want to, depending upon how the conversation goes.

My first impression of the ward at St. James’s was that it looked so different. It was certainly more homely and there were curtains at the windows. The rooms were much darker and quieter and things seemed much slower paced. Charlotte’s room was quite small and there was space for four incubators or cots, one in each corner. The nurse showed us around the ward. There were five rooms along a corridor, numbered 1 to 5. Rooms 4 and 5 were high dependency and rooms 1 to 3 were special care. Charlotte was in room 5. Our aim was to work our way down the rooms and when we reached rooms 1 and 2, we would be very nearly ready to go home.

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The nurse left me to settle in and I could feel my high spirits leaving me and a dark cloud drawing closer. I wasn’t sure why I suddenly felt in a bad mood until I later spoke to the counsellor. She said it was a common feeling that a lot of parents had described when they moved from the LGI to St James‘s. It was about starting again and the realisation that their baby was still a long way from going home. She was right.

I went to the kitchen to make some toast. It was hotter than the sun in the kitchen but I didn’t care. The toast tasted so good. Over the summer, I couldn’t eat enough of it. It was like the toast I had had when the girls were born and it had felt like a luxury that I could eat it again.  I became lost in my own thoughts when the housekeeper came in. She asked if I was alright. I was supposed to say, “Yes I’m fine, I’ve just arrived from the LGI with my baby girl.” Instead I broke down in tears and cried with my head in my hands, “I was supposed to be bringing both of my babies here.”

9 thoughts on “The proudest walk of my life

  1. May God continue to give you strength! I had similar journey with one of my own. Just when you think the feelings are at a place when you can exhale and say “all is well” there will be more thoughts. But you know, keep your head up. God sees you and knows the love you have for your children. And now you can imagine to see her once again and to catch her up on all that has happened! Bless you!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have not left a comment yet. I’ve been silently reading. I just want to say that you are an amazing mum and a strong and courageous person to share Esme’s and Charlotte’s story. Charlotte will be able to tell her own one day, but you have done a great honor to Esme to make sure her voice and presence has been felt in the work beyond your own family. Sending love to your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. You are such a brave and inspiring person and mother for sharing your story and honoring Esme. I am sure your words will help other mothers going through a similar situation. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers – speak766

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Having just read your emotional story I feel so proud of you, when you arrived at St James hospital I found you very upset making your toast , I listened and chatted with you always wished I could have done more for you , Ive often thought about you all wondering how you are , I’ve had tears reading your story . I wish you all lots love & happiness. Brenda xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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