Our first year without Esme.
On many occasions during the first year without Esme, I was anxious about life without her or thought that I should be spending the day with both of my daughters or worried about how I would cope, especially if I wasn’t in the comfort of my own home. However, in hindsight I needn’t have had any of these thoughts. In fact, some of my favourite memories have been of the days that I had been anxious about, and those were the times when I have learnt the most about myself.
Our first wedding anniversary was spent seeing Charlotte at St. James’s and shopping in Leeds for outfits to wear for Esme’s funeral. Not at all how I imagined my first wedding anniversary. We did however manage to have a lovely day spending money and going out for a delicious meal.
If I fast forward a year, my second anniversary was how I imagined I would spend my anniversaries, going out for a romantic dinner in a small picturesque village in the South of France. It was our first ‘date night’ since I became pregnant with the girls. We very nearly ended up having our ‘romantic dinner’ in a pizza takeaway as we weren’t aware that most of the restaurants in Cotignac are closed on a Tuesday. Luckily, we got the last table in the only restaurant open and shared it with a rather large over hanging plant and a ridiculously loud jet spray hosing the pavement from the closed restaurant next door. Of course, we spent most of the time talking about Charlotte very loudly so we could hear one another and then we realised we were both far too tired to go to the only bar playing loud music. But above all, we had a great night, just the two of us.
Without Connor by my side I doubt very much whether I would be in the happy place I am now. I would like to imagine and hope, that the first year of our marriage will be the toughest year of our lives. We got through it, and we got through it together. My marriage has resembled the truth behind one of the readings at our wedding:
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.
October brought with it a day which many times over the summer we thought we would never see; bringing our baby girl home. It was the probably one of the best, yet also most terrifying, days of our lives.
Despite my maternity leave and motherhood starting on 10th July, it was only once we brought Charlotte home that it felt real. I cherished every moment. Yes, I did feel robbed of three months of my maternity leave, with many of those weeks spent in fear of losing both of my daughters, but I was just grateful to finally be a Mummy to Charlotte at home. I did, however, sign a petition to extend paid maternity leave for mums who have premature babies, as almost a third of my maternity leave was used up without having my babies at home.
On 4th November a friend visited to take a photograph of me in ‘hen party’ glasses for another friend’s scrap books. We put them on Charlotte and she looked so adorable. It was then that she smiled for the first time. I was absolutely gutted as I missed it as I was taking the photograph. The camera never lies, though, and sure enough, at nearly four months old, she smiled. Connor and I had been very patient waiting for that smile. We didn’t see another one until December.
At the end of November, we were invited back to Leeds General Infirmary by one of Esme’s consultants for a bereavement meeting. It wasn’t compulsory, and we didn’t feel that we had any queries or questions over Esme’s treatment or death, but decided to go for peace of mind. We also thought we might find out something that Campbellinas (our non profit organisation that we set up in memory of Esme and to support Neonatal Units) could help with.
I was nervous about going. It was surreal following signs for the bereavement suite, knowing we were going to be discussing our daughter’s death. It made me feel numb. We were shown to a room and as we were waiting for the consultant to arrive, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” started softly chiming through the window on handbells, coming from the Christmas Market. It was a beautiful, peaceful moment. I hadn’t heard the song since Esme’s funeral. It felt like Esme was with us, saying, “You’ve got this, Mummy and Daddy, you’re doing the right thing.”
I didn’t get upset during the meeting. Part of me was a little distracted as I had to breastfeed Charlotte and didn’t want to flash the consultant, but the other part of me did find it helpful to go over what had happened. We knew the consultant well. He spoke sincerely with a calm, soft voice. We trusted him. When he explained about ventriculitis and the cause of Esme’s death, I realised I did have unanswered questions. It felt good for those to be answered and consolidated our understanding and the belief that we had done the right thing for Esme.
After the meeting, we had a very festive, family afternoon in Leeds. I had a warm feeling in my heart that Esme was with us the whole time. It felt beautiful.
I had mixed feelings about Christmas. It is one of my favourite times of year and I longed to embrace it, but I found I was struggling as a piece of my heart felt sadly missing.
I did manage to have many joyful, festive moments in December. One of the first was meeting up with my mummy friends for a Christmas party with our babies. It was amazing. We listened to Mariah Carey, had a tipple of mulled wine and gorged on mince pies and chocolates. I loved that afternoon. We had a great day when Charlotte’s grandma, Auntie and cousin visited. Another favourite was visiting our future Shetland pony, Ben. I think I was far more excited than Connor and Charlotte put together.
This was the first year that Connor went out to choose the Christmas tree without me. I think he felt a little panicked and stressed, fully aware that this was quite a big deal in our household. He arrived back looking rather nervous and explained it was the best out of a bad bunch. However, I thought he’d done a great job. The tree had a good height, although it was the bushiest, fattest tree I had ever seen. We had to kind of squash it into the corner of our room, so it didn’t look like it was taking over. It looked very pretty by the time it was decorated.
I bought a little Christmas tree for Esme and took great pride in decorating it. The tree was slightly heavier than I thought, so it felt a particularly long walk up to her grave. I was filled with mixed emotions. I felt very proud to be taking Esme her own tree, yet so sad that my life involved delivering a Christmas tree to my daughter’s grave. I felt much better once I’d done it and certainly had more of a spring in my step walking back home for some mulled wine. I’m pretty certain Esme loved her tree too.
On 12th December, around 9pm, Connor received a phone call from an unknown number. The caller asked if Connor was Bryan’s son-in-law.
I was sitting on the sofa feeding Charlotte and could see Connor nervously answering questions and the colour draining from his face. He got off the phone and explained that my Dad had been playing badminton and had had what they thought was a heart attack. He had received CPR until the ambulance arrived, the paramedics had used a defibrillator and he was currently on his way to A&E at Leeds General Infirmary.
I felt sick. How could this be real? How could this be happening? I couldn’t lose my daughter and my Dad in the space of a few months. Connor told me what was going to happen. He said, “Ring your girlfriends, tell them to come over. You’re staying here and I’m going to keep trying to get in touch with your Mum and set off to A&E.” He was amazing. I love him so much. I was so grateful that he was there to be by my Mum’s side.
My girlfriends, as always, were right by my side. I needed them. I needed their warmth, their comfort, their friendly faces.
I never gave up hope. I told Esme to go and be with my Dad and not to leave his side. I knew he could do it. I knew deep down, he wasn’t going to die.
For two days, he stayed in an induced coma. My life felt shit. Really shit. I thought I had been at a low point before but now I didn’t even know where my head was at. We were warned that we wouldn’t know how he had been affected, until he came out of the coma. He had suffered a cardiac arrest.
He is probably one of the luckiest people I know and when he came out of the coma we were told he was ok. He might suffer memory loss but he was ok. I cried and cried tears of relief.
When he was transferred to another ward, we were able to go and visit him. We were warned that he might not recognise us. I didn’t care, he was alive. It wasn’t until then that I realised how much I needed Charlotte with me and how much strength she gave me. I felt I could only go into the ward and see him if I had Charlotte by my side. I really needed her.
To my amazement, he looked a lot better than I expected. He was pale, unshaven, dazed, on oxygen and hooked up to machines but he was my Dad, he was talking, he seemed to recognise us and he was alive. Yes, he was a bit lost and confused and I had to tell him to keep his voice down as he kept saying inappropriate things (honestly!) but he was ok, I was ok.
Despite being told it wasn’t likely that he would be out before Christmas, Dad thought otherwise. He was recovering well and had transferred wards again. Most days I was ok with visiting. One time, I left feeling angry and fed up. I was sick of hospitals, sick of Leeds General Infirmary, sick of my life revolving around visiting hours and emotionally exhausted from putting on my brave face. I later felt embarrassed for having these thoughts as the important thing was that my Dad was still here.
One thing was clear though and that’s the love my family have for one another and the love my friends forever show me. We were all there for one another and got through each day. I felt very lucky to have our NHS. Christmas was not going to be put on hold.
On 17th December, Charlotte, Connor and I had a blast at our first wedding together, celebrating the marriage of one of my besties. It was a beautiful Christmassy wedding and my friend looked stunning, her groom scrubbed up nicely too. It was a day of celebration, with close friends, one that Connor and I so desperately needed.
My Dad was determined to be at home for Christmas and he came home on 23rd December. It was amazing. I think we had all prepared ourselves for travelling into hospital on Christmas Day.
On Christmas Eve, family and friends came round to ours and Connor’s Dad flew in. It was great to have him over. With my Dad being in hospital, I hadn’t had much time to think about Christmas without Esme. I knew she was happy whatever she was doing for Christmas. I was surrounded by love from family and friends and that of course helped. On Christmas Day we went to my parents and my Dad, being the proud man he is, carved the turkey (and then went back to sleep). It was a very special day.
Connor and I decided we would have a quiet New Year’s Eve. The year of 2016 had emotionally finished us and we were more than ready to celebrate 2017. We had a cosy night in, just the three of us. At nearly six months old, Charlotte finally smiled for her Daddy and for long enough to catch it on camera. It was a magical moment and well worth the wait. She hasn’t stopped smiling since.
We enjoyed a Marks and Spencer’s dine in for two and had fun watching BBC1 and dancing around the lounge to Robbie Williams. 2017 was welcomed by standing in the freezing cold, wrapped in the safety of Connor’s arms, each of us desperate to see who could spot a shooting star first. Esme was obviously too busy partying somewhere but all the stars had a definite twinkle that night.
Oh my goodness, were Connor and I ready for 2017. Although it was only the next day, the sheer fact that it was a brand-new year felt like a weight had been lifted. I had a good feeling about this year.
January was pretty quiet and calm. Now that Charlotte was a bit bigger and stronger, we had our first family road trip to Derby to celebrate a friend’s thirtieth birthday party. We set off in plenty of time and stopped off at the services halfway for a Christmas drink and to feed Charlotte. Charlotte was completely unfazed by the journey and slept most of the way.
January was also an exciting month as we got the go ahead to start weaning Charlotte off the oxygen, which I wasn’t expecting until late Spring. What a fighter she was.
Towards the end of January, I found myself hitting many low points. Before, when I hit a low point, I was able to bring myself back around and get on with my day. By January, five months after losing Esme, I was sad all the time and rarely felt like myself. I began to wonder if I would ever again. I could no longer control my thoughts, emotions or grief. My days were filled with giving Charlotte all of my love, but I found it hard to escape my sad heart. I didn’t enjoy being sad, I hated that each day I felt more and more empty and I didn’t like who I was rapidly becoming. I felt guilty that I wasn’t thoroughly enjoying my time with Charlotte and all the joys motherhood should be bringing me.
I didn’t want this to be my life. I didn’t want to feel like I was putting on a brave face in front of my daughter all the time. For my own, Connor’s and Charlotte’s sake I had to change. I was ready for counselling. I knew I needed help and contacted my health visitor. She put me in touch with a bereavement counselling organisation called Just ‘B’ Bereavement.
I felt sick listening to the dialling tone of Just ‘B’, waiting for someone to pick up. They had to ask a series of questions, one of them being, “What is your daughter’s name?” It took me a few attempts but it was the first time I said her full name out loud, when I struggled to get the words out of my mouth. It hurt. I had to force myself to say “Esme Ann Campbell.” After finishing the conversation I felt that a weight had been lifted. I had been put on a six to eight week waiting list.
I was going to get help.
Over the past few months we had been busy setting up Campbellinas. Despite wanting to do so, I struggled hearing or reading the word ‘Campbellinas’. It was hard seeing it in black and white, or as a name, or as a logo or non-profit organisation, as I imagined my Campbellinas would both come home and grow up together. But I chose the name for the organisation and although it hurt, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am now learning to navigate along a different ‘Campbellinas’ journey from the one I imagined.
Up until February my sister and mother-in-law had done a great job of organising fundraising events for Campbellinas and along with family and friends, had raised a significant amount of money. As much as I wanted to myself, my heart wasn’t fully in it and the pain of losing one of my Campbellinas exceeded the will to organise anything.
In February, a close friend got in touch to say she would like to organise a cake sale at work to raise money for Campbellinas. I was really touched by the thought and I asked if Charlotte and I could attend. This would be the first event I had been to.
Luckily, it was at the end of February and Charlotte had made a full recovery from her week in hospital with bronchiolitis and a collapsed lung. Charlotte and I had a great time. Everyone made us so welcome and it felt very special to be a part of it. I was so proud to be there, knowing that I was the mother of the Campbellina twins. Attending made me realise that setting up Campbellinas was the right thing to do and I felt like I had taken a big step forward to being fully on board.
As with any donations or events which people organise or take part in for Campbellinas, I am extremely grateful for everyone’s generosity, both for making donations to Campbellinas and for organising and taking part in events.