Emelia’s Legacy

As the sonographer got to work sweeping her scanner over my tummy, I watched as a grainy image of my baby came into view on the screen. I was 12 weeks pregnant and feeling excited. I’d had an easy pregnancy up to that point, and expected the sonographer to tell me everything looked good. But after a few minutes, she still hadn’t said a word. Then, instead of smiling, she frowned. And when she finally spoke, her voice sounded grave. ‘If I could just ask you to wait,’ she said. ‘I’ll get my colleague to come and talk to you.’ She led me to a side room and gave me a cup of tea. And I thought: Something’s wrong. My husband Andy hadn’t been able to come with me because of work. Instead my friend was supporting me, and I gave her hand a squeeze. The sonographer returned with another woman who said: ‘It looks like your baby has some serious health issues.’ I gasped. ‘A specialist will be able to say more,’ she went on. ‘We’ll have to refer you.’ A week later, when the specialist saw Andy and me, she said: ‘There are serious health issues” we wouldn’t expect the pregnancy to carry on past 20 weeks.’ It took a moment for her words to sink in. Then, as if to emphasise her point, she said: ‘You should think about a termination.’ My first response was to shake my head. ‘No,’ I said. But I needed to talk to Andy.

Back at home in Birmingham, we discussed what had happened. ‘I don’t want a termination,’ I said, between sobs. Before having our little girl Hannah, I’d had a miscarriage and couldn’t bear the thought of losing another baby. Andy agreed. So, when we returned to hospital for our next appointment, we told the doctor: ‘We want to carry on with the pregnancy.’ We knew it wouldn’t be easy. The scan had revealed that our little girl had spina bifida and anencephaly. Parts of her brain and skull were missing and her spine and spinal cord had not developed properly. Given the battle she faced, it felt like a miracle when I reached 20 weeks and then 28 weeks. ‘She’s a fighter,’ I told Andy. ‘She’s proving everyone wrong.’ Although I knew she wasn’t going to be with us forever, I couldn’t wait to meet her. And, in time, I went into hospital for a Caesarean.

We named our daughter Emelia. As I handed her to Andy, she opened her eyes. They were big and brown, just like Hannah’s. ‘She’s beautiful!’ Andy said. Our parents came to see her, and we all took it in turns for cuddles. Although Emelia had a substantial part of her skull missing, she was a good size and she defied the doctors’ prediction with every minute that went by. We lost track of time as we cooed over her. ‘My turn for a cuddle,’ Andy and I said to each other, both of us desperate to soak up every moment with our gorgeous girl. But then, 57 minutes after she was born, we knew it was time. I held Emelia in my arms. ‘We love you so much,’ I told her. ‘We always will.’ And then she slipped away. She was placed into a cold cot, so we could stay with her. We held her and dressed her, but eventually the time came for us to leave.

Leaving Emelia behind was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I gave her one last kiss and told her: ‘You’re perfect.’ Then we went home. That evening, I took Hannah upstairs and read her a story before bed as usual. I tucked her up and then I went into my bedroom. And I fell apart. Andy and I cried and cried until we had no tears left. We were bereft. After losing Emelia, I didn’t think I could cope with another pregnancy, but in time we had a healthy little boy called Daniel. His birth made me think about what we’d been through when we lost Emelia, and I realised we’d missed out on so much support. I hadn’t known what to say to Hannah about her sister’s death, and when people asked me how many children I had, I struggled to find the right words to explain that one was in heaven.

I wanted to do something to help other parents cope, so I set up Hannah’s House, a charity that would provide support for families especially siblings following miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. It helped knowing that Emelia’s death was not in vain. Because of her, I was able to help other families in their darkest hours, and that brought me some comfort.

Time went by and my 40th birthday rolled around. The country was in lockdown due to coronavirus, so we celebrated at home. Next morning I woke up feeling terrible. ‘That’s 40 for you,’ Andy said with a laugh. But I knew it was more than that. ‘I feel exhausted,’ I said. ‘This isn’t normal.’ Then it dawned on me my period was a week late. No, I thought. I can’t be. But I was. When I told Andy, he was as stunned as I was, but we both felt thrilled. Now, I’ve just given birth to our son Elijah and he’s wonderful. Daniel, two, is delighted to be a big brother.

After Elijah arrived, I thought about our Emelia. I think about her all the time and wonder what she would have been like now. Our little miracle lived for just 57 minutes, but changed everything. She gave me a new perspective on life and was the inspiration for our charity. Her legacy is helping others and that way she lives on. Emelia, I love you. Thank you for being my daughter.