Lighting a candle in memory of Evelyn

Reflecting on Baby Loss Awareness Week, a member of NHS England’s Digital Communications team shares her heart-rending and intensely personal experience of bereavement:

Hello, my name is Emma. I have three children, Evelyn, Ruben and Wren. 

Evelyn was born asleep in December 2015 and is my first born. She made me a mother. 

As a first time ‘mum to be’ I knew little about the risks of pregnancy. I didn’t appreciate how tough it can be for many women to conceive, to carry and to birth a child. I was a fit and healthy 31-year-old who progressed through the pregnancy with ease. I attended all my antenatal appointments and classes, and there were no indications that I would have to walk away from the hospital without my beautiful baby girl in my arms.

At 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant, I noticed Evelyn was more quiet than normal. I tried all the things I was told about to get her to move, but my bump was still. 

Upon arrival to the hospital, I made light of the situation and joked that she would start to wriggle around as soon as they scanned me — I would look silly for worrying. 

As soon as the midwife started to scan my bump, I could read in her face that everything was not okay. She kept the monitor away from us, the smile fell away from her face, and she left the room to call the doctor from home, saying hardly anything at all. 

Those minutes waiting for the doctor to arrive felt like hours — the room was silent, we were silent, my bump was still.

When the doctor arrived, we were given the earth-shattering news that Evelyn had died. 

I had to take some tablets and go home, to return in a couple of days to give birth. Those few days at home waiting to meet my little girl were not filled with excitement and preparation for her to come home. They were empty. They were silent. I was broken. I knew I had to give birth to her, and I wouldn’t hear her first cry, she wouldn’t take her first breath, I wouldn’t be able to bring her home.

She was born in the Ferndale Suite at Harrogate Hospital. This is the room for parents to give birth to their babies who have died. It doesn’t look clinical, and it is near the entrance to the unit to save grieving parents from being confronted with the sounds of what should be. I was allowed to make it my own, and I nested as any other mother would do. She was coming into this world and I wanted her to be like any other baby. 

As lovely as the midwives were, many of them didn’t stay in the room long. What do you say to a mother whose baby has died? I don’t blame them for not wanting to stay. Amanda, a midwife on shift, walked into the room, sat on the bed and held my hand, looked me in the eye and spoke to me. She reached out to me in a way that no one had during the whole experience and she talked me through what was going to happen with honesty and complete compassion. She helped me and gave me the strength to get through the birth.

Evelyn was born at 03:06am — 6lb 3oz, a beautiful, perfect little girl. She had tiny little fingers and toes; the cutest button nose; a little bit of soft, strawberry blonde hair, just like mine; she had long feet, just like her daddy; she was warm, but silent, just like she was sleeping.

I left the hospital that day without my baby in my arms. The only thing I could hold was a memory box made by ‘Our Angels’ charity and support group, with Evelyn’s hand and footprints, a lock of her hair, her medical bands and a few other tokens. It was all I had, and it meant the world to have these. 

If I have learnt anything from this experience, it is to act immediately if you feel anything different in your pregnancy. Trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid. The midwives are there day and night, so don’t wait — just go and get checked. Even if you go in and everything is fine, it is not wasting their time, you might feel silly for worrying, but it is better to feel silly than to be told it is too late.

Six months after we laid Evelyn to rest, I found out I was pregnant with my little rainbow baby Ruben.

Pregnancy after losing a baby is a bizarre juxtaposition of excitement and fear. Every single day I hoped that he would survive. Yes, it was beautiful, and I was so grateful to have this chance to have another baby, but it was filled with anxiety and fear that at any point I could be told that he wasn’t alive anymore.

On the day Evelyn was born I met the bereavement midwife, Sue. The second time I met Sue was on one of my first visits to the hospital after finding out I was expecting again. Sue is an incredible woman, and I cannot express enough how important the bereavement midwife service is. It’s a lifeline to us mothers who have experienced loss. 

Sue held my hand every step of the pregnancy. She was always at the end of the phone. She was there at my appointments — even if she wasn’t on shift. She went above and beyond her call of duty. I would go in for regular visits just to be monitored and listen to Ruben’s heartbeat. If I could have spent the 37 weeks listening to his heartbeat, I would have, but Sue got me through it.

Ruben was born on 8 February 2017 and is my beautiful miracle. On 4 August 2020 (in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic) I was lucky enough to be blessed with another baby girl, Wren. Their big sister watched over them and helped guide them safely here. 

Throughout a daunting pregnancy with another little girl, I not only battled the anxiety of pregnancy after loss, but also how different and scary a pregnancy was during a pandemic. Attending scans alone, being met by midwives in full PPE, fears that my partner would not be able to come to the birth with me. Sue supported me through this, she was there every step of the way. She also organised for Amanda to be with me on the day of the C-section to hold my hand and to support me through the day.  

Amanda and Sue travelled with me throughout my pregnancy and I am so grateful for everything they have done for me and my family. I want to thank them for everything they have done and everything they continue to do for women and their families. 

I hold three babies in my heart: Evelyn, Ruben and Wren. I regularly take Ruben and Wren to visit their big sister’s grave. I want them to know they have a big sister who lives in the stars and watches over them. 

All three of my babies are beautiful reminder of how precious and fragile life is, how I should take nothing for granted, and how lucky we are to have the NHS.

During Baby Loss Awareness Week, I will light a candle in memory of my little girl Evelyn and all of her friends, who play with her in the stars. And I remind everyone to never be afraid to talk to angel parents about their babies. We are proud of them and want to keep their memory alive. Evelyn is a part of me and a part of my family forever.

Emma Brothwood

Emma Brothwood is part of NHS England communications team, working as a Digital Audio Visual Technician, producing video and graphics for the organisation.

Her experiences of bereavement have opened a path into working with charities to help raise awareness and support to families who have lost a child.

One comment

  1. colette says:

    This is truly beautifully written and I have tears coursing down my face. I have been a bereavement midwife and hope with all my heart that I have helped to make another mum and dad get through what can only be the worst outcome of maternity care.