I will always remember Friday 24th of August 2019 as the best day of my life! I had interviewed for a promoted post earlier that week, and found out I got the job! Yaaas! That night, before going to celebrate my friend’s birthday, I decided to do a quick test, just in case. I was gobsmacked when I could see from the doorway that the test was positive! After waiting so long and seeing so many of our friends experience the joy of becoming parents, it was our turn. We called our baby our little turtle, because we waited so long…. but she was more than worth the wait.
I was very anxious throughout all of my pregnancy, due to suffering an early miscarriage at aged eighteen. For the last fifteen-years, I had felt sure I would never have a living baby of my own. I was completely uneducated on the 1 in 4 statistic; something I am very aware of now. At our twelve-week scan I kept my eyes shut, prepared for the worst. Then I saw you! A fully formed baby, wriggling about. I was in complete shock, and cried with my husband. Finally, you were coming.
After our scan, we announced our pregnancy to anyone who would listen, because at that stage you are safe., right? Well that’s what I thought. At exactly twenty-weeks with our scan just five days away, I noticed I hadn’t felt our baby move as much. At this early stage, my midwife reassured me that it was too early to feel any real pattern of movement, but to get checked to put my mind at ease.
I will always remember Thursday 12th of December 2019 as the worst day of my life. That morning, the Christmas card I had had especially made, arrived. We were going to have the sonographer write our baby’s gender in it, for us to open on Christmas morning before our gender reveal party, that had already been planned for Boxing Day.
I went alone to hospital, fully expecting to be told everything was fine and to go home, and continue to be excited for my favourite time of year, with my favourite little person growing inside me. This was not the case. I was told our little turtle’s heart had stopped beating. I spent an hour alone with the midwife before my mum and husband arrived. My husband was devastated that he hadn’t been with me, having been there for every other appointment, but neither of us thought this could happen at this stage. We were then told I would still need to go through a normal labour to deliver our baby and that they wanted to start the process right away. I didn’t eat or sleep for the next two days. On Sunday 15th of December I went into labour with my mum and my husband by my side. After just over five hours, our little turtle was born.
Jessica Karen Houston. Weighing just under half a pound and absolutely perfect in every way. I remember feeling so much happiness and pride on this day, as although our baby would not come home with us, we were finally together as a family. The care we received from the midwives and doctor made such a difference to our experience. I know now that this is not always the case for everyone. The midwives treated our baby with so much care and dignity, dressing Jess in a tiny outfit that we picked, taking hand and foot prints, photographs and clay imprints and making a memory box which we treasure. We were then taken to Ohana, the newly built bereavement suite. The definition of Ohana meaning Family – nobody gets left behind. The suite was decorated like a retreat and Jessica lay in a specially designed cold cot at the side of our bed for us to look at her beautiful face throughout the night. Although tiny, Jessica looked so much like her dad, and I still remember so clearly what it felt like to kiss her little face. In the afternoon we all moved to the living room area where Jessica was given a naming ceremony by the hospital chaplain, Harry, and throughout the day we were allowed as many cuddles and kisses as we wanted. Leaving Ohana and saying goodbye is, and will always, remain the hardest thing I have done in my life.
A few days after, we received a call from the funeral director giving us the choice of December 24th or 27th for Jessica’s funeral. My initial thought was no way could we have our child’s funeral on Christmas Eve. We made our decision quickly for the 27th, and got off the phone. Then we thought, was the 27th better for us, or better for our daughter? We couldn’t stand the thought of our little one alone in the funeral home over Christmas, so quickly phoned back to change. This was not straight forward, and began the start of four very frantic days of running from funeral director, to cemetery, to crematorium whilst the rest of the world continued to have a holly-jolly Christmas. Finally, the date was set and I was glad, as it was the right thing to do for our daughter. We are Jessica’s parents, and although we will not get to parent her in the way we want, we will always do what is right by our child.
I don’t know how I got up or ready on Christmas Eve; but I did. We dressed in purple and asked everyone else to do the same. Our wedding colour, and the colour we associate with our little turtle. The actual service was lovely, attended by only a few people at our request. Harry, the hospital chaplain, delivering Jessica’s service meant so much to us, as he knew her and had been one of the very few people who had actually met the most special little lady. The final song we picked, ‘For Good’ from Wicked, played as everyone left and we hugged our baby’s coffin for the last time. When we left, the funeral director told us he may be able to get Jessica’s ashes back to us later that day. I cannot tell you how much it meant to us to be told this. Over the last four days we had first been told we would not be able to have Jessica’s funeral before Christmas, then that we may get no ashes back at all, then that we would definitely not get her ashes back until after Christmas. To be told this now, was the best possible news we could be given in this most horrible of situations.
By 3pm that day Jessica was home for Christmas, not in the way we wanted, but we made this happen and we were proud. We put all the Christmas lights on that night, for the first time, to celebrate our baby.
Shortly after Jess’s funeral, we received a letter from our consultant giving us a date to review all of the tests undertaken to try to find out why this happened to our baby girl. Valentine’s Day. Give us a break with the significant days that we will now associate with loss! We later decided that it was fitting that our last medical appointment for Jessica would take place on a day dedicated to love, because we love her more than anything. I don’t think any news would have been of comfort, but to find out that we fall into the large number of parents who are given no known cause, was a difficult pill for us to swallow. We will never know why our daughter died. Whilst medically this is a positive, I will always want to know Why? Nothing will ever lessen the heavy grief we carry for the loss of our girl; but in the words of the last song played at her funeral ‘because I knew you, I have been changed for good.’ Knowing and meeting my daughter has completely changed me as a person. I now know how fragile life is. I no longer sweat the small stuff, and I can honestly say that because of our daughter my relationship with my husband is the strongest it has ever been. After all, we are the only two people who know what it is like to lose Jessica. I have also met some of the kindest and most inspirational people through our shared experience of loss. Those who truly understand. I have found comfort in the words of others, such as Elle, who have shared their experience to let others know they are not alone and have begun putting my own thoughts down in my blog and through Instagram.
We are still so early in this journey of loss, but I hope that one day I can help others in the way that others have helped me 💜
Jennifer, Michael & Jessica xxx