From as young as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a mother. I could think of nothing more amazing than spending my days looking after my baby, so when my husband and I decided it was time to expand our family, I couldn’t wait! I had convinced myself it would take a while, so when that early present came just six days before Christmas, we were over the moon. I was nervous going into the pregnancy, scared at any moment we could lose our baby. Then we had our 12-week scan on Valentine’s Day, a day I will never forget. We were told our baby was growing perfectly and I felt we were finally in the ‘safe zone’. From that point on I couldn’t stop imagining what our life as new parents would be like, all of the things we would do and how exciting it was all going to be. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
My pregnancy progressed without any problems and I really did feel like the definition of a ‘glowing pregnant lady’, as annoying as that sounds! Then, at 31-weeks we attended a routine growth scan because my measurements were on the small side, although hardly unsurprising as I am only 5ft tall. After scanning for some time, the sonographer expressed minor concerns over a ‘shadow’ she could see but since everything had been progressing well we didn’t read too much into it and were sent away with an appointment to return two weeks later for a more detailed scan.
Walking into the hospital on that warm July day we were blissfully unaware of the news that was going to follow. I remember lying on that bed with the doctor scanning our baby, silently the minutes ticked by, looking at each other then back to our baby on the screen, but nothing was said. After the scan, we were shown to a small room that contained nothing but five chairs and a box of tissues. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach was starting to build, and I knew the news that was to follow wasn’t going to be good; sadly I was right. The doctor told us that our baby was very ill. He had a mass in his liver that was putting pressure on his heart, causing it to double in size. I was so confused, like she was speaking a foreign language. Hearing that our baby wasn’t well made no sense, I had no signs of him being unwell, how was this possible so far on? From that point on we had daily scans, to watch his progress and after a week the decision was made to deliver him via c-section, at 35-weeks gestation. It was the strangest feeling in the world being told we were going to meet our son at the end of that week. We were excited, but also terrified not knowing how ill he was going to be. Every question from ‘Would he be able to breath on his own?,’ to, ‘Would I be able to hold him?’ was left unanswered. All the hours I had put into meticulously planning my birth went out the window, but I didn’t care; I just wanted my son here safe.
The 2nd of August arrived and we made our way to the hospital. From the outside, we looked like any other couple in our bay, waiting with anticipation to meet our newest family member, but underneath we held fears so much deeper than the apprehension of parenthood, not knowing if we would ever get to bring our baby home. At 12:25pm our son Leo was born, weighing a wonderful 5lbs. He was crying and so were we. The nurse brought him over for us to meet, and my husband got to hold him; the most perfect baby we had ever seen. After a few minutes Leo was taken away to the NICU, and we were left to reminisce on the most wonderful moment of our lives. We received frequent updates from the NICU and I couldn’t wait for my legs to start working again, so that we could go and visit our son.
We finally arrived into the NICU and were shown to his incubator. In that moment, I felt love I didn’t know was possible. From his beautiful dark curly hair, to his tiny little nose, he was perfect. Being a nurse myself, I should have been aware of the severity of the situation, but my mind had subconsciously blocked out the ventilator and heavy sedation he was under, so when Leo’s doctor told us just how ill he was I couldn’t, nor wouldn’t, believe it. I just wanted to unplug him from all the machines and take him home. How could my world feel so complete, yet so totally shattered at the same time? Thankfully, Leo remained stable, but after two days the decision was made to transfer him to King’s College, as the mass in his liver was much bigger than they had ever seen before, and he needed life-saving intervention quickly.
At just two days old we said our goodbyes and our son boarded an aeroplane with a team of doctors to travel from Glasgow to London, closely followed by my husband and I on the train. After we arrived at King’s, there was a plan for Leo to have surgery to close off the blood vessels feeding the mass in his liver. We spent every minute we could with him leading up to his surgery. We even slept in the doctor’s on call room by the neonatal department (because there was literally no room at the inn), but it meant we were never far from his side.
After four long days, the day of surgery arrived. We had so much hope that this was going to be the beginning of his journey to getting better. As they prepped him for surgery, my husband and I held his tiny little hands and told him how proud we were of him, how much he was loved, and how we couldn’t wait to bring him home once he got better. My husband and I kissed our son goodbye, unknowingly for the last time.
We wandered aimlessly around London, and the hours ticked slowly by, we were there in body but not in mind. Finally, we received the phone call that Leo had made it through surgery and to prepare for his return from theatre, but I didn’t feel that sudden relief. I t’s like my body knew instinctively there was more to come. We headed back to the hospital and the real wait began. An hour passed by, and our Leo still hadn’t returned. Then we were escorted to a small, quiet room to wait for more news. Not long after, one of Leo’s doctors came in to tell us he had returned from theatre but that they were struggling to stabilise him. I could tell by her face things weren’t looking good. I remember in that moment holding onto my husband, crying out to God to save our son. I had never been very religious before, but I knew I needed him. After what felt like a lifetime, Leo’s lead doctor came into the room. He knelt down, took my hand but said nothing. In that moment, I knew Leo was gone. My whole world crumbled around me, and it felt like a piece of me died that day too.
The hours that followed were some of the most serenely peaceful I will ever experience. We finally got time with our son, without any noise or wires. There was no more pain and no more suffering. Our darling boy was finally at peace. Getting the chance to hold him, kiss him and talk to him, as any new mother would, is something I will be eternally grateful for. Every part of that day will stay with me forever, and the care and love Leo received from his nurses is also something I will never forget. They really were real life angels who saved my husband and I on the darkest day of our lives.
We laid our son to rest in the most beautiful place we could think of close to our home and now visiting there, by the sea, is where my heart and mind feels most calm. I feel so close to him overlooking that view and that he is looking down watching us too. I so hope he is. We are still navigating our way through life after loss, but I guess we always will be. We have fantastic family, friends and now our little dog helping us through every day. We will miss our son, indescribably, for the rest of our lives, but we won’t let grief overshadow our everlasting memories. The happiness and light he brought to us will always shine through.
Leo, you will always be the reason we do.