Time To Go
We spent the most precious moments with our daughter on her last day of life. We waited impatiently for her body temperature to be warmed back up so that Adam and I could both share some skin-to-skin time with her. When I eventually got to hold her against my skin I remember just feeling so relaxed with her cuddled in to me that I almost fell asleep. It was one of the first “normal” moments that I had with her and I desperately pleaded for time to stand still so that our cuddle would never end. I tried to soak in every detail of her; her smell, her hair, the softness of her skin. I stroked her hair as I realised for the first time, how much of it she had. It was so thick at the back of her head that I could gently twirl it around my fingers. I thought about how I would have loved to do her hair in years to come, imagining her running in to nursery or school with her pig tails. After she was placed on my chest and once the initial overwhelming emotions subsided, I didn’t cry the whole time that I held her; it was just so amazing that I didn’t want to waste any of that moment worrying about what was to come.
We had some time together with Noah, as our little family of four, making prints of our children’s hands and feet, an amazing time with his baby sister that Noah still talks about now. When we took Madelyn through to the family room, we were able to bathe her, change her nappy and dress her for the first time. I remember the stress of choosing what she would wear. I had to ask my sister to bring in an outfit from home as I didn’t feel any of the clothes I had brought in to hospital for her were special enough to be the first and last that she would ever wear. It’s not something you think about when you’re shopping for baby clothes, is it? You don’t take something off the rail in a shop and think; would this be good enough to be the only outfit that they’ll ever wear if they die. We decided on a beautiful baby grow, covered in pink flowers. As I dressed her, one of her nurses commented that I was a “pro” at changing babies. I started to cry and thought to myself, I should be doing this for her every day. I knew I was good at it, and it hit me that this was my only chance to do it.
Madelyn looked absolutely beautiful once we had dressed her. Her fingernails were stained pink from the ink used to make her hand prints, but we laughed about that and even now it feels really symbolic. I like to have my nails painted pink when I have the time to do it. It feels like a little nod to my girl. Matching Mummy and daughter fingernails; something I can share with the little mini-me that would never be.
We spent some more precious time by ourselves with our children before our family came to say their goodbyes. Noah helped to brush her hair, and we tried to take as many photos of the four of us together as we could. Watching our family take turns to hold Madelyn for the first and last time was extremely difficult. To see your loved ones expressions being torn between such love and pain all at the same time is indescribable. Those expressions are even more evident each time I look back at the photos that I frantically took. I so wanted to capture all of Madelyn’s precious moments with her family, but it was overwhelming to witness and realise that she’d miss out on being part of our wonderful family. She’d never truly get to know them, she’d never get to be spoiled by them, she’d never get to wear the outfits that they too had been excited to buy. My poor girl. My poor family.
The last goodbye from Noah to Madelyn came all too quickly. Of course, he didn’t realise it was the last time he’d see his sister; he just thought he was saying goodbye until it was time for Madelyn to come home. I’m glad that we did it that way. It meant that Noah was completely himself around her, not worrying about never seeing her again. His only concern for her was the tape around her mouth, but he thought it was there because she had “sore lips”. He gave Madelyn and us kisses and cuddles, and off he went.
My Mum stayed after everyone else had left, and held her granddaughter one last time. It was nice for Madelyn to spend some time with just the three people that had welcomed her in to the world. However horrific her birth was, we will always share that experience together. I heard my Mum tell Madelyn that she couldn’t have been more wanted. How true that was. It must have been so hard for her to leave the hospital that night, knowing that Adam and I would be spending our final moments with our daughter alive.
When we were told that Madelyn wouldn’t survive, we knew that we had to prepare ourselves to "switch off" her life-support, but I had no idea how we could possibly decide when the right time would be to let her go. However, after all of our family had left and Adam and I were left alone with our daughter, we looked at each other and we just knew that she was starting to look tired. It felt like she was telling us she’d had enough.
We told the nurses we were ready, so we got comfortable on the bed, holding our daughter close. We asked if they would take some photos of Madelyn once the tape was taken off her face, as we were warned that her colour would probably change quite quickly. We sat cuddling and talking to her as the tape was taken away and her breathing tube was removed. I was quietly willing her to take a breath by herself, but she didn’t. She just slipped away very peacefully. We held her in closer, and although I felt indescribable pain and instant grief, I also felt a sense of relief. I felt relieved that it was all over for Madelyn; she had that horrible tube out of her throat and she didn’t have to fight any more. For the first time, we could see the whole of her perfect little face and hold her however we wanted to with no tubes or wires in the way.
The doctor came in to confirm that Madelyn had passed away and then we were left in peace with her. We were told we could hold her for as long as we wanted and that when we were ready to go to bed, the nurse could either take her away then bring her back in the morning or, if we’d like to, we could have a bed with a cold mattress set up in the room with us. We decided we’d like her to spend the night with us, so we had a moses basket brought in to our room. We wrapped her in her shawl and placed her in her bed for the night. I remember waking up through the night and looking over to her bed. I was frightened to look at her as I didn’t know if she’d look much different now, but it felt so comforting just to know that she was there next to us. It hit me that I should be awake at that time, but I should have been woken by my beautiful girl wanting fed. My milk had come in and was causing me a lot of pain – even my body was yearning for the baby it had grown. I somehow managed to get back to sleep, but woke up with the same fear in the morning. I had never seen a dead body before, I had no idea what to expect. I asked Adam to look at her first, and he told me she looked absolutely beautiful. I went over to her and was shocked to see that she still looked the same as she had the night before. She looked like she was just sleeping peacefully. I lifted her for a cuddle and told her I was sorry for being scared. I subconsciously started rocking her and patting her bum as I held her and spoke to her. I remember thinking how strange it was that my instincts just kicked in, and I was holding her just as I had held her brother when he was born. It wasn’t scary at all.
I wasn’t sure if anybody else would want to see Madelyn after she had died, but my Mum wanted to come back in to the hospital. We spent time taking casts of her hands and feet, taking locks of her hair and collecting things for her memory box. We had two Flopsie Bunny teddies that Noah had wanted to get for her so I kept one tucked under my top for most of the day and made sure the other one was snuggled with Madelyn.
After spending the day in hospital with Madelyn, we decided it was time to get back home to Noah. We left her snug in her bed, with keepsakes and a note from us tucked in to her shawl. We swapped the Flopsie Bunnies so that Madelyn had the one that smelled like me and we took her one home for Noah to look after. It felt really important for her to have something with my scent when she was going to be left alone for the first time. I didn’t want to think too much about where she’d be taken after we left, but I left her with her lovely nurse and told her we’d see her soon. We collected all of our things and somehow managed to carry ourselves out of the ward. I held on to our memory box filled with Madelyn's things, the way that I would have held my precious baby. With a crushing pain in my chest, legs like jelly and my eyes fixed firmly on the floor we made our way through the hospital, passing happy parents with their new babies. I wondered if they knew what the memory box symbolised and whether they could see the loss in our faces.
We arrived home to face questions from Noah about why Madelyn wasn’t with us but we decided to leave that conversation for the following day. We just wanted to hold our boy close and prepare ourselves for the next steps we had to face. Explaining to a two year-old that his sister had died, telling people what had happened, making an appointment to register her birth and death at the same time, and somehow starting to plan her funeral. Where on earth were we going to start?