My name is Emma McManus, I am 31 years old, wife to Patrick and mummy to 3 absolute gems. Danny our eldest who is 6 years old, Lucie our diva who is 3 years old, and our precious Angel Baby, Charlie who was born extremely prematurely at 20 weeks gestation on 22nd December 2018. Charlie fought to spend a special 10 minutes with us before gaining his angel wings.
It’s a blow you never think you’ll ever receive. You hear through social media about families being affected by the loss of child whether it be through miscarriage, still birth or due to extreme prematurity, to name but a few. But you never think it’s going to happen to you or to your family. However this dark abyss was to become our reality on 22/12/18.
When we discovered we were expecting our 3rd baby, we were filled with joy and all the hopes and dreams that all new parents to be are filled with. Anyone who has been lucky enough to see that home pregnancy test change to positive knows of the elation that is felt at that moment. Immediately you dream about meeting your baby for the first time, holding them, smelling them and hearing them. You invest all your hopes into that tiny bean growing inside.
After previously being through an early miscarriage in 2014, this pregnancy wasn’t without its worries, however when we reached that magical 13 weeks and had our first scan showing absolute perfection on the screen, we felt we were that bit closer to making our dreams a reality.
It is fair to note that throughout the pregnancy, from 10weeks onwards, I had some unusual symptoms however I had swabs etc taken which showed me to be infection free, so I tried to relax knowing I’d been given the all clear and maybe these symptoms were “normal” for me at this time.
Fast forward to 22nd December 2018, and after numerous visits to the maternity assessment unit in that previous week due to an increase in said unusual symptoms, I woke at 5am with a lot of contracting pain and a loss of a lot of fluid which I believed to be my waters. So we went straight to Daisy Hill Hospital.
After numerous testing, more fluid loss and an intensifying of pain which I just knew in my heart were contractions, we were told the news that no parent wants or ever should have to hear. My waters had broken, I was in labour and very likely going to deliver my baby soon. They believed, and we are still awaiting official pathology reports, but they are very certain, that the cause was due to Chorioamnionitis - an infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid, which had ate away at the membranes. It was too dangerous for our baby to stay in the womb, it needed to get out.
Our world fell apart in that moment. I was feeling and thinking so many things all at one time, and even now I would still be unable to explain all that was in my head. It’s impossible to put into words. Our baby was only 20 weeks old, I knew it wasn’t ready to be born, I knew it wouldn’t survive if it was born so it was in my instinct to try and keep it in there, yet my body was doing the opposite. We were in shock, we were scared, we were crushed with sadness to name but a few emotions, however in that moment I knew I had a job to do. Our baby was coming and it was down to me to help it enter the world. And that was what I was going to do.
At 12.15pm on 22/12/18, our beautiful baby boy Charlie was born and he was perfect! I cradled him on my chest and felt his little arm move against my skin twice. At first I thought i had imagined it but when he did it a second time I knew for sure I had felt it. I believe it was his way of reassuring Patrick and I that he was there with us in that moment and he was going to be ok.
Baby Charlie McManus gained his angel wings 10 minutes later.
This leads me to explain why we are raising funds for the SANDS charity and would like to make a special mention to the staff and midwives at Daisy Hill Hospital. These were and still are undoubtedly the darkest days of our lives. We went through one of the most tragic events that can be dealt to a parent, an event that no one is ever prepared for and that no one knows how to deal with or even begin to process. You need someone to just guide you through each step and each stage of this heartbreak, and that’s exactly what the midwives of Daisy Hill Hospital did. These ladies are a different calibre of person. Each and every midwife i came in contact with, from the moment I entered the doors at 5.30am to the moment I walked out on Sunday 23rd December at 12 noon to take our Angel home, has touched my life in a way I’ll never be able to fully explain in words. The support, guidance, care and empathy they showed to us during that time was just immeasurable and I will never forget them. They comforted us in our pain, they talked to us when we felt we needed to offload, yet they also managed to get all the protocol boxes ticked without us feeling pressurised, intruded upon or rushed. I believe these ladies are Guardian angels at work on earth and they will forever be special to us and hold a place in our hearts.
Another token offered to us was the use of the “Willow Suite”- a special bereavement Suite recently opened, with the help of many generous donations, to offer parents more privacy and comfort during such a difficult time. This became our little safe haven over the next 1.5 days, where Patrick, myself and little Charlie spent special quality time together. Again I feel words aren’t good enough to express how much comfort this room gave us during such a dark time. The pain we were experiencing was and is unimaginable but the fact we were able to grieve, cry, hold Charlie or hold each other in a safe, calm and sheltered environment, allowed us to keep functioning as people. At the time you don’t realise but hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back now it is those special attributes that helped to guide us through those initial days, when you had absolutely no idea how to even put one foot in front of the other. The midwives combined with the use of this little haven showed us a level of dignity and grace that is far superior to anything I’ve ever known.
Now to mention the very special charity that is the Sands charity. During our time the midwives brought in a box donated by the Sands charity and I’m going to be honest, in the beginning I hated that box. I was meant to be leaving hospital with a baby in a car seat not carrying a memory box. I wanted nothing to do with that box or anything in it. But I could not have been more wrong. That box means the absolute world to us and we will be eternally grateful to the Sands charity for providing this so can we cherish those special memories forever and share them with Danny and Lucie as they get older and have a better understanding. Within the box were many different items but to expand on a few, firstly they provided a little blue knitted hat and ribbon tied shawl to dress Charlie in. They obviously make these in numerous sizes but Charlie’s fitted him perfectly, and being only 20 weeks you can just imagine how tiny they were. I’m aware not all of you reading will be religious people but I have no doubt in mind, from the moment I held Charlie and especially when I seen him dressed in his blue hat and shawl, that we were in the presence of an Angel. He was perfect, and absolutely beautiful. They also provided a small white knitted blanket. Thirdly a very special item and something that is now irreplaceable in our lives is the key ring they provided. It was a circle metal disc with a pop out heart in the middle decorated with little engraved footprints. When getting Charlie ready for his service and burial, the midwives put the small metal heart into Charlie’s hands and we’ve kept the larger circle disc that can only be filled with the heart that Charlie now has. It breaks my heart to look at it but I also feel so close to Charlie when I hold it, as I know he is the only one who can fill that missing piece. It’s extremely special to us. They also provided 2 little teddys, one that Charlie has taken to heaven and a replica that we have held onto. In addition each box contains a SD Memory card, which the midwives kindly used to take some precious pictures of Patrick, Charlie and myself. I don’t know when I’ll ever be strong enough to look at those pictures, maybe never, but it is reassuring to know I have them and I will always have that option. We have also placed Charlie’s little handprints and footprints in his memory box along with other bits of literature and poems from Sands. Since returning home we have added little bits and pieces into Charlie’s box and I believe we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives.
This box is unbelievably special to us all as a family and it’s only because of the Sands charity that we are able to have it. In addition the charity is only able to continue to provide these special boxes and offer support to families going through such heartbreaking times through fundraising and awareness. So that is my reason for undertaking this task. Patrick, my daddy and myself will be climbing and trekking the Mourne Wall over a 2 day period on the 4th & 5th May 2019, for a total of 22 miles, and we are reaching out for your support and encouragement while we do this. Not only am I dedicated to completing this challenge in memory of our beautiful son Charlie but also in order to fundraise for this amazing charity and enable them to continue to provide this extremely special service to any poor family that may be dealt this tough hand in life.
Nothing will ever take the pain of losing our baby away, and I know I speak for all parents who have also been through this grief when I say that, but the support, guidance and empathy shown by these people and these charities through those darkest days is unparalelled. They know what you need even when you’ve no idea yourself, they are the people that think for you in those initial hours/days when you’ve no idea how to think for yourself. They are the arms that you link onto when grief has taken away your ability to walk for yourself. They are our guiding lights in the darkest days and we have to ensure they continue to shine bright!!
Thank you for reading and God Bless. Xx