The journey to the Butterfly Awards this weekend was tinged with the memories of what should have been.
The ceremony was held at Chesford Grange Hotel in Warwickshire, just a few miles away from the hotel where Martin and I enjoyed a babymoon break in February, when I was 23 weeks’ pregnant. I started to feel ill during the break, developing what I thought was heartburn; I gained a lot of weight, and was overwhelmingly emotional. These, I thought, were all routine pregnancy symptoms to be endured. As it turned out these were symptoms of HELLP syndrome and respectively represented my liver being in crisis, my kidneys starting to fail (the weight was retained fluid) and very high blood pressure.
Three days after returning home after the babymoon I had been admitted to hospital and three days after that, Hugo was delivered.
So it was a heavy heart that we retraced the journey we had made eight months ago – this time carrying a baby’s memory in my heart, rather than a growing baby in my belly.
This time I am a bereaved, rather than an expectant mother.
The Butterfly Awards honour bereaved parents who work to help others through their own loss, and healthcare professionals who work tirelessly to prevent baby loss, and who guide bereaved parents through their loss.
I was honoured to be a finalist in the Author/Blogger category, after several friends insisted I had to be nominated for the blog that I have dedicated to my son, Hugo, who died in March this year. He had been born 16 weeks prematurely and fought so hard for life for 35 days.
Being a finalist was bittersweet: I have been a blogger for years, but only gained such widespread recognition for my writing this year. Blogging has saved me since losing Hugo: I would be in an even worse place without the ability to express my feelings through my blog, and without the support that has been lavished on me by family, friends, and new friends I have met through blogging.
Being able to share how special Hugo was through my blog has brought me a small comfort. In addition, as part of Hugo’s legacy I have also been blogging about HELLP syndrome, issues affecting parents of premature babies and bereaved parents, and seeking to improve healthcare communication. This gives me a sense of my life worth being saved, when my son lost his.
For these reasons, winning the award was almost irrelevant – these outcomes are my reward. I am so grateful for the people who voted for me, and who shared, retweeted and emailed my voting profile to everyone they knew, and to the local newspaper who wrote a feature about the nomination and my work on Hugo’s legacy. That has made me, Martin and Hugo feel so loved – to know that we are so loved and respected by so many is just as good as winning any award, and I send everyone my most heartfelt thanks.
The category in which I was a finalist was the most populous, and with international candidates. Each was a worthy finalist, using the power of the written word to help bereaved parents through their loss, show them they are not alone, and help them rebuild their lives. Congratulations to Charlotte Nall, who won the category.
Mel and Jade, the organisers of the Butterfly Awards, had obviously poured heart and soul into honouring all lost babies, their parents and the professionals who help us rebuild our lives after our loss. They are both offered huge thanks for organising such a beautiful event.
I had been aware of Mel’s work even before falling pregnant with Hugo. Mel’s son Finley was born sleeping, and her Twitter avatar is a heartbreaking photo of them together. Mel’s anguish in the photo is clearly evident, and I remember looking at it wondering how on earth a mother survives losing her baby. Little did I know that within a year I would be following the same path.
The ceremony opened with a film about Mel and Finley, which I sobbed through. While the circumstances of Hugo’s death are different, the sense of loss of sorrow is very similar. Particularly tear-jerking was the live version of a Snow Patrol song that I usually don’t like but was the perfect accompaniment – the female singer’s voice was hauntingly effective.
A talk by an obstetrician about stillbirth and the research into prevention was interesting, but with the sad thought that there are babies born sleeping who potentially could have been saved with different treatment and interventions.
It underlined how I am comparatively fortunate because I know that Hugo’s premature birth was unavoidable, and that everything humanly and medically possible was done to save his life. While that does not diminish our heartbreak, not thinking someone or something is at fault is one less point of anguish.
If possible, it may be useful at next year’s event to include a talk by another professional about work in to preventing baby loss, such as a neonatologist or someone who is involved in research into sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The acceptance speech by the winner of the Online Support category winner was breathtakingly beautiful and summed up the tone of the awards. Paraphrased from memory, it read “There are no winners in baby loss. Each of us has to watch other children exceed the age of our lost babies, and other children doing things our babies will never do.”
It was wonderful to meet Lisa Ventura, a finalist in the Inspirational Mother category, who I’d been talking to for a while on social media. Lisa has been doing amazing things in her son Frankie’s memory, and I am delighted to have been asked to be involved in her online support magazine, Everlasting Footprints. Lisa also read a beautiful poem during the ceremony.
I also enjoyed spending time with Sarah and Louise from First Touch, the charity for the neonatal unit at St George’s Hospital where Hugo was cared for. First Touch was a finalist in the Cherished Keepsake category for the memory boxes that I will be eternally grateful for because of the mementoes of Hugo that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
The food was delicious – beetroot with goat’s cheese to start, followed by a chicken dish and completed by a sticky toffee pudding.
Martin and I enjoyed our little break away. The tranquil setting of the hotel, with a view of bunnies happily frolicking in the autumn sunshine gave us a well-needed time to relax.
Remembering so many lost babies and having our own loss of our Hugo underlined – we would much rather have had no reason to have attended the awards – did, however leave us feeling emotionally drained.
This emotional exhaustion is tribute to the award organisers for creating such a moving, poignant and moving event – a fitting sign of respect to our babies.