“They said she wouldn’t survive the birth but she did – she lived for 57 wonderful minutes.”
For any parent, having less than one hour of memories of their child to treasure for life is simply unthinkable. For Jessica Weeks, from Coventry, it is only too real – but meeting her precious girl, albeit so briefly, is something she’ll never regret.
It was at the 12-week scan, in January 2017, that the bottom fell out of Jessica’s world. She and husband Andy received the devastating news that Emelia had severe abnormalities and they should expect the worst.
Forty-year-old Jessica recalls: “Emelia was diagnosed with spina bifida and anencephaly and it was the biggest kick in the gut. We were told she wouldn’t make it past 20 weeks, then told 28 weeks and then that she wouldn’t survive the birth. But she was my fighter, my little miracle baby and she lived – and we had 57 wonderful minutes with her.”
Four years later Jessica finds herself surrounded by the family she so desperately craved, with two cherished children, aged 6 and 2 and another on the way. But it was in Emelia’s memory that she was invited to the launch event last week for Sandra Godley’s charity record.
Emelia’s legacy also proudly lives on in the form of Hannah’s House, established by Jessica in her firstborn’s name. The charity offers a place of refuge after the loss of siblings to neonatal death, miscarriage and stillbirth.
It provides vital support through Parenting With Hope groups as well as counselling and ‘Celebration Days.’ And a feature of Jessica’s long-term aims is for the charity to work more closely around bereavement with University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire, where she both met and lost her precious girl on the same day.
“I wanted to take the pain of our loss and turn it into something to be able to help other people, by working with their other children and help them to understand death,” she said.
“My eldest daughter Hannah was two when we lost Emelia and there was nowhere for us to go. There was lots of help for us as parents but it was really hard for us to explain to a two-year-old why her little sister didn’t get to come home with mummy from the hospital.
“The following year we had another baby, our son Daniel, and I found that again there was nowhere to turn for support with pregnancy after loss.
“Sadly I knew I wasn’t going to be the last mum who would have to bury their child, who has to think about how they’re going to remember them as opposed to how they’re going to bring them up. I decided I didn’t want the pain we were feeling to be in vain.
“Hannah’s House was something I always wanted to do and finally got charitable status in February.”
She is also keen to encourage wider discussion around the sensitive subject of neonatal terminal diagnosis and available options to parents.
She said: “I knew as her mum the only thing I could give my little girl was the opportunity of life. They didn’t know how long she would survive or, if she did, how long we would have her for but there was that chance of life and she deserved that opportunity.
“We made the right decision for us but of course I appreciate it might not be the right decision for everybody. I’m just so happy that I got to see her big brown eyes.”
As Jessica and Andy continue to navigate the long path of grief ahead, they also look forward to meeting the newest member of the Weeks family in November, although Jessica admits there will always be a hole in the family that can never be filled.
She said: “I really love my children but it’s so hard when you look at them and think someone is missing. That’s what connects us as parents in the support group.
“When you get the question ‘how many children do you have?’ you can feel a bit like a rabbit in the headlights. Sometimes I’ll say I’ve just got the two and Hannah will chip in with ‘what about Emelia?’ But now four years later I am more easily able to say I have three children – soon to be four – but only three of them live with me and one lives in heaven.
“Hannah knows that Emelia is in her future so when she gets to heaven she’ll be able to meet her sister. And she has birthday and Christmas cards from her.”
Jessica, Andy, Hannah and Daniel, were proud to be among specially invited guests at the launch event for My Darling, at The Telegraph’s Rooftop Bar in Coventry on National Grief Awareness Day. (August 31st)
The release of the single, written and performed by MOBO Award-nominated Coventry musician Sandra Godley, was also marked by the release of 100 white balloons in honour of lost loved ones.
Jessica said: “Being a part of the event with my other children was just wonderful – being able to remember our daughter as well as all the other babies that didn’t get to come home. The song is absolutely beautiful. It really captures the emotion of being separated from somebody you love.”
For more information about Hannah’s House visit here
Donations can be made via this link