‘I wanted to love her as long as we could’: Mother who knew her daughter wouldn’t survive birth threw a baby shower, proudly shared bump selfies and spent four days at home with her thanks to a ‘cuddle cot’ after she died
- WARNING: DISTRESSING CONTENT
- Erin O’Hara, 24, from County Derry in Ireland, was devastated at 20 week scan
- Her baby had anencephaly, a fatal condition meaning skull doesn’t form properly
- She and partner Jamie McCormick threw charity baby shower in her honour
- Freya was born on December 7th 2018, and lived for two minutes
A young mother who was told her unborn child would not survive past birth has revealed how she was determined to celebrate her daughter’s life as much as possible, before having to say goodbye.
Erin O’Hara, 24, from County Derry in Ireland, decided to make each day of her pregnancy special after being told her daughter had a fatal condition which meant her skull had not formed properly in the womb.
She and her partner Jamie McCormick took dozens of photos of her growing baby bump and even threw a baby shower with their friends and family.
Their daughter, Freya, was born on December 7th 2018, and lived for just two minutes.
Thanks to a specially refrigerated cuddle cot, her parents were able to take her home for four days, so that friends and family could visit, which they placed alongside their bed every night.
Erin O’Hara, 24, from County Derry in Ireland, and her partner Jamie McCormick were devastated to learn their daughter had a fatal condition and wouldn’t live beyond birth, but decided to celebrate her in every way they could
The couple had just moved in together when they discovered they were expecting, and were overjoyed at the thought of welcoming a baby into their family
Erin, who also has a seven-year-old son, Josh, was over the moon when she found out that she and Jamie were expecting a baby.
The couple had just moved in together and were dreaming of a big family. At their 12-week scan, they could barely contain their excitement when they heard the baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
The couple had two minutes with their ‘angel baby’ before she died. Erin and Jamie told their daughter they loved her and that they were there for her before she passed away
Erin began shopping for baby clothes and a pram, spending her evenings planning the nursery décor on her laptop – white furniture and a rainbow motif across the back wall.
By the time the family caught the bus to Altnagelvin Hospital, in Derry, for her 20-week scan, her bump was already starting to show.
‘We were sitting on the bus, debating whether or not to find out the sex,’ remembers Erin. ‘I wanted it to be a surprise, but Jamie fancied doing a gender reveal.
‘In the hospital treatment room, Josh sat in the corner playing a game on my mobile as the scan started.
The family visit Freya’s grave every week, which they call ‘our wee garden’, to preserve her memory (pictured, Josh, 7, visiting the cemetery)
‘The sonographer was chatting away, pointing to the screen, showing us our baby’s wee lung and heart. Then suddenly she went quiet and her face changed.
‘I felt my blood run cold… I just knew something was wrong.’
A doctor was called in, and explained to the stricken couple that their unborn baby had a condition called anencephaly, which meant the skull hadn’t formed properly.
‘My mind was reeling, I remember says it was okay, we’d just be extra careful with the baby’s head,’ says Erin. ‘I thought we could buy a wee protective helmet or something.
Erin continued to chronicle her pregnancy, and says Freya ‘made her presence known’ throughout the nine months
‘That’s when they told us that wee babies with this condition don’t live long. There was nothing they could do. A part of our baby’s skull was missing. There was no chance of survival.
‘Thankfully Josh was still sitting in the corner of the room, playing on his game, oblivious. Jamie and I were in floods of tears.
‘At that point they asked us again if we’d like to find out the sex, and we said ‘yes’. It seemed so important that we know everything about out child that we could, while we had the chance.
‘When they told us is was a little girl, our hearts broke all over again. I’d always wanted a wee girl. We named her there and then… Freya.’
Freya and Jamie were dedicated to honouring their daughter, with Freya saying:’I wanted to keep her for as long as we could’
Abortion is currently illegal in Northern Ireland, but the couple were told they could travel to England to seek a termination.
‘I shook my head immediately,’ recalls Erin. ‘I told the doctor I was determined to love this baby, no matter what. I wanted to keep her for as long as we could.’
That evening, Erin and Jamie talked long into the night, coming to terms with the news. They would never get to dress their daughter in pretty frocks, teach her how to ride a bike or take proud photos of her first day at school.
But they decided to celebrate her pregnancy for as long as they could.
Jamie threw Erin a baby shower in honour of their daughter, as they wanted to ‘make the most’ of the baby while they could
‘I told Jamie that I believed Freya had been given to us for a reason,’ says Erin. ‘I told him I wanted to enjoy every moment of having her inside me.
‘It wasn’t easy though. In Tesco a few days later, a lady came over to coo at my bump. She was asking when I was due, and what I was having.
‘I had to plaster a smile onto my face and pretend nothing was wrong.’
Months passed and Erin’s bump grew. She could feel her daughter kicking inside her.
Family and friends made donations to poorly baby charity Every Life Counts at Freya’s baby shower
That’s when she decide to throw a baby shower.
‘I was going to miss out on so much, but having Freya alive and kicking inside me was one thing I could still celebrate,’ she explains.
‘My parents and Jamie agreed. We wanted to make the most of this wee baby while we could.’
They booked the upstairs room of Granny Annie’s bar, in Derry, for November 10th 2018, and invited family and friends, asking them to make a donation to the baby charity Every Life Counts – instead of bringing gifts that Freya would never use.
The couple were determined to have a positive celebration of Freya’s life and make happy memories of the pregnancy that could be cherished
‘I didn’t want anyone to feel awkward, so I put a post on Facebook explaining our intentions,’ says Erin.
‘This is going to be a celebration of Freya’s life and we want it to be a happy occasion. We’re making happy memories of this pregnancy to cherish.’
‘The response was overwhelming, about 70 people showed up. Jamie decorated the room as a surprise for me, filling it with flowers and ‘baby girl’ balloons, with a gorgeous three-tiered cake and a sign spelling out Freya’s name.
‘I was 28-weeks gone and I had a sizable stomach, Freya was well and truly making her presence felt. Our friends flocked to take selfies with my bump.’
Erin went into labour early with her daughter after seven months of pregnancy. She was admitted for hospital, and said she savoured every moment of Freya’s labour
Erin remembers Freya ‘opened her eyes and gazed straight up’, curling her finger round father Jamie’s finger before she died
Freya’s due date was February 4th 2019 but Erin was warned that she could go into labour early.
‘When I felt the first twinges of pain at the start of December, I knew it was the beginning of the end,’ she says.
‘I was admitted to hospital, and for days Freya’s life hung in the balance. But by December 7th my waters had broken and my labour was established. Our wee angel was coming.
‘I huffed and panted through each contraction, determined to savour every last moment – even the pain.’
The couple were able to take baby Freya home in the cuddle coat, dressing her in a white dress to meet friends and family so that they could say a longer goodbye
Freya was born after 9pm, weighing 2lb 4oz, and was immediately passed up into her parents’ arms.
‘She opened her eyes and gazed straight up into mine,’ says Erin. ‘She curled a tiny hand around Jamie’s finger.
‘We told her that we loved her and that we were there for her.
‘Two minutes later she stopped breathing. Our angel baby had grown her wings.’
Freya was placed in a cuddle cot, specially designed to keep her body cold so that the family could say a longer goodbye. Erin and her family were able to take the baby home
Midwives arranged for Freya to be placed in a cuddle cot, specially-designed to keep her body cold so the family could say a longer goodbye.
But what Erin really wanted was to take her home, and the hospital staff agreed to help them.
Jamie was taught how to assemble and run the cuddle cot, and they were given it on loan. Erin dressed Freya in a gorgeous white gown, ready to meet her new family.
‘Having her in our house was the most precious four days of my life,’ says Erin. ‘Every night, when we went to bed, we set up Freya’s cuddle cot beside us.
Erin revealed her seven year old son Josh was ‘in awe’ of his baby sister, and spent days picking her up and rocking her like a doll
The couple continue to honour Freya, and now want to raise awareness for the fatal condition anecephaly
‘Josh was in awe of her, gently picking her up and rocking her like a doll.
‘She’s your angel sister,’ I explained to him. ‘She’s come to visit us and then she’s going to live in the sky.’
‘All our family and friends came round to meet her, taking turns for kissed and cuddles before returning her tiny body to the cot.’
On Sunday, December 16th, nine days after she was born, Erin and Jamie buried Freya in their local graveyard. They’ve named the plot ‘our wee love garden’ and every week they take fresh flowers and toys.
Erin, pictured with her seven year old son Josh. She tells the little boy that Freya is his ‘angel’ sister
Erin has set up a Facebook page aiming to connect bereaved parents with others who want to exchange notes
Now Erin wants to tell Freya’s story to raise awareness of anencephaly. It happens around the 23rd day of pregnancy, so by the time she found out she was expecting Freya, her fate was already sealed.
WHAT IS ANENCEPHALY?
Anencephaly, sometimes referred to as ‘open skull’, is a rare birth defect.
It causes parts of a foetus’ brain, scalp and skull to not form completely.
The defect occurs during the third and fourth weeks of pregnancy, according to Cleveland Clinic.
It happens when the neural tube, a channel in the foetus that normally closes to form the spinal cord and brain, doesn’t close as it should.
As a result, children with anencephaly are born without part of their skull and brain. They are often blind and deaf.
Babies with the defect, which strikes one in 5,000 babies each year, tend to die within weeks. There is no cure.
‘Our story is positive, we loved Freya, we cherished every day of my pregnancy, and she’ll always be in our hearts,’ says Erin.
Following an appeal on Facebook earlier this year, Erin and Jamie received around 50 notes from well-wishers around the world, all addressed to baby Freya.
Each note reads: Baby Freya, Mummy, Daddy and Josh’s love for you is so big, it’s reached…’
‘My favourite one was from Disneyland,’ she says. ‘The pink princess castle was in the background. We bought a huge Minnie Mouse teddy for Freya, so it seemed fitting. I’m sure she’d have loved it.’
Now she has started a project called Angel Notes Around the World to help other bereaved parents send each other notes of love and support.
‘When I realised how much receiving the love notes had lifted my spirits, I wanted to share that with other bereaved parents,’ she says. ‘They can honour their children in an inspired and creative way too.’
‘The idea is that you send your photo with a note of love, and receive a note of love in return,’ she says. ‘Losing a child is so lonely, it’s good to know there are others out there who understand how you feel.’
Erin has been nominated for a Butterfly Award 2019 for Inspirational Mum. The winner will be announced at a ceremony, run by charity Finlay’s Footprints, later this year.
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