We had been on holiday in Devon for three days when Elva died.

That night, we went to a restaurant with beautiful sea views. Elva was fed and slept whilst we ate our meal. It was 9 o’clock by the time we got back which is much later than normal bedtime but we made an exception on holiday.

The children both had quick showers and Kieran read Tadhg a story whilst I fed Elva. She barely drank anything as she had been fed during dinner at her ‘usual’ dinner time. I put her to bed and she was still smiling at me.

Me and Kieran looked back at the photos we had taken that day. Photos that are so precious now. We checked on them both before we went to bed and all was fine.

The next morning, our whole lives changed when I found Elva in her cot. I instantly knew something was wrong but not quite how wrong. She was lying on her back and there was nothing covering her face although she had turned round in the night. But I just sensed she wasn’t ok. I picked her up and said her name. Then I shouted her name. Then I just screamed. I screamed at Kieran to get an ambulance and I ran outside and screamed for anyone to help. Our neighbours came running, everyone came running. I must have woken the entire camp up.  A policeman who was on holiday immediately started CPR. Everyone was trying to help. Before I knew it, a helicopter had landed and me and Kieran were being taken to the hospital separately in an ambulance. The neighbours we’d got to know looked after Tadhg – he was happy to stay with them and their two children. It was a blur. At some point I had cut my leg open but I have no idea when or how.

The journey took forever, even with the lights and sirens as it was rush hour by now. I kept imagining getting to the hospital and her being sat up in a cot completely fine. She just had to be fine. When we walked in, the helicopter crew were lined up in the corridor and as I made eye contact with one of them, I knew. A doctor appeared and said we needed to go to the relatives’ room – another sign. They weren’t taking us to her. When he told me there was nothing they could do, I didn’t cry. I told him he was wrong. Elva could not die. She wouldn’t do that. A nurse appeared, and two other people who I later found out were a rapid response nurse and a police officer from child protection. Another police officer introduced himself and said he needed a statement.

As we sat answering questions – some about the evening before and that morning, it began to dawn on me what was happening. I was sick. My beautiful baby girl wasn’t here anymore. I didn’t understand at all. As I explained where Elva was sleeping I began to blame myself. I put her in the travel cot. The cot was not in my room. This was my fault. I should have stayed up all night and watched her. I see now, most of the time, that I did what most parents would have done and what I had always done. What had been fine for 2 nights before. The feeling of guilt is never far away though. She relied on me to keep her safe and I had failed.

There is so much procedure involved, rightly so, when a child dies. But me and Kieran never had a moment alone. One of the nurses had lost her own son to SIDS many years ago and was visibly upset due to the similarities between both of our stories. We had Elva baptised the weekend before our holiday and her son had died the morning of his baptism. They were both the same age. She was the only person in the room that I didn’t mind being there as she was the only one who could even begin to understand how we felt.

We answered questions and they explained about post mortems, and taking her bedding for evidence and the coroner and all sorts of other information that I just couldn’t process at the time.

We were finally able to go and see Elva. Seeing my baby lying there, a tube still in her mouth that they weren’t allowed to removed until the post mortem, was horrific. She was my little girl and yet I didn’t know how to pick up. I so wanted to hold her but I was scared. Scared to hold my own baby as everything was different now. The nurse handed her to me and I cried and cried. And I begged her to wake up. I shouted at her to wake up. I needed her to. But she couldn’t. She was cold and felt tinier than she ever had before. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how we were going to live the rest of our lives.

My mum, dad and sister arrived at the hospital in record time after picking Tadhg up en route. I don’t know how they had got there so fast. I remember asking my dad to fix this for me. So unfair of me but I just wasn’t thinking and he always fixed things for me.

I looked at Tadhg who was playing with the toys on the floor, completely oblivious to what had happened. How was I ever going to explain to a nearly 3 year old that his little sister wasn’t going to be coming home with us? I couldn’t even understand it myself.

The next day, after saying our goodbyes, our parents drove us home – we were in no state. In the back of the car Tadhg broke down into tears and said he missed Elva. He didn’t know why she wasn’t with us. Neither did I.

I hated leaving her behind. Coming home to our house without her. It was the worst good bye of my life and one I didn’t want to have to say. I still don’t.

 

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Eating sand on the beach in Devon
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Fun on the steam railway in Devon, the day before Elva died
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Falling asleep on the steam train – double thumb sucking