When Nicole Thomson felt what she thought were signs of pre-term labour at 33 weeks pregnant she was filled with excitement at the prospect of meeting her baby girl early.
But just hours later the Queensland-based mother-of-three and her husband Chase were faced with their worst nightmare when they were told by doctors that their beautiful baby, Esther Mae, had died.
‘I had been in and out of hospital for a couple of days being monitored thinking I was in pre-term labour. All test results showed that I wasn’t and that bub was healthy. I could feel her kicking and moving around normally, and listening to her heartbeat gave me some reassurance, but I still felt like something wasn’t right.’
‘I woke up on February 2nd 2017 in hospital after having a few hours sleep from being monitored for most of the night.’
‘I was feeling positive as we were booked to go to Brisbane that afternoon to see a specialist and part of me was excited because I knew she was coming early despite what the tests showed.’
But when the midwife came in shortly afterwards and struggled to find her baby’s heartbeat, Nicole’s excitement quickly turned to anxiety.
‘The midwife asked if I had much movement since I’d been awake and I realised that I hadn’t, I also noticed that my belly had gone soft on top which was very unusual as it was always rock hard because of the position Bub was normally in,’ Nicole said.
Trying hard to remain positive, Nicole watched as doctors performed an ultrasound before telling her that she needed an emergency caesarean because the baby’s heartbeat was ‘fading fast’.
Alone at the hospital and beginning to shake uncontrollably, Nicole frantically asked for a phone to call her husband and mother to tell them what was happening.
‘As they were racing me through the corridors I tried to call him [Chase] but he didn’t pick up because I was calling from a private number. It turned out that he was just about to leave town for work and it was lucky that he was with my mum at the time,’ Nicole said.
‘I called her and as she answered, I kind of just yelled/cried in the phone “Mum, I’m having an emergency cesarean”. I heard her yell my exact words to Chase in a panicked tone and that was it, I was being wheeled through the theatre doors. I remember feeling a little relieved knowing that he was on his way.’
Lying on the operating table faced with bright lights and a room full of strangers, Ms Thomson said that she had never felt more ‘out of control’.
While she was under, Chase arrived at the hospital and was raced through the corridors and although he saw Nicole on the table briefly as he passed by, he wasn’t allowed to enter the room.
‘He was anxiously waiting, hoping for some news, any news. He sat there thinking that he was going to walk out of the hospital without both of us.’
Eventually a doctor emerged to let Chase know that while Nicole was okay, doctors were performing CPR on their baby.
‘He went into the room where our daughter lay on a table and watched as the team continued to work on her, hoping with all of his heart that she was going to pull through.’
‘One midwife asked if she had a name, and that’s when he named her ‘Esther Mae’. She broke into tears when he told her, and said that it was beautiful. He sat and held my hand for a while while I was asleep and then stumbled out of the room nearly falling over.’
After 40 minutes a doctor approached Chase and asked him a question no parent should ever have to answer.
‘They asked him if he wanted them to keep trying [to revive Esther], and Chase made the impossible decision and asked them to stop. They wrapped Esther in a blanket and placed her in Chase’s arms as he sat by my side waiting for me to wake up,’ Nicole said.
‘I remember opening my eyes and to the right I could see a midwife standing next to the bed. She lent over and said in a gentle voice “I’m sorry Nicole, Esther didn’t make it”.
‘Chase was sitting next to me with Esther in his arms. I looked into his eyes and with a deep breath, my first words to him were “I’m sorry”. Seeing my husband, my best friend holding the beautiful baby that our love had created lifeless in his arms hurt me more than words can ever explain. She was perfect from head to toe and for some unknown reason, her soul was gone.’
Nicole then had Esther placed on her chest where she immediately noticed how warm and perfect she was.
‘Her body was still warm and she looked every bit of what a newborn baby should. We were rolled through the hospital down to our room on the maternity ward where my mum was waiting.’
‘I saw people looking with excitement towards me as if to congratulate me on my baby. But I kept her covered and tried not to make eye contact with anyone as tears welled in my eyes.’
Nicole, a photographer, asked her mum to bring her camera to the hospital and she and Chase spent the day capturing special moments with Esther.
‘With a heavy heart, my mother captured photos of us throughout the day with our darling Esther. I watched from my bed as Chase bathed her petite body, followed by his first and only dance that they ever shared together. It was the saddest and most special sight.’
Family, friends and their little boy Leo also came to visit Esther to say goodbye; Leo gave his little sister kisses and while he wasn’t able to comprehend the situation entirely he remained gentle and sympathetic to everyone.
The hardest thing, Esther said, was accepting that little Esther really was gone and that there was no known reason why.
‘My natural instinct was to check on her, to cuddle her, to feed her and each time that I laid eyes on Esther, my heart would break a little more.’
‘Chase and I decided that we needed to say goodbye to her the next day as we wanted to remember her the way she was, perfect and beautiful. We had organised to have moulds of her hands and feet done as keepsakes the following afternoon, and agreed we would do it after that.
‘We kissed her cheeks for the last time and tears rolled down our faces as we embraced each other while they rolled Esther away. She would now be flown to Brisbane for an autopsy.’
Nicole and Chase left the hospital heartbroken without their baby and returned home to a strong support system of people who were there to help with anything they needed.
The pair also organised a beautiful farewell service for Esther, with Nicole determined to make it perfect as ‘it was the only event I’d ever get to plan for her’.
‘It was an incredibly beautiful but sad service. Often funerals are a celebration of one’s life, but this wasn’t the case for our Esther. Instead, we dreamt of what could’ve been and found some peace in knowing that Esther is safe and living in paradise. We await the day where we lay eyes on her beautiful face once again.
‘A piece of me is gone forever, and I will never be the same person again. Some people say the pain will get easier, but I don’t think it does. You just learn different methods of how to cope with the agonising pain.
‘Losing Esther will affect me for the rest of my life, but I know that she will always be watching over our family.
‘I want to help break the silence of miscarriage, stillbirth and child loss by sharing my story. My hope is that it will raise awareness and show families experiencing loss that they are not alone.’