Saturday, December 01, 2007

Three special reasons to keep smiling

BANGING their plates gleefully against the table in anticipation, like any other boisterous energetic babies, the hungry triplets certainly know how to make demands.

But mum Sarah Jackson doesn't mind because not a day goes by when she doesn't marvel at the "little miracles" that have finally brought her so much joy.

Still haunted by the death of her daughter Rachael, who passed away at just ten days old, and an earlier miscarriage, Sarah is no stranger to heartache.

So when the triplets were born 20 months ago, she was understandably delighted.

"It was pure release to give birth to three breathing babies - I was just ecstatic, in a cloud," beams the former nursery nurse. "It was overwhelming. My husband John and I couldn't quite believe it when we were looking at them. It was very emotional."

During her pregnancy, Sarah, of Newtongrange, remained haunted by the memories she has of Rachael's last moments.

"Rachael was in my arms when she took her last breath," the 31-year-old recalls. "John was singing a lullaby to her, and just as he finished she died. It was just heartbreaking."

Rachael was born on July 9, 2004, weighing 5lb and 11oz. However, just five minutes after she came into the world, she stopped breathing. She was suffering from spinal muscular atrophy - a rare condition which resulted in the nerves surrounding Rachael's spinal cord being so damaged the infant was unable to move her muscles.

After four days of intensive treatment, Sarah and John were told Rachael had no chance of survival.

"We were told it was up to us how and when Rachael died, what time we wanted the ventilator switched off, where we wanted her to die and who we wanted to be there," says Sarah, fighting back tears. "We decided the machine would be turned off at 7pm to enable the family to visit and say their goodbyes.

"After the ventilator tube was taken out, Rachael was wheeled through to the hospital's family room and I held her. The whole time she was looking straight at me. They had given her pain relief and relaxants and we were told she might live for six hours, but she was dead within 20 minutes."

Rachael died on July 19, 2004 at the Simpsons Maternity Unit. After she passed away, Sarah and John took plaster cast prints of their daughter's hands and feet.

"We bathed her and cuddled her and dressed her and we got her all cosy," recalls Sarah. "It just looked like she was ready to go on an outing.

"It was a day I'll never ever forget,"
adds John. "I was offered the chance to hug Rachael myself but I thought it was the right thing for her mum to cuddle and cradle her. I was singing Five Sleepy Heads - it's an Elvis lullaby - and just after I finished the song she passed away."

It was a double blow for John, 44, because ten years earlier he and his first wife had lost a son who was stillborn. "To then lose a daughter, it was a hard thing to deal with," he says quietly. "But I think I had to be strong for Sarah to get her through it."

While the couple concentrated on caring for their eight-year-old daughter Morghan, Sarah also had counselling sessions run by the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (Sands) in the Lothians.

"It helped me a lot because I was surrounded by people who knew where I was coming from," she says. "It didn't matter if you laughed, cried or fell apart, screamed or shouted, everyone there knew exactly how I felt."

Sarah is now preparing to join with other parents at a memorial service on Sunday and will light a candle in memory of Rachael.

The couple decided to try for another baby and they attended a clinic at Guy's Hospital in London, where Sarah was screened to ensure her embryos would be free from spinal muscular atrophy. Two weeks after receiving fertility treatment, Sarah discovered she was pregnant.

"I was delighted and terrified of being pregnant again," she says. "I was so frightened because the chances of something going wrong again, especially with a multiple birth, are so high."

Despite Sarah's fears, her pregnancy went smoothly and the triplets were born ten weeks early on March 29 last year.

Eden was the first to come into the world, weighing just 2lb 13oz. Her identical twin sister Skye was next, weighing 2lb 6oz, followed by Mark, who was 3lb 7oz.

All the babies were taken to intensive care but, while the girls were soon given a clean bill of health, Mark's condition deteriorated. He had contracted a dangerous infection.

When he was ten days old, he endured a two-hour, life-saving operation to remove the majority of his bowel. "Rachael was ten days old when she died so we were thinking that this was a ten-day curse," shudders Sarah.

"He was extremely frail because he was so dehydrated and we nearly lost him because of that. The treatment that was keeping him alive also gave him serious liver disease and we were told he would need a liver transplant to survive."

The youngster remained at the Sick Kids Hospital for 14 months, but just six weeks after being put on the transplant register, Mark made a remarkable recovery.

"His improvement was so great he was taken off the transplant register, and in the last five months he has spent just one week in hospital," says Sarah. "We couldn't believe it - he's just a miracle baby.

"Last November we were told he didn't have six months to live and now he's crawling around.

"We've been told he might yet need a transplant by the age of five but he'll be so much stronger by then."

Sadly, the couple have since separated due to the strain of recent years but John, who is experiencing mental health problems, remains an active member of the family and helps Sarah look after the children.

"We're going to have a nice family Christmas - the first one where we'll all be together," says Sarah.


ON Sunday, parents who have been affected by the death of a baby will gather for a special memorial service in the Capital.

The event has been organised by Sands Lothians, a charity that offers support to bereaved parents who have experienced the death of a baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or soon after birth.

As well as individual counselling, the charity organises group meetings to give bereaved parents the opportunity to speak with others who have found themselves in the same situation.

Support and reassurance is also available to help those through their next pregnancy.

Some of the parents attending the 3pm service at Craiglockhart Parish Church on Craiglockhart Drive North, will read poems dedicated to their lost children, while others will light candles in memory of their children.

The event is open to anyone who has been affected by the death of a baby, no matter how long ago, and further information about Sands Lothians is available at or by calling 0131-622 6263/6264.


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