‘Sitting in the baby unit, I held Rosie, my tiny baby, who was the size of a doll and I said goodbye to her,’ says Nikki Peterson, 44.
‘She had just arrived in our life, this tiny scrap of joy, and my husband Nick and I had to watch as she took her last breath.
‘She died in my arms. She was six days old.’
Nikki’s daughter, Rosie, was born prematurely on April 26, 2006, at just 23 weeks. This week Nikki and her husband Nik, 45, will be lighting a candle at 7pm on October 15 for the ‘Wave of Light’, an initiative organised for Baby Loss Awareness Week.
The globally recognised event sees families across the world light a candle and leave it burning for at least one hour, to remember all babies that have died too soon.
In the UK, it is estimated that one in four pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth, with around 4,500 babies born stillborn, or dying shortly after birth every year, which equals to about 13 death per day.
‘You’re a member of a club that no one wants to be part of,’ says Nikki. ‘You never dream it might happen to you.’
Nikki was working media sales and had been with her husband Nick for eight years when she fell pregnant. ‘We lived in this cute cottage in a country village in Sussex and I was so happy to be pregnant with our first child.’
But she was at work when suddenly had a stomach ache. ‘It wasn’t that bad,’ she says. But she rang the hospital to be on the safe side, and they suggested she came down for a check-up.
‘They were messing about in reception with paperwork but when they finally examined me, all hell broke loose,’ Nikki remembers. ‘Doctors came running in from every direction and someone rang Nick.
‘”You’re having your baby, he needs to be here,” they said. I gave birth to Rosie in six hours.’
Nikki describes her ordeal as ‘horrific’.
‘The consultant was telling me he didn’t think she would survive so I didn’t know if I was giving birth to a dead baby,’ she says. ‘I didn’t even get chance to hold Rosie as they whipped her away. She weighed one pound when she was born.
‘I was put on the labour ward and all I could see around me were happy mums. My baby was two floors up in the special unit, covered in wires and tubes – it was completely silent apart from the beeps of the machines.
‘Rosie was so fragile, we couldn’t touch her, apart from to use a cotton bud to wipe her mouth. It was torture. I had to try and express milk to feed her. I would just sit and cry.’
Nikki said they stayed with their daughter for five days, until medics gave them the choice whether or not to switch off her life support. ‘It was the most difficult decision I have ever made,’ says Nikki.
After Rosie’s death, Nikki was sent home. ‘You’ve given birth, so your body is bleeding, you’re trying to produce milk and your hormones are all over the place, but you have no baby.
‘When I went to the GP, he made a throwaway comment about Rosie being a miscarriage. But she was my child. I silently vowed to myself that no woman should have to suffer such terrible off hand treatment.’
Nikki found it difficult to return to work. ‘It was hard to tell people when they asked (if they even asked) about my baby. What do you say? “She died”.
‘People would avoid me in the office if they saw me coming.’
Eventually Nikki left her job and travelled with her husband to Switzerland to do a ski season. ‘Losing a baby makes you re-evaluate everything,’ she says. ‘Nik and I had been on track to live a conventional life – marriage, babies, a house, good careers. Now, we questioned what we wanted.
‘I left a £50K job to be a maid in a chalet, Nik was the chef, cooking for families when he was used to running the kitchen in top restaurants. But I will never forget one night when we headed to the slopes after work and we breathed in the mountain air and I felt my heart lift. Nik took my hand. He felt it too. After all the grief, it was a relief to feel positive again.’
Five months into the trip to Switzerland, Nikki found herself pregnant again. ‘The pregnancy wasn’t planned. And I was terrified,’ she says. ‘This time I didn’t tell anyone.’
‘We came back to England and stayed with my parents – I didn’t work because I was too scared I would lose the baby.’
Terrifyingly, at 28 weeks, the same thing happened. ‘I was having a little girl and I went into labour too soon,’ says Nikki.
‘Tiger was born 12 weeks early and I was told that she might not make it through the night.’
Nikki had to have an emergency caesarean but miraculously, Tiger survived and soon blossomed into a healthy toddler. Another daughter, Betsy followed two years later. ‘Suddenly I had this healthy family. I felt so blessed but have never forgot what we’d gone through with Rosie.’
Nikki left media sales and retrained as a baby loss coach and now works for SLOW (Surviving the Loss of Our World), an award-winning bereavement charity offering support for bereaved parents and siblings in the UK following the loss of a child.
‘SLOW welcomes all bereaved parents, be it weeks, months or years after the death of your child, whether your child was an adult or a baby or the varying circumstances in which they died,’ says Nikki.
‘SLOW is always there when the grief becomes too difficult to bear alone and our primary aim is to provide a safe space that is welcoming, where you can meet and share your experience with other bereaved parents.’
Nikki’s coaching practice works on building your life up again after unimaginable loss: ‘When I lost Rosie, I lost my future plans, I lost my innocence, my confidence, my happiness, friends, dreams, trust, everything. But you can rebuild your life after the death of a child and there is a process to that. I always say Rosie is my superpower and she inspires me to create a life of meaning and love,’ says Nikki.
Both Tiger and Betsy had finished primary school when Nikki found herself pregnant again at 42. ‘It wasn’t planned and once again, I was terrified,’ she says.
‘Not only was it a high-risk pregnancy, I was also classed as a geriatric mum. But our son Bruno was born full term and healthy in 2021 and was the gift we never thought we needed. He has brought such joy to the whole family.’
‘We scattered Rosie’s ashes in the Ashdown Forest near to where we live and now the girls, Nik and I take Bruno up there and we talk to her on her birthday,’ says Nikki.
‘Rosie may not be here physically but she’s still part of our family.’
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