"No one else will ever know the strength of my love for you. After all, you're the only one who knows what my heart sounds like from the inside."
I started bleeding on Christmas Day, not a lot, just a little; small brown stains, just enough to notice. Sharp pains followed, shooting up my tummy. But then they were gone. The day went by, a blur of smiles and anxiety, trying to be normal so not to rouse suspicions from a family who were non-the-wiser. Trips to the toilet allowed my tears to silently roll down my face, flushing my cheeks a soft pink as I blotted my skin with a tissue.
As the day went on, the bleeding lessened, until it stopped and then nothing.
On Boxing Day, we allowed ourselves to breathe.
The next evening, without warning, a pain gathered until the dull ache took over and the brown returned. We phoned the hospital and they booked a scan for the following day. We didn't sleep.
We sat in the same waiting room, although this time I made sure it was in different seats. We saw the poppies on the wall that named your sister. We saw the same nurses walking by; warm, friendly faces of hope. Each time the doors swung open we caught our breath, waiting for my name to be called out.
We walked through the familiar corridor, sat in the same room while the nurse took my details.
"Let's just wait and see," she said. But I could see in her eyes the truth behind her kind smile.
In the scan room, I undressed and got myself ready. Legs up and open, head back. I began to pray as my husband held my hand the same way he held it last time.
And then, without warning, the nurse turned the monitor around, a smile across her face.
"Baby's fine," she beamed.
She said you were perfect.
I turned to your daddy whose head was in his hands; tears fell down his cheeks like a tap that wouldn't turn off. We'd never felt such happiness. Such joy. We watched your heart beating on the screen, so fast, so strong. We could see your head, your little buds for arms and legs. Nearly two months old. You were ours.
But your heart, your heart was what stopped mine. I could almost feel it beating inside me. Against my body, tucked inside, protected, loved beyond any words. Our baby.
Nothing will ever take that away.
We left the hospital with two pictures. I couldn't stop looking at you. You were mine.
Two hours later, the pains came. They were mild at first; slowly creeping in until they filled my body and consumed my whole being; ripping me inside. I couldn't move. Panting, puffing, crying.
We phoned the hospital but they said we had to wait, wait for the pain to go or get worse. After a while, it eased, until it completely disappeared. And I'm not sure if it was denial or delusion, but we felt excited, excited by what we'd seen only hours before. For what was still ours.
It was not long before the red blood came; thick, dark heavy clots.
Our eyes locked in fear, desperately searching each other for reassurance. We went back to the hospital that evening. The doctor was kind. She spoke with hope and warmth. We clung on to her words.
She passed me a cardboard bowl to take a sample. I looked at the familiar bowl that I had held only two months before and made my way down the same corridor to the same toilet cubicle as last time. The nurses directed me, but I knew where I was going.
And as I stood outside the cubicle I froze, but my legs shook.
I held the bowl under me. The blood filled it until it nearly reached the top and I remembered standing in exactly the same position, doing exactly the same thing when your sister left me.
I prayed you wouldn't fall out.
They took it away to be tested. Panic sat silently inside me. The doctor booked us in for another scan and we went home to try and sleep.
That night, I held my tummy and spoke to you; I begged you to stay. I told you how much we needed you, how much we loved you; in the silence of the night, I listened for you.
The next day we sat in the same room, and I peered through the same small glass window at the nurses passing up and down the corridor. On the walls, there were posters of support and I suddenly realised we were in a place that usually had bad news. After what felt like an eternity, the door opened. The sonographer looked at me, her familiar face searched mine.
"We've met before haven't we? " she asked but she already knew the answer. She gently led us to the scan room.
I don't remember taking my trousers off. But I remember the bed-like chair that I had laid on too many times before. The silence in the room told me everything, yet I still clung on to you. She didn't turn the monitor around and smile, her face concentrated as she clicked the mouse and stared at the screen. Click, click, click.
She took a breath, closed her mouth, and slowly removed the probe that could see what I so desperately wanted to keep safe.
She sat me up and placed her hands on my knees. I felt like a child at the doctors.
"I'm so sorry, Claire." She shook her head and I thought she was going to cry.
Those words, those soft, gentle words, hit me like a thump in the darkness.
Right there, our world fell apart. We sat in the silence together, our hands entwined as we tried to grab hold of our minds before they ran away to somewhere else.
It's funny how you can be in reality but not really be there at all.
She asked me if I wanted help getting you out, but that was never an option. I wanted you to leave when you were ready.
But deep down I didn't want you to leave me at all.
We went home, quietly, taking in a loss that didn't seem real. My body still ached like you were still there, growing, stretching to make room for you.
The next morning, I could feel you and as I sat on the toilet I watched the thick blood slowly leave my body as you slipped out with it, a gentle splash into the water below. I scooped you out, a little sac in the palm of my hand.
There you were, as real as I knew you were. I cried for you as my finger ran along the outline of your tiny body - your head, your shoulders and beyond. I kissed you over and over again, the sweet taste of me and you sunk into my lips, staining them forever.
Jacob. That is your name. After we chose it I looked up its meaning. It means supplanter - someone who takes the place of somebody else. Thank you for staying as long as you could. Long enough for us to see your heart beat. I will love you forever.
One day, when we have a baby girl, I want to call her Rose. I've loved that name for a long time. I've said it over and over again.
We put you in the same little pot your sister was in.
I didn't know why I had kept it, but I do now.
I placed the little teddy bear the hospital gave us when she left next to you so you weren't alone at night. There was comfort in that - knowing you were together.
When I close my eyes, I can hear you giggling, up to mischief, brother and sister, forever young.
The days rolled into one until we knew it was time to let you go. We drove down the windy lane towards the river. The sun shone a brilliant yellow, calling us through the trees until we reached where we would say goodbye.
We stood together, watching the calm pool around the rapids that would take you away.
And then we saw it, laying underneath the water between the stones, so elegant, so strong, not a petal out of place; a beautiful pink rose.
As we knelt down to say goodbye to you, I knew right then that everything would be ok.Suggest a correction