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The Sleepsuit That Saved 2016

21/12/2016 17:00
olesiabilkei via Getty Images

In the summer, a package arrived for me. Inside, there was a tiny pink sleepsuit covered in umbrellas. No note, no card, no return address. I asked around, but no-one came forward to say they'd sent it. We were getting a lot of presents back then. Our daughter, Elodie, had been born prematurely and had spent her first couple of weeks in intensive care. Meanwhile, I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. Our lives were in tatters, and the people we loved were sending things to try to make it better.

A few days later, it came to me through the fog. A woman in London had contacted me after reading my blog and asked for my address. She wanted to send a sleepsuit that had been too small for her daughter. It must have come from her. Hannah. I found her message and sent a reply, thanking her for her kindness. I put Elodie in it. It was tiny, but it drowned her.

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And then, too soon, it didn't fit her anymore. Her little legs were starting to get a bit chubby, and when she stretched out her limbs, her feet were having to curl a little at the toes. I put it in a pile with the other beautiful things she'd outgrown.

My friend Lydia came to visit us. Six weeks previously, she'd had a tiny baby girl. Ines. We laid her next to Elodie in the crib. The realisation that my daughter (the last child I will have) was no longer a newborn hit me like a brick. When Lydia and Ines headed home, they took a couple of bags of Elodie's too-small clothes with them.

And on social media, I started to see photos of Ines wearing it. The tiny pink sleepsuit with the umbrellas. I thought of the woman who'd sent it to me; how she'd set something in motion without even knowing it.

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A few weeks ago, Lydia's friend Georgie had a baby girl, Poppy, after waiting for a child for many years. And Lydia gave her the sleepsuit. I don't know Georgie, but I am connected to her by that piece of clothing. And by the woman who took the time to package up a tiny sleepsuit and send it to a stranger for her premature baby. And by the three tiny girls who have worn it.

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I imagine her patiently positioning her newborn's limbs in those pockets of fabric, doing up the poppers in the dead of night. She will probably be weary, possibly overwhelmed. But it won't be long before her daughter outgrows that sleepsuit, too, and when that time comes, she'll know a little more about the kind of mother she is going to be. And I hope she'll pass that sleepsuit on, to another mother of a tiny daughter. Someone just starting out.

This year has been unkind. To my family, and on a much larger scale. But I will never forget that sleepsuit, that kindness, that connection. And when my daughter is a little older, I will tell her about the item of clothing she shared with friends and strangers, while our family was busy putting our broken lives back together.

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