One woman helped give Bangor mum Laura a new bundle of joy
A Bangor mum tells Stephanie Bell about the baby that's helped heal the anguish of losing her first child
The loss of her precious baby girl on Christmas Eve two years ago has been hard for Laura McNally to bear but as she cradles her new daughter in her arms the young Bangor mum has a reason to smile again.
Laura (34), a health visitor, and her partner Davey Kirkpatrick (28), an auto-fitter from Bangor, lost little Isla when she was just 10 months old after she suffered an irreversible brain injury during a freak accident at home four months earlier.
Advised after the accident to switch off their baby's life support, the young parents battled to keep their daughter alive and managed to even take her home again where they enjoyed eight special weeks together before Isla left them quite suddenly on Christmas Eve 2013.
Eventually deciding to have another baby was a tough decision for Laura and David but the birth a month ago of little Imogen has once again brought joy to the devastated young couple.
Baby Isla is never far from Laura's thoughts and to honour her little girl and ensure her spirit lives on she has spent the past year setting up a charity in her memory which she is now ready to launch.
Rainbow of Hope aims to support families of children with life-limiting conditions by providing equipment or help with home care to allow them to enjoy as much quality of life together as possible in the short time they have left.
It is Laura's hope that the loss of her little "angel" Isla will now bring some joy to the lives of those facing the terrible truth that their child will be leaving them too soon.
There has been tremendous comfort for Laura in working for many months to get the charity registered and set up. She says: "I want to turn her life and death into something positive. She was a very special wee girl and I want to honour her.
"Isla was very sociable and loved attention. She loved the TV show Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and to this day if I hear that theme it sends chills down my spine.
"She was also very advanced for her age and very bubbly. She had just reached the age when she had made that beautiful transition from newborn to having her own wee character.
"Everyone said she looked like a doll because she was so petite and beautiful. To me she looked like an angel, all of her life she was that beautiful. I think of her as one of those angels put on Earth as a loan for a while. She was perfect.
"After she died, there was a double rainbow and to me a rainbow is her sign. That's why we called the charity Rainbow of Hope."
It has been a traumatic couple of years for Laura and David. Even deciding to have another baby was emotional and Laura found that she was so overwhelmed with grief that it was affecting her ability to conceive.
She turned for help to Ruth Ellen Logan who runs a holistic fertility clinic and found tremendous healing there, which allowed her to get pregnant with Imogen.
Despite having a healthy pregnancy, Laura couldn't overcome a terrible fear that she could lose her baby, making the next nine months a long and emotional journey. Little Imogen was born healthy on May 8, bearing an uncanny resemblance to her big sister, which also brought great comfort to her parents.
It wasn't until Laura held her baby in her arms that she felt relief and real joy for the first time since losing Isla.
She says: "I was never 100% sure I would bring my baby home and I couldn't enjoy any of the pregnancy. I visited Isla once a week and talked to her about it as I didn't want her to feel I was replacing her.
"She gave me the strength to get through it. It was the longest nine months I have ever had.
"Since she was born people have been really sensitive and allowed David and I privacy and the first three weeks with Imogen have been really peaceful and special for us.
"She is so like her big sister in looks and temperament and it was a beautiful surprise to be handed a little girl so like her sister.
"It doesn't take the heartache away, but the emptiness I felt, Imogen has now filled with joy. I still have tears everyday but they are joyful tears now. I have used all of Isla's things for Imogen which is lovely, because she has a little bit of her sister with her.
"She is healthy and well and while we want her to grow up knowing her sister, she is her own wee person with her own life to live."
Isla was the couple's world and it took just an instant for that all to change in a freak accident in their home when their baby was six months old.
Laura finds it too difficult to talk about the details but reveals that Isla hit her head and was unconscious and starved of oxygen.
She was rushed by ambulance to the Ulster Hospital where her life was saved before being transferred to Intensive Care in the Royal Victoria Hospital, where she was put on life support.
Her parents were told that her brain injury was fatal and irreversible and were advised to switch off life support, but they couldn't bring themselves to do.
Laura says: "She was on life support for six weeks and we were told she was severely disabled and advised to switch off the machines but I didn't want to lose her.
"We fought hard to keep the ventilator on and then she was taken to the Children's Hospice for two weeks where she was expected to die. She had to be tube fed."
Isla amazed everyone in the hospice, where she was given hydrotherapy, and responded so well that staff believed that she could go home.
Overjoyed to be taking their little girl back to their house, the couple found a lack of practical support and simple things like specialist car seats for their disabled daughter were unavailable to them.
It was this experience which led Laura to come up with the idea for the charity.
"We were lucky because both of our families were very supportive and they clubbed together to buy her a car seat which costs about £1,000 but there are people who aren't that lucky and don't have that family support," she says.
"Also, she was still being tube fed and needed suction and because I am a nurse that wasn't a problem for me, but I can see where it would be a struggle for some parents and hopefully the charity can help with that, too.
"It was the most amazing eight and a half weeks. We planned Christmas and had all her wee gifts wrapped and the tree was up.
"She was getting physiotherapy and we were told she was blind but she could see the lights in her sensory gym. I took her to mum and baby yoga and we did everything we could with her.
"Then on Christmas Eve morning, she had a very high temperature which was very worrying. I got a nurse to come out to the house and when she was there Isla started to vomit so much she was ingesting it and it was just horrific. We rang an ambulance and she was taken to hospital. Unfortunately, we never brought her home after that.
"I still feel numb thinking about it. We had the Christmas tree up and all her wee things set out for Christmas. We just sat in the living room feeling numb. Gary Hanna from James Brown Funeral Parlour made a big difference to us.
"He treated Isla like she was one of his own family and really guided us through the next days.
"We brought her home for Christmas Day and Boxing Day and she was buried on New Year's Eve in a wee pink coffin with fluffy clouds on it."
As the couple now start a new happier chapter in their life with their little girl Imogen, Laura is indebted to Ruth Ellen Logan, who she believes helped give her the gift of her new baby.
Ruth Ellen Logan (34) from Belfast, who is mum to Aiyana (4) and Tommy (2), created The Logan Fertility Method and abdominal massage after her own devastating fertility challenges, which resulted in three ectopic pregnancies and the crushing loss of both fallopian tubes. Through a combination of acupressure, mindfulness, reflexology and Maya massage, Ruth Ellen has helped over 500 women to date, with 380 babies already born and another 123 currently expected.
Maya massage is a tummy massage designed to realign the pelvic organs and primarily stimulate the ovaries, reposition the uterus and detoxify a congested, sluggish pelvic area.
Laura believes that without Ruth Ellen's holistic therapies that she would never have celebrated the birth of little Imogen.
"It is hard to explain what it is like. After Isla, I couldn't go back to work as a health visitor and sit with families of new borns and tell them my baby had passed away, it would have been too traumatic," she says.
"I got great support from the psychology department in the Royal who have really helped me from an emotional point of view.
"I even stepped away from friends who had children and didn't really socialise for some time.
"People kept saying to us that we should think of having another baby and at first it really upset me because I couldn't even contemplate it in case it was taken away from us.
"I still had all Isla things and her wee crib and I couldn't think of putting another baby in there."
Last March, Laura and David decided to try again for a baby but were unsuccessful in their attempts. The longer this went on, the more frustrated the young couple became.
"I was told at the hospital it was hormonal and that basically nothing was working because my body was in severe crisis because of my grief," says Laura. "I was told there was no medication to fix it and just to try and relax and be happy. I just remember thinking 'How do you do that?'"
Laura then came across Ruth Ellen on Facebook and arranged for a consultation.
The two women immediately clicked and have since become friends. Laura says: "Some people don't believe in angels but to me Ruth Ellen is an angel. I swear too that Isla was in the room with us that day and even Ruth Ellen felt her presence.
"Ruth Ellen told me I was suffering very badly from a broken heart which she wanted to fix for me and get my body back to good health and she really wanted to help us have another baby.
"I left that consultation feeling positive and feeling that it would happen very soon and it did, I got pregnant within just a couple of weeks.
"It was like a light bulb moment and I felt that out of the darkness there was light and that David and I were not alone.
"We were overjoyed to be expecting but very scared. The team at Ruth Ellen's clinic were there for me throughout it all. I went once a month for reflexology and visualisation and it really helped to alleviate my fears and normalise things for me.
"Ruth Ellen was always at the end of the phone if I needed her. I couldn't talk to the doctor or midwives about my fears as, despite being supportive, they didn't really have the time to deal with emotional problems.
"Ruth Ellen went above and beyond for us. We still miss Isla every day but in the past month Imogen has brought us so much joy. She is just as perfect as her sister was and we are very proud parents."
Supporting children with life-limited illness
The special memories Laura and Davey made in their baby's final eight weeks are now something they want to help other families achieve through their Rainbow of Hope charity.
It has taken months of work just to get the charity up and running and already with the support of friends and family Laura and Davey have raised £5,000.
Now that Imogen has been born, Laura plans to throw herself fully into fundraising and creating awareness of the charity.
She says: "Being pregnant, I haven't been as active with fund-raising as I'd hoped, but we are now planning to do a sky dive and have a few other things planned.
"The main aim of the charity is to provide equipment and give nursing time to families with children who have a life-limited illness."
Helping make life a little easier for families is what Rainbow of Hope is all about and Laura believes that simple reassurance for parents that they are not alone, as well as providing emotional support, will help make a big difference.
She adds: "I miss Isla every day and I hope the charity will help give families special memories which we have, thanks to those eight weeks we spent with her."
- You can find out more about the services of the charity at www.islasrainbowofhope.org.uk