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I was grieving two years ago on Mother's Day after losing my baby... Roise's helped heal me but I still don't feel complete

Today is bittersweet for Belfast mum Mechelle whose daughter Aria died in 2019

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THRIVING: Mechelle Hammond with her baby Roise who was born prematurely

THRIVING: Mechelle Hammond with her baby Roise who was born prematurely

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

MOTHER’S LOVE: Mechelle cradles her tiny daughters

MOTHER’S LOVE: Mechelle cradles her tiny daughters

10 month old Roise

10 month old Roise

Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

DEVASTATED: Mechelle was unable to hold her baby while she fought for life in an incubator

DEVASTATED: Mechelle was unable to hold her baby while she fought for life in an incubator

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THRIVING: Mechelle Hammond with her baby Roise who was born prematurely

Not every mum feels able to celebrate Mother's Day.

Some families are nursing poorly children or sitting by the incubators of premature babies. Other parents have empty arms.

For Mechelle Hammond (35), from west Belfast, it's a day of gladness, but also a day where the daughter she lost at just 10 weeks old is never far from her thoughts.

Mechelle has had three premature babies - all born at 27 weeks - but tragically just two of them have survived.

This Mother's Day will be her first with her 10-month-old daughter Roise.

"Mother's Day is definitely bittersweet for me," she says. "Roise has helped heal me but I still don't feel complete. On Mother's Day two years ago I was grieving for her sister Aria."

Mechelle's first child, her son Caolan, is now a strapping 17-year-old, but when he was born at 27 weeks and four days in July 2013, he weighed just 3lbs 2.5oz.

A kidney infection was thought to be the cause of Mechelle's early labour. Caolan was born naturally but whisked off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the Royal Victoria Hospital immediately.

"That was my first experience of neonatal and it was really scary," remembers Mechelle. "The staff were lovely, but you walk in and you just hear all the beeping machines.

"Caolan was in an incubator, surrounded by wires. As a first-time mum it was really frightening. You have to learn to do everything around those wires. I became a dab hand at changing a nappy in an incubator - a hidden talent!"

Luckily Caolan was relatively well for a premature baby. He suffered chest infections and jaundice, but was allowed home after eight weeks.

Mechelle suffered a miscarriage in early 2018 and then fell pregnant again just months afterwards.

She was considered to be a higher risk pregnancy so she was given extra support at the pre-term pregnancy clinic, but it didn't stop her worrying.

She was diagnosed with placenta previa, meaning the placenta was covering her cervix, and warned to look out for bleeding. So when she began bleeding at 26 weeks she knew she was in trouble.

Baby Aria was born by C-section at 27 weeks and two days in December 2018, weighing 2lbs 2.5oz and again was taken straight to NICU. But this time things were far from straightforward. The tiny girl suffered a bleed on the brain, a fungus on her kidneys and Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC), which causes an inflammation of the baby's bowel.

Meanwhile five days after giving birth Mechelle fell seriously ill herself with sepsis and pneumonia and spent a week in intensive care, so poorly she couldn't even be at her daughter's cot-side. But by late February the specialists were cautiously optimistic about Aria's progress. She was booked in for an operation on her bowel and Mechelle was told she might be able to take her daughter home 10 days later.

Instead, in the early hours of the morning on the day her surgery was due to take place, Aria's condition deteriorated fast and she stopped breathing. Doctors managed to resuscitate her but she'd suffered severe brain damage.

She passed away in her parents' arms on March 3, 2019 - just weeks before Mother's Day.

"I was absolutely devastated, I just didn't feel complete without her," says Mechelle. "It was such a shock because we knew she was poorly, but we'd expected her to get better."

Mechelle was supported by premature baby charity TinyLife and bereavement charity SANDS, as well as her family who were heartbroken too.

She keeps photographs and Aria's handprints on display in her home and talks about her daughter to keep her memory alive.

When Mechelle fell pregnant again in late 2019 she was "absolutely terrified".

She was given an early scan at seven weeks, began at the pre-term clinic at 10 weeks and had a stitch put in her cervix at 14 weeks, but she still couldn't shake the feeling of dread.

"From the day and hour I found out I was pregnant I was terrified," she admits. "I remember telling one of the medical staff that from 27 weeks it all goes wrong for me. I had it in my head that I wanted to get to 30 weeks, but at 26 weeks I found a spot of blood. They brought me into the hospital and I cried all the way through the scan. The nurses were so lovely and caring."

Mechelle was told the stitch in her cervix was holding well, but a few days later her waters broke at home.

Baby Roise was born at 27 weeks and one day on May 6, 2020, weighing just 2lbs 2oz.

"I cried during the C-section, it just reminded me so much of Aria's birth," says Mechelle. "Roise was taken to NICU and the nurse sent me some photos but six hours later I persuaded them to let me see her; I was just so desperate to see her for myself."

Mechelle says Roise's time in NICU was "the hardest even though it was the easiest".

The little girl was in better health than Aria had been although she needed support with her breathing and took reactions to the eye tests.

But for Mechelle being in NICU brought back so many memories and she was scared Roise would go down the same road as her sister.

"TinyLife supported me again; they got me a breast pump and what really helped me was breast-feeding," reveals Mechelle. "Feeding Roise every two hours gave me something to do. It made me feel like I was able to help her."

Roise was discharged from hospital after 13 weeks and is now a healthy happy 10-month-old who is "trying to walk before she can crawl".

Mechelle and her family have raised more than £2,000 for TinyLife in Aria's memory.

"Roise has been a tonic, she's helped me heal," says Mechelle. "This Mother's Day I'm just so grateful to have her."

For more information on TinyLife visit www.tinylife.org.uk or find them on Facebook.

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