Laura Burke always hoped her children would be close in age, so when she found out she was pregnant again just 10 months after giving birth to her first baby Hugo, she was over the moon. Then, at the 12 week scan, Laura and husband Dave were told they were having twins. ‘It was the best possible news,’ Laura says. ‘And they were non-identical, which meant they were growing in their own amniotic sacs and both had a better chance of survival.’ As the pregnancy continued, everything went smoothly. Until 22 weeks, when the waters surrounding one of the babies broke. ‘I was kept in hospital for five days and given antibiotics for an infection, but I was allowed home and the next six weeks went by without incident.’ Laura and the babies were monitored twice a week.
Then, on the 20 November 2017, at 28 weeks and just one hour before a scheduled check up, Laura popped over to her mum’s house with Hugo. ‘I went to spend a penny and as I sat down on the loo, I gasped. ‘One of the babies was poking out between my legs!’ Laura couldn’t see because of her bump, but she could feel with her hands what she assumed was a head. Laura’s mum came running, calling an ambulance, then she could see that it was actually the baby’s legs poking out as he was in breach position. Paramedics arrived quickly, soon followed by Dave. ‘I was terrified,’ says Laura, ‘but tried not to panic because I didn’t want to hurt the baby.’ Laura was taken by ambulance to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.
Josh was delivered in the emergency delivery room. ‘It wasn’t easy,’ Laura says. ‘He was breech and pushing was so painful. ‘With the help of forceps he eventually arrived but he wasn’t breathing, so he was rushed away.’ Exhausted, Laura still had another baby to deliver. ‘I didn’t have the strength to push,’ she says. ‘But a midwife reminded me I needed to focus on baby two.’ Contractions continued, but then a doctor took Dave to one side and, as Laura watched them talking quietly, she knew Josh, the first twin to be born, wasn’t going to make it.
The elephant sticker that meant so much to Laura
‘I couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying but I could tell from Dave’s expression that he was being given the worst possible news. ‘It hadn’t even occurred to me that the babies wouldn’t make it. ‘I just presumed everything was going to be okay. ‘Now Josh was gone and I’d never even seen his face.’ A kind neonatal registrar promised to cradle Josh until Dave and Laura were ready to spend time with him. With Laura heartbroken and exhausted, a consultant announced that a natural delivery would not be possible. She was taken to theatre, where Luke was delivered by C-section. He was 2lb 8oz and placed straight in an incubator. ‘I caught a glimpse of him. He was so small he could have fitted in the palm of my hand,’ Laura says. ‘He was taken to neonatal care to fight for his life.’ While Laura recovered from surgery, she and Dave sat in silence, blind-sided by how quickly things had changed. Eventually Dave went to take photos of Luke.
Having fun on the beach with their two boys
‘But when I saw them, it felt surreal,’ Laura says. ‘I didn’t feel like I was looking at my own baby.’ That night, Dave and Laura were taken to the Butterfly Room – a quiet place where grieving parents can spend some final moments with their child. ‘Josh was in a cooler crib, which helped regulate his temperature and allowed us extra time with him,’ Laura says. ‘We spent time crying and cradling him, whispering to him that we loved him and we were sorry.’ Emergency surgery The devastated parents were presented with a cast of Josh’s hand and footprints and a photographer took photos. The next day, Laura had to direct her energy towards Luke, who was fighting for survival. He was covered in wires and tubes, the machinery around him beeped constantly. ‘It all seemed unfathomable. ‘I was supposed to be pregnant for another three months and now Luke was alone in an incubator and we had said goodbye to Josh.
Hugo and Luke
‘I tried to get through each minute, a blur of sitting by Luke’s side and organising Josh’s funeral. ‘But I didn’t know how to be a mum to Luke without Josh by his side,’ Laura says. ‘I’d dreamed of arriving home with two new babies, but instead my parents came and took away one of every two things we’d bought for the twins.’ Laura focused on learning how to feed Luke with a syringe full of milk via a feeding tube, as premature babies can’t suck. But then a week later, Laura started haemorrhaging. ‘Doctors crowded around me as I was prepared for emergency surgery on my uterus,’ Laura explains. She had experienced a delayed reaction to the infection that had caused Josh’s arrival weeks earlier. ‘I lost so much blood, Dave thought he was going to lose me too,’ Laura says. Four days later, she was well enough to be discharged. But leaving Luke behind proved too difficult. ‘It didn’t feel right to be at home without him. ‘When we were offered a room at the hospital’s Ronald McDonald House – accommodation on the floor above the neonatal unit – we gladly accepted.’
Laura had baby Josh’s ashes put in the ink for her elephant tattoo
It meant Laura could see Luke whenever she liked. ‘And when the beeps and bright lights of the ward got overwhelming, I had somewhere to retreat to,’ says Laura. Dave brought Hugo to visit most days and the family started to form a new bond. ‘We were in the worst possible circumstances, yet we felt lucky. ‘We were in such good hands and we were treated with so much compassion.’ Nurses had put a sticker on Luke’s incubator, it was of two little elephants looking up towards a pink butterfly. The drawing was a code so the medical teams would know Luke was one of two, but his twin hadn’t made it. ‘I thought it was so sweet that I had the illustration tattooed on my arm before Luke had even left hospital, so Josh could be with me always. ‘ I even had some of Josh’s ashes put into the ink for the butterfly. ‘Every time I look at the butterfly, I think of him,’ Laura says. ‘The elephants remind me of Luke in his incubator and all the other parents we met in the hospital going through their own trauma.’
Luke was born at 28 weeks and weighed 2lb 8oz – now he is fighting fit
Luke was discharged on the 13 January, weighing just 4lb 10oz, but strong enough to go home. ‘Arriving home with Luke, but without Josh, was bittersweet. ‘It remains difficult to navigate my grief for Josh while watching Luke blossom. ‘I’m so sad but so happy and I guess I always will be,’ Laura says. ‘We’re fundraising for Ronald McDonald House because we know that it’s now someone else’s turn to be in hospital. ‘And we want them to know we are thinking of them. ‘In the loneliest of circumstances, we felt so loved and looked after in our strange, temporary home from home. ‘We want to pay that feeling forward. ‘My biggest fear is that people will forget Josh. ‘We have so few memories of him, but Luke will always be a twin. ‘We talk about Josh all the time and we have a memory box full of things that remind us of him. ‘Hugo’s two and a half now, and Luke will be two in November. ‘When they are old enough to hear Josh’s story, we’ll tell them all about their amazing brother. ‘I’m proud to say I’ll always be a mum of three.’ – The Burkes are aiming to raise £5,000 so they can sponsor a room in Ronald McDonald House, which they’ll do in the name of all three of their children. Their fundraising currently stands at just over £4,000. To support Laura’s campaign visit here. – Ronald McDonald House Charities UK is an independent charity which provides free accommodation and support to families with sick children in hospitals across the UK. Over the last 30 years, the Charity has supported nearly 50,000 families in their time of need. For more information and how you can support the Charity, visit here.