Caroline Evans, 28, Kingston-Upon-Thames, draws such comfort from decorating her baby's grave...
Cuddled up in bed, I was awoken early by the baby wriggling around inside me.
I loved feeling her kicks, and couldn’t wait to meet her.
‘Not long now, baby girl,’ I whispered.
At 37 weeks, I knew I could go into labour at any moment.
Luckily, everything was ready for my girl’s arrival in September 2013.
Her nursery was decorated beautifully and her wardrobe was full of gorgeous little outfits. Even my hospital bag was packed, ready to be thrown into the car as soon as my contractions started.
My bump was massive, but I quite liked waddling around.
I’d enjoyed a textbook pregnancy all the way through, with no complications. And, when we’d found out we were expecting a girl, my partner and I had called her Hope.
The morning I hit 37 weeks, I got out of bed at about 8am and made some breakfast.
Usually, I’d feel Hope kicking away as I chomped on my toast and sipped a mug of tea. Only, this time, I couldn’t feel her.
I didn’t think too much of it, though, got in the shower and then got dressed.
But, by 9.30am, I still hadn’t felt Hope kick. Most days, it seemed like she was doing Riverdance inside me, so it was unusual for her to be so quiet.
My partner was at work, so I texted a friend to see what she thought.
Hope’s probably just having a lie-in, she texted back.
But, a couple of hours later, after a cold drink and a few prods of my tummy, I still couldn’t feel her – and it dawned on me then that something could be wrong.
I raced to Kingston Hospital, and was immediately taken into a room where a midwife listened for my baby’s heartbeat.
Minutes of agonising silence passed as we waited in vain for the familiar chugging-train sound. Then…
‘I’ll just get another machine,’ she said.
She returned with another midwife, and they performed an ultrasound scan.
My heart was racing.
Eventually, the midwife turned to me, reaching for my hand.
‘I’m so sorry, but your baby has passed away,’ she said.
As I heard the words, I felt instantly sick, got off the bed and fell to my knees, crying my heart out.
How could this be? How could Hope be dead?
I managed to call my partner to break the news, and he rushed to be by my side.
While my mind was still trying to process it all, I had to decide whether to be induced there and then, or go home and return in the morning.
‘I’m not strong enough to do it now,’ I sobbed.
So I went home, got into bed and cried for hours on end.
I kept praying there’d been a mistake and I’d suddenly feel those familiar kicks, but I didn’t.
Sleep was impossible. I couldn’t stop thinking about what could’ve been.
The next morning, I went back to the hospital to give birth. Going through all the pain of labour with no hope of hearing that first cry at the end of it was the hardest thing
I’ve ever had to do.
Once Hope was born, she was wrapped in the soft, pink blanket I’d bought for her, and passed to me for a cuddle.
I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was. She had this big mop of dark, curly hair, and looked like she was peacefully asleep.
‘I love you so much, little one,’ I told her.
Just hours later, it was time to go home. But it felt wrong to leave without my baby.
Doctors couldn’t find anything to explain why Hope had died.
‘We think her heart just skipped a beat and wasn’t able to start again,’ my consultant explained gently.
A couple of weeks later, we had a funeral and laid Hope to rest in a local cemetery. I went to visit her most days at first, just to feel closer to her.
When I was there one day, I noticed another baby’s grave had been really nicely decorated. And it inspired me to do the same.
Pretty soon, Hope’s grave was decorated with everything from beautiful flowers to cute cherubs.
It was such a comfort – and the only thing I was able to do for my daughter.
Now, her grave always looks beautiful – but I go all out for special occasions…
For Christmas, I decorate a mini tree, adorn her headstone with fairy lights and add loads of cute ornaments. At Easter and Halloween, I’ve used themed decorations, which look amazing.
I’ve probably spent hundreds on decorations, but you can’t put a price on love.
Every time I update the decorations, I take a photo and post it on Facebook. All the lovely comments got me thinking about all the other babies’ graves in the cemetery, some of which were overgrown with weeds and looking a bit sad.
I know that, for some parents, visiting a grave is just too painful, so I decided to offer my own grave-decorating service.
So far, I’ve had lots of interest.
It’s a comfort to me to think that I can help other bereaved parents, as I know and understand their pain only too well.
After losing Hope, me and her dad split, but I went on to have two more beautiful girls, Faith, 2, and Cleo, 1.
Of course, they’re still a bit too young to understand what happened to Hope.
But I’ll make sure they know they have a very special big sister looking down on them who we love very much.