WHY Jasmine?

The relentless question has tormented Holly Coe every single day since her newborn daughter succumbed to a stroke more than a year ago. The sheer injustice and cruelty of losing a child are more than she will ever be able to bear.

"It's always there, that 'Why did this happen?',” confides the 32-year-old with emotion. “I will never understand why and I will never be able to accept that Jasmine was taken away from me, that such a beautiful innocent baby could die like that."

Jasmine’s sudden death, five days after her birth, is all the more inexplicable that Holly, who suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition which affects joint elasticity and can put pregnant women at higher risk of complications, was carefully and frequently monitored throughout her pregnancy.

And yet, even the battery of additional scans and checks could not have prevented the stroke which left her infant severely brain damaged in the womb. But the knowledge no-one is to blame is poor consolation, she admits.

“They said it was maybe something in her, that it was part of her make-up and it could have happened anytime - when she was five, 45 or 50. But I couldn’t help thinking, ‘Could I have done things differently?’,” sighs the HR business partner from Westlea.

“I know now I’ve done nothing wrong but you can’t help blaming yourself and think, ‘My body let me down.’ The pregnancy was so textbook. I had got so far in terms of gestation, 36 weeks and five days, so close to full term.”

Holly became aware something was amiss in her 37th week. Two days before she was due to start her maternity leave, she had taken a day off to tie up loose ends and prepare for the imminent birth of her second child. By evening though it occurred to her she had not once felt her usually sprightly baby move.

She tried everything imaginable to bring Jasmine to wriggle inside her: drinking cold water, lying down on her side, eating chocolate. But she remained stubbornly still. Concerned, Holly drove to the Great Western Hospital.

She felt unspeakable relief when she heard her daughter’s steady heartbeat on the monitor. But the reprieve was short-lived.

“I thought she was OK. But the doctor explained that her heartbeat was actually flat. It was not going up or down. She just wasn’t moving enough and they said they’d have to induce me. But I wasn’t overly concerned at that point,” she adds shaking her head at the recollection.

“I was having my baby shower that Saturday and I remember texting my friends to say that I was either going to miss it or going to be there with my baby.”

After six hours of labour, she was rushed in to surgery for an emergency caesarean.

As soon as Jasmine was born, the infant was scooped out of the room and placed in the special care unit. Holly knew something was terribly wrong.

“When they let me go round to feed her, she looked as though she had stopped breathing for a minute. She went a dusky colour,” she recalls painfully.

“When my husband Jason changed her nappy, she did the same thing. The doctors and nurses told us they didn’t know what was wrong with her. To them, she looked healthy. But she just didn’t look right, her eyes were not taking things in properly. It was a nightmare.

"We kept asking what was wrong with her. We had no idea what was going on.”

Tests eventually revealed that her liver and kidneys had failed. It soon became clear she had virtually no brain function and they were transferred to John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.

Despite doctors’ best efforts, there was nothing to be done.

It is not until a post-mortem was performed that Holly and her husband discovered their daughter had suffered a “massive perinatal stroke” in the womb.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening,” says Holly, her voice choking up.

“You feel like you’re in somebody else’s body, and you’re watching it through somebody else’s eyes. They said she would probably not live for that long or she would die.”

Jasmine spent her last days at Helen & Douglas House hospice.

“One thing I will never forget is that we went over a hump on the road going to Helen House. She had her hand wrapped around my finger and I felt her squeeze it. That’s something I will always hold on to.”

Holly and her husband kept vigil by the infant’s side until she breathed her last on October 12, 2015. Watching her daughter seemingly struggling for breath as she faded away was an incredibly traumatic experience.

“She lived five days. When the oxygen ran out, my husband and I were with her. They warned us that they take a deep breath as if they are gasping for air but that they’re not in pain. It’s the body’s natural reaction.

"It was awful. She died almost straightaway. We read Guess How Much I love You to her as she was dying in our arms. It took a while for her heart to actually stop. She had quite a strong heart and it was still beating faintly. It was the most terrible thing I could imagine. I felt like a zombie. I was a void, a body with nothing in it.”

Reeling from the indescribable pain of Jasmine’s death, Holly craved only one thing: to be a mother again.

“I didn’t want to replace Jasmine,” she hastens to add. “But as a family we were missing a baby, my arms were aching that I didn’t have this baby with me, to hold.”

She became pregnant three months later. The pregnancy was far more taxing than she ever anticipated and she lived in constant dread of losing her unborn child.

“The doctors and midwives were telling me everything was fantastic but it never made me feel better. There was no reason for what happened the last time,” explains Holly, who joined Swindon stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands following Jasmine’s passing; which proved an invaluable source of comfort and solace.

“I tried not to get attached to the pregnancy at the start in case I lost the baby. But I couldn’t help it.”

Ashton was born a healthy little baby on October 3 last year. Holly planned an early caesarean to ensure his birth did not coincide with the anniversary of Jasmine’s.

“He is my rainbow baby," smiles Holly, whose eldest son, Jaxon, is four.

"There is still a storm but there's light at the end of the storm."

Her daughter is everywhere, she goes on. In the memories and photographs they cherish of their brief time with her, and every keepsake in the cabinet dedicated to her in the dining room. The angel wings hanging in the conservatory, the pendant on Holly’s neck and Jasmine’s handprints on her silver bracelet are lasting reminders she is an intrinsic part of the family.

But while Holly is learning to bear her absence, coming to terms with the cruelty of her death is simply impossible.

"It's very raw at the start and painful. You can't see yourself getting through the next day. Whereas now I get through, day to day. I have nice times but I almost feel guilty for them, because I shouldn't be happy because she's not here.

“I think about her every single day. I would give anything for her to be here.”

Holly’s husband Jason will take part in the IronMan challenge in the Netherlands in August in aid of Helen & Douglas House and Sands. To make a donation click here uk.virginmoneygiving.com

To find out more about Sands go to www.swindonsands.org and for information about Helen & Douglas House, visit www.helenanddouglas.org.uk