Placing one hand over my tiny bump, I tried to find the best angle for a photo.
Having just had my 12-week scan, I couldn’t wait to finally announce my pregnancy on Facebook to my friends.
I loved watching all the likes and comments roll in for my partner Nathan, 21, and me when I uploaded my first ‘bumpfie’ last May.
Although I’d known Nathan since we were five and at school together, it was only when we bumped into each other on the street in August 2012 that we fell in love.
Three years later, in January 2016, Nathan had got a job in the army, we’d moved into our own flat and were trying for a baby.
As someone who loved updating social media, it was only natural that when I became pregnant I’d want to share my journey.
My family would comment: ‘Not another bump photo!’ but always added a winking emoji so I knew they were joking.
At our 18-week scan, Nathan and I discovered we were having a girl and were given a due date of January 20, 2017.
We started to think about how we would decorate our nursery, and I began buying clothes for her. We even agreed on the name Maddison-Leigh.
Thankfully my pregnancy was a breeze, which meant my timeline was a mix of happy, smiley photos of me and my bump alongside pictures of things we’d bought our precious little girl, such as Winnie The Pooh blankets and ‘Mummy and Daddy love me’ bibs.
Of course, there were days when I’d worry someone who followed me might not have been as lucky as me when it came to being pregnant, but I hoped they would understand why I wanted to share my happiness.
When Nathan proposed last Bonfire Night, I decided we should tie the knot three weeks later – I wanted to be married when Maddison arrived.
‘Maddison was born at 12.34am on January 4, but unfortunately we lost our little girl. She weighed 6lb 2.7oz and she’ll always be our baby.’
So on November 30, when I was 33 weeks pregnant, we had a simple but perfect ceremony at Bryn Meadows in Caerphilly with 25 guests.
As Christmas Day rolled around, we couldn’t help but imagine how different our next Christmas would be.
But then on Boxing Day I began to feel really ill, and I couldn’t stop coughing.
I made an emergency appointment with my GP, who reassured me it was just a heavy cold.
However, the following day I started coughing up blood, so Nathan took me to the Royal Gwent Hospital, where doctors diagnosed me with flu and gave me a scan to check Maddison was OK.
Thankfully she was.
Three days later I still hadn’t improved, and on January 3 I woke up with twinges that felt like mild period pain and my stomach was hard to touch.
As the morning went on I kept waiting for Maddison to move, but she didn’t. I tried everything to get her kicking, from bouncing on the medicine ball to having fizzy drinks.
Then, suddenly, around 11am, I felt a horrible stabbing pain in my stomach, so Nathan rushed me to nearby Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr Hospital.
By then I was in excruciating pain and was quickly taken for an ultrasound.
Little girl, two, terrifies her mum by crouching down at a drain to talk to ‘the guys’ down there
Who’s laughing now?
The actor who plays Pennywise in horror film It looks very different without his clown gear on
fit for royalty
Inside Prince George’s £17K-a-year school that he starts TODAY with future Etonites from ‘nappy valley’
September 10: For the next 14 days you will be zodiac mastermind and make dramatic progress at work
Blogger lives off tinned fish and spends just £15 A WEEK on food so she can go on luxury holidays
As the sonographer struggled to find the baby’s heartbeat, he tried to reassure me that Maddison might be hiding, but I knew she was gone.
With doctors unable to detect her heartbeat and scanning equipment unavailable, I was taken by ambulance to the Royal Gwent Hospital for a scan.
But it was no use – our baby had died.
I’d suffered a placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus, depriving the baby of oxygen and nutrients.
With Nathan and my mum Leigh, 40, by my side, we all burst in tears.
Suddenly I was in a maternity ward, no longer preparing to hear Maddison’s first cry, but instead waiting to see if I’d go into labour or whether I’d need to be induced to give birth to my dead daughter.
But then my organs suddenly started to fail, and I ended up needing an emergency C-section under general anaesthetic.
As Nathan knew how much I wanted to be the first to hold Maddison, he waited until I was awake again before she was brought to us in the high-dependency unit.
Looking at her, she was so perfect.
A lovely midwife took photos of us with Maddison and organised a cast of our daughter’s footprints.
By then, family and close friends had also gathered at the hospital, coming into the room to say hello and goodbye to our sleeping baby and share a cuddle.
Nathan dressed Maddison in a blanket, boots and a white hat with stars on.
We used a cold cot in hospital to help preserve Maddison’s body, but after three days it was time to let go.
We had final kisses and cuddles, then a midwife wrapped her up and Nathan carried her down to the mortuary.
I hadn’t posted on social media since New Year’s Eve.
Nathan had messaged our closest friends to let them know, but as the fog cleared, I wanted to tell my Facebook friends what had happened.
We’d shared every moment of the pregnancy online, and it broke my heart that I couldn’t end that journey with a picture of Maddison alive and well.
On January 5, I posted a photo of our little girl in her outfit with the update: ‘Maddison was born at 12.34am on January 4, but unfortunately we lost our little girl. She weighed 6lb 2.7oz and she’ll always be our baby.’
Somehow, it felt easier to function once I’d posted.
The news was real and there for all to see.
Just as my friends’ lovely comments had added to the enjoyment when I’d announced my pregnancy, their condolences helped me feel loved during the lowest days of my life.
We had Maddison’s funeral on her due date.
She was buried in a pink coffin with a teddy bear by her side.
I decorated her grave at Thornhill Cemetery with pink pebbles, colourful windmills, teddies and candles and I still post pictures online whenever I visit.
Then, in June this year I saw a comment on one of my statuses from a man who was a friend of a friend, telling me I was ‘sick in the head’ for keeping Maddison with me for three days after she’d died.
I tried to explain that no one could understand how it felt until they’d experienced it, but it only made more trolls pile in.
One said I was disgusting, while another insisted I must have hurt my baby.
Their comments were so hurtful, I burst into tears. While friends and family argued with them online, I decided to block them.
That month I returned to my job as an account manager.
It was hard, but I knew the HR department had briefed everyone before I returned.
However, one new manager asked why I was back from maternity so soon, and when I told him what had happened he was mortified.
One day we’ll try for a brother or sister for Maddison, but not yet.
I’ll continue to post photos and thoughts about her, despite the trolls.
I know some people might find the photos distressing, but friends have told me that my posts have made them more aware about what to do if they can’t feel the baby kick in the late stages of pregnancy.
I also think sharing our grief will help people – me included.
In 21 years’ time I’ll be adding a post wishing Maddison a happy 21st birthday, because she’ll never be forgotten online or off. She will be in my heart forever.”
- For support, visit Sands, the Stillbirth And Neonatal Death charity at Uk-sands.org