As his wife Becky was prepared for the Caesarean that would bring their third child into the world, Brett Parry chatted and joked with the medical team around her.
Becky was a cancer nurse at the same hospital and he knew the doctors and nurses as his wife’s friends and colleagues.
‘I knew the anaesthetist because we used to play football together,’ he recalls. ‘He said to me: ‘Don’t worry, Brett, she’s in safe hands.’ He pauses, still incredulous. ‘But the next time I saw him was at Becky’s funeral.’
Minutes after her healthy baby boy arrived by pre-planned Caesarian section — before she’d had a chance even to hold her newborn son — Becky was in a coma, fighting for her life in intensive care at Northampton General.
The 32-year-old nurse had suffered a catastrophic cardiac arrest and never regained consciousness. Within three days, Becky’s life support machine was switched off and she was dead.
At a time when women so rarely die in childbirth, and having a baby has never been safer, the loss of Becky is hard to comprehend. It is a poignant reminder of the fragility of life.
There had been no reason to imagine that the birth would be anything but straightforward; no clue to the tragedy waiting to unfold. Becky was a fit young woman who had breezed through an untroubled pregnancy.
Effortlessly pretty, she was devoted to her husband and family, and looking forward to the birth of their third child.
Five weeks on, her widower Brett, 32, is now a single dad caring for their children — Ashton, nine, Dolcie-Belle, five, and new baby Hudson — while still grappling with the sudden, inexplicable shock of losing his wife.
‘Becky was perfectly healthy,’ he says. ‘She went to hospital to give birth — and now no one will ever see her again. It doesn’t seem real.
‘I still have her overnight bag from the hospital upstairs, still packed. I don’t even want to open her wardrobe.
Each night, at 8.30, I put the kids to bed and I go to bed with them because there’s no Becky to talk to, no one beside me on the settee, no one to share the silences with.
‘I cook. I wash clothes. I change nappies, sterilise bottles, do the night feeds every four hours. I’m just cracking on, rolling up my sleeves.
‘I can’t break down, I can’t grieve, because there’s football practice to take Ashton to, there’s dance classes for my little girl, there’s packed lunches and the school run to do and the baby to look after.
‘And I talk to Becky. I never thought I would, but I do.
‘I just say: “I’m doing the best I can for the kids, and Hudson is just beautiful, but we all miss you like mad and one day we hope that we’ll see you again.” It’s still so raw. It has changed me. My whole body aches and I think it’s the grief.
‘Even our priest has cried. He said: “When things like this happen, they make you think there’s no one up there.” There is a catch in Brett’s voice as he swallows back tears.
A self-employed electrician, he vividly recalls the day — June 3 — when, as his second son came into the world, his wife left it.
When they left their home for the hospital, he and Becky had no worries. She had already had two Caesarians, and anticipated no problems with this third baby, which was conceived on their honeymoon in Dubai nine months earlier.
The couple had been together since their teens, but had postponed their wedding because they’d wanted to save, first, for the four-bedroom family home they’d recently bought in Northampton.
Brett was beside his wife, holding her hand, when their son was born. ‘They held up the baby, a boy. Becky smiled. I kissed her and said: “Well done.” She never got to hold him because that’s when the carnage started,’ he says.
‘She started scratching her arm, so hard I was worried it would bleed, and she said: “Brett, Brett, I’m struggling to breathe.” They said it was the anaesthetic, but then she started really hyperventilating and her pulse rate went through the roof. They ushered me out.
‘Next, there were alarms going off and 16 people from the trauma team were rushing in and at that point I still had our baby in my arms. I knew it was bad.
‘After that, they took me to another room, sat me down, and I was sweating in my blues from the theatre. I could see the worried looks on everyone’s faces and they said: “Mr Parry, you’d better get Becky’s parents here. She might not make it.”
‘I was thinking then: “If she has to be in hospital six months, a year, two years … if that’s what it takes to make her better” … I was trying so hard to be positive.
‘Then they said she had gone into intensive care and it was really serious, and for the next three days, every day, every night, I was there, at the (post natal) ward with Hudson, or holding Becky’s hand.’
Brett has two strong, supportive families around him — Becky’s parents and her three sisters, and his own parents and two siblings — and they all rallied to help.
Meanwhile, as he shuttled between intensive care and the ward where his newborn son dozed, oblivious to the unfolding tragedy, the days passed in a blur of anxiety.
Brett had called the baby Hudson, which was one of the three boys’ names he and Becky had chosen for a son. She never knew his name.
‘I didn’t accept she’d die,’ says Brett. ‘Then the top doctor in intensive care, whose wife had worked with Becky — they had three children the same age as ours — came to talk to me.
‘I said: “Tell me in black and white, mate. Don’t give me false hope” — and he said I’d just made his job a lot easier.
‘He told me that Becky’s brain had been starved of oxygen, that they couldn’t bring her temperature down, and that if she came out of the coma she’d be in a vegetative state. That killed me.
‘He said they would be running tests on her brain, and if there was no sign of life then we might want to get the kids.
‘Becky’s hands and face were swollen, and there were tubes and drips all over her. She was on a ventilator to make her breathe. I decided to ask the kids if they wanted to see her.
‘I said: “Mummy’s very, very poorly. You can come and see her in hospital if you’d like to, but she doesn’t look like Mummy.”
‘I didn’t want their last memory of her to be such an awful one — but I gave them the choice and they said they didn’t want to see her. They wanted to think of her smiling and happy.’
Becky’s parents, Eileen and Steve, were at the hospital with Bret when they were told that all hope had gone. Tests had revealed that Becky was brain dead.
‘We didn’t want to hear those words,’ says Brett. ‘I cried, and so did Becky’s mum, and her dad sat with his head in his hands.’
The family’s priest was called to the hospital, then preparations were made to take Becky off the life support machine.
‘I said goodbye to her,’ says Brett. ‘I was too upset to stay in intensive care with her any longer — it felt like a morgue. I kissed her head and told her I loved her. I promised her I’d bring up the kids as best I could. I was told she wasn’t in pain and that was the only positive.
‘Then I had to go to the ward and get Hudson, to take him home for the first night. It was just me and the three kids and I broke down.
‘But you have to get up the next morning. You can’t fall apart. And I had to tell Ashton and Dolcie-Belle their Mummy had died, and that was such a hard thing to do.
‘At the hospital, they’d told me: “Don’t sugar the pill. Don’t say she’s gone to sleep, or they’ll just ask when she’ll wake up.” So I said she’d gone to Heaven and wouldn’t ever be coming home again. They just went very quiet. Then I said: “We’re all going to miss her and we just have to always remember her and make her proud.”
‘It’s the worst thing you ever have to tell your kids, and even now, five weeks on, I don’t know if they’ve really taken it in, because Dolcie-Belle said to me the other day: “How long does it take to have a baby? When is Mummy coming home?”
‘I had to explain to her all over again that she wasn’t coming home. She said, “Sorry Daddy, I just forgot”, and went off to play with her dolls again. It was heartbreaking.’
Becky was one of life’s givers. She worked as a Macmillan nurse and loved her job, putting in extra unpaid hours to support the families she looked after. She was universally loved. Brett has been buoyed by the kindness of strangers — relatives of cancer sufferers she cared for — who have sent him condolences.
‘A lady stopped me in the park with the kids and said: “Your wife looked after my dad in the last two weeks of his life and made him as happy as he could have been.” She was a stranger, but she knew who I was. She walked away crying.’
Brett and Becky had met, through friends, when they were 16. ‘She’d do anything for anyone,’ he says. He smiles. ‘And my mum … (he’s momentarily choked) she adored her.’
The two of them made a handsome couple: he clean-cut and good-looking; she blonde and beautiful, with a warm smile and laughing eyes.
Photographs of their wedding in September 2017 at Whittlebury Hall, Towcester, show Becky radiant with happiness in an off-the-shoulder white gown. Brett, in morning suit, has a lilac flower in his buttonhole to match his tie. Their two children, in miniature replicas of their parents’ outfits, beam at the camera.
How could Brett have foreseen that the florist who made Becky’s bouquet would, within nine months, be making the floral tributes for her funeral, also in her favourite purples and whites?
The hospital ward on which Becky worked was closed out of respect for her on the day of her funeral: colleagues were among the 700 mourners at the Catholic cathedral of Our Lady Immaculate and St Thomas in Northampton.
Even at the funeral, the permanence of their mum’s death still eluded her children. ‘Ashton asked me, “Whose coffin is that?” and I had to tell him again that it was Mummy’s. They still ask the same questions. They’ve asked what Heaven is like and I’ve told them it’s full of angels and Mummy is happy there.’
There will be more questions, of course, when Hudson is old enough to understand, and Brett has prepared his answers.
‘I’ll tell him everything that happened. He will know the truth. We have a photo of him lying on Becky after she lost consciousness. She knew she’d had a little boy. She saw him for five minutes — enough time to smile at him.’
There is an aching void now where Becky should be: the family house for which they strived no longer echoes with her laughter.
Brett, who has not worked since Becky’s death — he is now both dad and mum to his children, so cannot — says he could never replace her.
Often he and the children visit her grave. ‘We lie next to her for half an hour in the cemetery and water the flowers, and the children think it is a game,’ he says.
‘At home, I’ve got snapchat videos of her. It’s hard to hear her laugh and her voice. You think she’ll just come round the corner. And I still think, ‘I must tell Becky about that.’
‘Once, we talked about what we would do if one of us died, and I said: “I’d never move on. I’d never forget you.” But what you do is learn to cope. You have to do your best to be strong, to keep a clear head. At the moment, though, it’s hard to see the light.’