In the span of just a few weeks, Millie Smith and Lewis Cann went from excitement about expecting twin baby girls to facing a heartbreaking reality – only one of their daughters would survive.
On April 30th, after a challenging 30-week pregnancy, Smith gave birth to identical twins, Callie and Skye. Tragically, Skye’s fragile life came to an end after just three hours.
In the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), Callie slept alone in her incubator, while Smith and Cann, filled with love and grief, kept a watchful eye. Unaware of Smith’s devastating loss, another mother of healthy newborn twins unknowingly made a thoughtless comment about being “exceptionally fortunate” not to have twins.
Crushed by these callous words, Smith was left speechless, unable to express her profound grief. It was then that she discovered Skye’s enduring legacy – a delicate purple butterfly.
In November 2015, Smith and Cann received the joyful news of impending parenthood. Smith, with a family history of twins, had a hunch that she was carrying two little ones. Medical confirmation came ten weeks later, revealing that they were expecting identical twin daughters.
However, their joy was short-lived when they learned that one of their unborn daughters had a devastating and fatal condition called anencephaly. This rare birth defect affects only one in 4,600 babies in the United States and leaves newborns without critical portions of the brain and skull. Unfortunately, most babies with anencephaly pass away shortly after birth.
Faced with the heartbreaking reality of one daughter’s imminent demise and potential risks to the other, Smith and Cann made the gut-wrenching decision to proceed with the high-risk pregnancy.
As the months passed, the twins-to-be were named Skye and Callie. Smith explained that they wanted Skye to have a name before her brief existence came to an end – a name that represented a place of eternal presence, a celestial reminder of their cherished daughter.
On April 30th, premature labor compelled an emergency C-section, and the couple was accompanied by a bereavement midwife during the childbirth. They were taken to a special room called the Daisy Room, where families could spend precious moments with their newborns before and after their inevitable passing.
“When our girls were born, both of them cried. This was a significant moment because we were previously told that Skye would remain silent and still,” Smith recalled. She expressed deep gratitude for the three precious hours they spent with Skye before she peacefully slipped away. The pain of losing Skye was immense, but Smith takes solace in the fact that her daughter fought to be with them for those fleeting moments.
While Callie continued her stay in the NICU, surrounded by three other sets of twins, Skye’s memory gradually faded with time. After about four weeks, the silence surrounding Skye’s existence became palpable. Those around Smith, including other families in the unit, remained blissfully unaware of her heartbreaking journey.
One morning, an unknowing mother, whose twins also resided in the NICU, casually remarked to Smith that she was “fortunate” not to have twins. That innocent comment nearly shattered Smith, who ran out of the room in tears while the other mother was left bewildered, unaware of the reason for Smith’s anguish. Smith realized then the importance of creating a symbol that could prevent such distressing misunderstandings.
She came up with the idea of a poster for the NICU, conveying that an incubator adorned with a purple butterfly meant that one or more babies in a set of multiples had passed away. Smith chose butterflies as a tribute to the babies that took flight, and the color purple because it transcends gender distinctions.
The concept of the purple butterfly, now under the Skye High Foundation, has spread to hospitals in several countries worldwide. Today, Callie is a vibrant and happy seven-year-old, and Skye’s memory lives on through purple butterfly mementos and initiatives that help families with babies facing similar challenges. These purple butterflies exist in various forms, from ornaments and cards to blankets and stuffed animals.
“While I may never eliminate the pain of such heart-wrenching experiences, establishing support networks and using simple symbols like stickers can lighten the burden,” Smith reflected. It is an unimaginable ordeal, but Millie Smith serves as a beacon of hope, dedicating herself to offering a helping hand to others in their darkest hours.
Please share this story so that others can understand the powerful significance of a purple butterfly next to a newborn’s incubator!