A young mother with terminal cancer has died clasping the babygrow of the miracle daughter she gave birth to just 16 days ago.
Margaretlee Hilton, 33, was too ill to see baby Zoe, but held tightly on to one of the infant's bodysuits as she passed away yesterday afternoon in her Belfast home in Ireland.
A babygrow is an all-in-one suit for a baby made from a stretchy fabric.
Doctors in the Royal Victoria Hospital's neo-natal unit had asked for her hats and babygrows to be placed beside her dying mother, then returned for the infant to wear as they believed Margaretlee's scent would help little Zoe's fight for survival.
But Margaretlee refused to give back one of the babygrows, her brother David said last night.
"She had been drifting in and out of consciousness, but she woke up when the clothes were placed around her bed," she said.
"Margaretlee clutched one of the babygrows and wouldn't let it go. We tried to remove it but couldn't because she was holding it so tightly. When she died this afternoon, we sent it down to the RVH immediately.
"We had hoped to take Margaretlee to the hospital in a wheelchair to see wee Zoe before she died, but she wasn't strong enough. She deteriorated after the birth. She wasn't able to hold Zoe in her arms one last time before she died, but the wee babygrow was the next best thing."
Margaretlee had called her baby Zoe because it means 'life'. David said his sister's death was extremely peaceful. "It was the easiest passing I've ever seen. Her face had been full of pain and anguish until then but as she went that was replaced with a big smile."
Margaretlee, from Lenadoon in west Belfast, was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer shortly after finding out she was pregnant in February. She was given between three and six months to live.
Throughout her pregnancy, she underwent chemotherapy and was on a morphine driver.
Having suffered a miscarriage last year and a stillbirth in November 2013, Margaretlee desperately wanted another baby and a sister for her nine-year-old daughter Amy.
"I had a stillborn baby 18 months ago and want more than anything to see this pregnancy through," she told the Belfast Telegraph. "I have a wonderful partner and family. I know, if I'm not there, they'll bring my baby up. I just want to live long enough to hold my baby in my arms."
RVH doctors carried out an emergency Caesarean at 25 weeks because Margaretlee was deteriorating rapidly. David said: "Wee Zoe had some difficult days last week. The doctors hoped her lungs would develop naturally but have had to use steroids to accelerate the process.
"But Zoe is a fighter like her mum. She has doubled in weight in a fortnight - she's 2lb 6oz now. She has the tiniest dummy in the incubator and sucks away on it like crazy and she can hold your finger. She just looks lovely and I know she will be fine."
David said in the week after Zoe was born, his sister had been able to hold her several times. "The doctors said whenever they put Zoe on Margaretlee's chest it was the most settled she had ever been. That's why when she had to go back into the incubator they thought it so important to have the scent of Margaretlee all around her."
Margaretlee hadn't seen her baby in the past week as she was discharged to die at home. David said: "My mother lay in the bed beside her and kept telling her how much she loved her.
"When we knew the end was approaching, I went to get a priest for the last rites. When I arrived at the church, the priest was in the middle of christenings. But he, and the families involved, were very understanding, and he came right away."
Margaretlee's funeral will take place on Wednesday, with Requiem Mass at St Oliver Plunkett's Church on the Glen Road.