For Catalina Ospina, Christmas Day was supposed to be a day of double celebration.
The 31-year-old was pregnant with twins and she had been given a due date of December 25. But in September Catalina’s boys, Sebastian and Santiago, arrived three months early and, tragically, died a few days later.
Christmas is going to be hard for me, but it’s hard for many families, so it’s good to be able to make it better for others. It’s a nice way to remember my boys.Catalina Ospina
The grieving Napier University project administrator is now facing a tough Christmas, but has found a way to cope through giving to others.
“I was going to get Christmas presents anyway for my boys and they were going to be my Christmas present,” Catalina said.
“Then it hit me: ‘why not get a present for another baby?’ But I found entering a baby store was not that easy so I bought two presents for teenagers instead. The presents are from my boys to other boys.
“Christmas is going to be hard for me, but it’s hard for many families, so it’s good to be able to make it better for others. It’s a nice way to remember my boys.”
Catalina is buying the presents to help with Forth 1’s Mission Christmas, a charity drive for poor children.
SANDS Lothians, the charity for bereaved parents that had been helping Catalina, backed her idea and appealed to other bereaved parents. Many responded, often buying gifts for children the same age as their child would have been.
Chief executive Nicola Welsh said: “Cat had only lost her twin boys a few weeks before and had been in to see us to talk about how devastated she was. She’d said she wanted to do anything she could to help so when she mentioned this idea, we were delighted to get on board.”
“Christmas is an incredibly difficult time for bereaved parents, particularly their first Christmas, but there is always an ache, always someone missing, someone you are not buying a present for. Everyone is different but for some of our parents, it was a way of filling a little bit of that void.”
Catalina’s first pregnancy had gone smoothly initially and she had been excited at starting a family. Doctors told Catalina if she hadn’t gone into labour naturally by Christmas Day, at 37 weeks, they would begin to induce her on Boxing Day.
“It was the most beautiful pregnancy,” she said. “I didn’t have morning sickness, anything, which is unusual with twins.”
Then at 23 weeks she began to have contractions. At first doctors thought she had food poisoning but then she began bleeding and was admitted to hospital.
“It was like something in a movie,” she said. “I just kept thinking, ‘it’s not happening, it can’t be’. Once you are pregnant, you start reading about it a lot and I knew the chances of a baby not making it this early were quite high. I cried a lot. I didn’t want it to happen, I was aware of the risks.”
But doctors reassured her the babies were fine and fully formed and at 8.15am on September 25, Santiago was born, with Sebastian delivered nearly an hour later. Both were born breach “but they were so little that wasn’t an issue”, she said.
The infants were taken straight to the neonatal unit. Catalina prayed for them.
“I am Catholic anyway but that’s when you become really Catholic,” she said. “I said I’d go on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela for them.
“The first days they were fine but they were just extremely fragile. They were fully formed but didn’t have any immune system.”
Santiago was the weaker of the two and suffered bleeding on the brain on his first night and had to have a blood transfusion, but it was Sebastian who died first after just three days, of heart failure caused by an infection.
“Sebastian was a complete shock but with Santiago we could see he wasn’t doing so well. We had a little more time to come to terms with it.”
He died two days after his brother.
“It was just heartbreaking.”
She had planned for her family to be in Edinburgh with her and her husband at their home in Slateford for Christmas, but she is now set to go back to her native Spain.
“It is going to be hard,” she said. “I loved them as much as I could and they made me so happy.”
Doctors said there is no physical reason why Catalina and her husband shouldn’t go on to have more children.
“We are already trying,” she said. “Friends say we’re being brave, but I want to have a family. Of course I’m never going to forget my boys but I am going to learn to cope with not having them and part of that coping is having another pregnancy, another baby and having brothers or sisters for them.
“I am not scared.”