‘What are you doing Martin? Get up off the floor,’ I laughed as my boyfriend knelt in front of me.
It was our first Christmas together, and we were spending it at our home in Stalybridge, Cheshire, with my family in 2016.
But as everyone gasped and the room fell silent apart from the sound of Michael Buble on the radio, I realised what was happening.
‘Vicky, will you marry me?’ Martin asked, reaching into his pocket for the diamond ring.
‘Ahhhh,’ I screamed. ‘Of course I will!’
I didn’t think Christmas could get any better, but the thought of being with Martin forever changed that completely!
In the New Year, we set about booking a date for the wedding, excited to get planning our big day.
‘How about August bank holiday weekend in 2018?’ I suggested.
That gave us over a year to prepare and would mean our family who had further to travel would have to take less time off work.
With the date in the diary, everything was going to plan.
But there was one more thing we wanted – a baby.
We’d been trying for a couple of years with no luck, and after a visit to the doctor, they suggested we try IVF.
Lo and behold, in June 2017 we found out I was pregnant.
The pregnancy started smoothly but as the winter months approached, we discovered our unborn baby was facing some difficulties.
‘The baby’s bladder is growing at a faster rate which means it’s at risk of squashing the other internal organs and we believe there may also be some kidney problems,’ the doctor said after our 12-week scan.
The news knocked the wind out of my sails, but I knew I had to be strong for our little one.
I was kept under close observation for the next few weeks, and then at our 20 week scan doctors revealed our baby girl’s bladder had sorted itself out – but the problems were far from over.
‘We think your daughter might have cloaca,’ they said after telling us we were expecting a girl. ‘It only affects females, and it means her rectum, bladder and genitalia are all combined.
‘We might be wrong, but given what we have seen so far this is the most likely option.’
We knew it wasn’t good news, but we refused to let it be bad news.
We had tried so hard for our little girl and we would give her everything she needed in life no matter what we were faced with.
Deciding to be positive despite the odds, we carried on with our lives and started getting ready for Christmas.
‘How about we go and get a Christmas tree?’ Martin suggested on November 25th 2017. ‘That’ll take our mind off things for a bit.’
Ikea had a great offer on, so we jumped in the car and headed for the blue and yellow lights of the Swedish store.
The idea of Christmas put me at ease instantly, as we joined the masses counting down the final month until the big day.
‘How about this one?’ Martin asked, holding up a mid-sized tree.
‘Perfect!’ I smiled, one hand cradling my blooming bump.
As my fiancé lifted the tree into the trolley, I felt my stomach twinge – but tried not to think about it.
Then as we got to the checkout and I waited on the sofas, it happened again and again.
‘Martin – I think I might be in labour,’ I said looking at my watch to time the pains.
‘But you’re only 24 weeks,’ he said.
We decided it best to go to St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, where they said that although early and coming slowly, our baby was definitely on her way!
The next day on November 26th at 21.41pm, Evie was born weighing 2lbs 9ozs.
The birth was anything but smooth, and we were warned she may be delivered still born – but she was here and that was all that mattered.
‘Can I hold her?’ I cried. But she was too fragile and needed to be rushed to the NICU in a sandwich bag to protect her fragile skin and keep her warm.
At just 16 hours old she underwent her first major surgery to form three stomas, which would help to alleviate her bladder and bowel problems.
We spent Christmas in hospital with our little girl, all plans of celebrating thrown out the window because of her fragile state, and finally sitting down for a microwaved Christmas dinner at 9pm.
We hoped she would improve as we moved towards 2018, but on New Year’s Eve, her condition got even worse.
Evie’s stomach was swollen and red – which caused doctors to diagnose her with Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) – a severe swelling of the bowel.
On January 3rd, she was rushed for surgery as she was screaming in pain despite being on a high dosage of morphine.
‘I hate hearing her in pain,’ I sobbed to Martin. I had never heard anything like her cries, like a wounded animal, and I hated not being able to help her.
‘The surgeons will help her,’ Martin reassured me – but a couple of hours after she was taken into surgery we got a phone call.
‘We need to speak to you,’ the surgeon said – it didn’t sound good.
The two of us ran from the Ronald McDonald house where we were staying so we were close to the hospital, terrified of what we were about to hear.
‘We’re so sorry, but Evie’s insides are disintegrating,’ they explained.
‘The NEC has eaten away so much that we were unable to operate.
‘I know this is awful to hear… but if you would like her christened, I would suggest doing so soon.’
My heart broke.
They continued to explain that in their 40 years’ experience, no baby had survived this.
I sobbed into Martin’s chest, tears rolling down his cheeks as well – but she wasn’t gone yet.
We went to see our little girl and sat with her through the night, not daring to close our eyes.
And incredibly, day after day she kept opening her eyes and looking up at us, fighting what no baby had fought before.
The surgeon was gobsmacked, and although she was touch and go for a few weeks, our little girl pulled through.
At the end of January 2018, we decided to cancel our wedding that summer.
‘We need to focus on Evie – and I’m not getting married without her there,’ Martin and I agreed.
She continued to fight, her little body having to cope with cloaca, imperforate anus and short bowel syndrome.
And amazingly in May 2018, she was discharged for the first time since being born six months before.
We loved having her home, and learnt how to administer her medication and change her stoma bags as part of our new life.
Over the next year Evie was re-admitted to hospital a number of times, but still managed to hit plenty of her milestones despite her harsh hand in life.
So we decided it was time to celebrate and re-booked our wedding for August 17th 2019.
I stayed at Ronald McDonald house with my bridesmaids the night before as Evie was in hospital being taken care of, and on the morning of the wedding, one of Evie’s nurses came to do my make-up.
They got our little flower girl into her pretty ivory dress, ready to be the guest of honour for our big day.
Loads of people from the hospital – staff, visitors and patients – came to wave us off, as we left for the venue in a ribbon clad car.
They were like our second family after all as we spent so much time there.
It was the most special day, even more so because Evie got to be there with us in a pull-along trolley decorated with bunting and tin cans!
She loved it, despite being slightly overwhelmed by the amount of people, and Martin and I finally got to say ‘I do’ – the final piece of the puzzle.
There is still a long road ahead of us, but we will tackle this fight together as we always have.
Evie will need further corrective surgery as she grows up, but our little madam has already defied the odds and we know she will continue to do so.