When Millie Smith and Lewis Cann found out they were expecting identical twin girls, they were overjoyed. But their excitement was cut short when, at 12 weeks pregnant, the British couple found out one of their babies had anencephaly, a neural tube defect that meant the child might be stillborn or survive only a few hours to a few days after birth.
The couple decided to continue with their pregnancy and Smith ended up going into labor at 30 weeks, giving birth via C-section to twin daughters, Callie and Skye. Although Skye would only live for a few short hours, Smith and Cann were able to spend that time with her.
"We were cuddling Skye when she passed away,” Smith told Today. “I have never ever felt heartbreak like that before. But I am proud that she fought for so long to spend time with us."
The loss of Skye is what eventually inspired Smith to create the purple butterflies, a way for families who have lost a multiple to let others know what they’re going through.
While Smith and Cann were grieving for Skye, they were also tending to baby Callie, who was being cared for in the NICU. As time passed, Smith says that nurses and others stopped asking about Skye. "After about four weeks, everyone acted as though nothing had happened, meaning the families around me had no idea about our situation," Smith revealed to Today.
As a result, a NICU mom of multiples, unaware of Smith’s situation, remarked that she was "so lucky" she didn't have twins. "Up until this point, I hadn't cried in front of any of these parents," said Smith, "But that was it. I ran out of the room in tears. The comment absolutely broke me. I didn't have the guts to go back in and tell her our story."
To spare other parents similar heartache, the purple butterfly was born. Smith designed the sticker and accompanying poster as a way to communicate the loss of a multiple to others in the NICU. The stickers are placed on incubators of babies like Callie.
"I chose butterflies, as I felt it was fitting to remember the babies that flew away, the color purple because it is suitable for both boys or girls," said Smith.
Smith’s idea has spread beyond the U.K. Kingston Hospital where it began and she hopes that the purple butterflies can help bring comfort to families across England and other countries as well.