Toni and Shaun Wilkinson will truly have the happiest time of year after their Christmas Eve heartbreak two years ago.
This Christmas, Toni Wilkinson will tear the wrapping from her presents with the same pure childish joy and excitement as her sons Morgan, nine, and Oliver, eight.
It truly is the happiest time of her year, as she and husband Shaun are celebrating their first Christmas with baby son Jordi.
Yet just two years ago they opened gifts with smiles masking unimaginable pain, because on Christmas Eve they had to switch off the life support machine of their two-day-old son, Theo.
But Morgan and Oliver were so excited about their brother coming home, the couple hid the truth until Boxing Day.
Toni, 28, says: “All my sons had wanted for Christmas was their baby brother. I couldn’t break their hearts on Christmas Day and tell them he had died.
“So we opened presents and I did my best to smile for them but inside I was broken.
“I didn’t tell them until the next day that Theo had gone to live with the angels and was now watching over us.”
The hairdresser adds: “I should have been hanging up my sons’ stockings on Christmas Eve but instead I was switching off my baby’s life support . But this year, we will all have something to celebrate.
“Of course nothing will ever replace Theo but Jordi has brought us joy and love again, the greatest gift we could ever ask for.
“We believe Theo is watching over us and sent us this little angel to make us smile again at Christmas.”
Toni and postman Shaun, of Batley, West Yorks, made a memorial to Theo and will ensure he is part of the festivities.
Toni says: “We have bought presents for all the boys from Theo. Oliver and Morgan have personalised wallets, and Jordi has a teddy bear containing some of Theo’s ashes. It means he will be part of our Christmas, too.
“Every year we’ll also buy Theo a bauble. He will always get a gift.”
Toni already had Morgan and Oliver from a previous relationship. Theo was her first child with Shaun.
The tot was due on December 11, 2014 but by 39 weeks Toni was begging for him to be delivered early.
She recalls: “I am 5ft tall and my bump was so big I couldn’t get out of the car without help.
“I’d been measuring full term since 36 weeks and was concerned about the size.” But Toni says her concerns went unheeded.
She was finally booked in for induction on December 23. But Theo’s movement slowed the day before.
Toni and Shaun went straight to hospital, where a trace showed the baby’s heartbeat was irregular and they began induction.
Toni’s waters were broken and contractions started but there was meconium – a baby’s first stool – in the water, a clear sign of distress.
Yet Toni says staff waited two-and-a-half hours before taking her in for an emergency caesarean.
Theo was unresponsive when delivered and it took 27 minutes to get him breathing. Toni says: “I waited for the first cry but there was nothing.”
Theo had extensive brain damage and kidney failure. Toni says: “They told us to expect the worst. It didn’t seem possible because he looked so perfect.”
The following day the parents were asked to consider switching off Theo’s life support.
Toni says: “At first I refused but when they told me it was only the medication masking his pain I knew we couldn’t let him suffer any more.
“We had to let him go but first I wanted him to meet his brothers.” The boys came to the hospital, unaware of how poorly Theo was.
and Morgan also saying their farewells.
Toni says: “It broke my heart knowing it would be the first and only time my sons would all be together.” Theo was later placed in his mother’s arms to die.
She recalls: “We sobbed and told him we loved him and would always remember him.”
Toni then left hospital to prepare Christmas for the boys. “They bounded in asking for their brother but we couldn’t tell them he had died. I said he was still in hospital.”
Speaking of breaking the news to them, Toni says: “I don’t think Morgan knew how to react.
“Oliver was crying, devastated, and wouldn’t leave my side. He was asking why the doctors couldn’t make him better.”
Theo was cremated in January 2015 in a football kit his dad had chosen for him and with a cuddly toy Oliver had picked – his Christmas gifts.
The couple assumed Theo’s condition had been unlucky but last May they received a report from Dewsbury and District Hospital admitting
that certain things had been done wrongly.
Toni’s placenta had started to fail because she was so overdue. Signs to deliver Theo earlier had been missed and vital equipment was missing from the delivery suite.
Toni says: “It broke my heart to think he may have survived if things had been different. I was very angry.
“I had been singing the hospital’s praises in how they had been so good with me. I felt very let down.”
Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust admitted a catalogue of oversights and errors, including failure to conduct the caesarean sooner, though they say there is no proof the outcome would have been different.
Toni and Shaun are consulting with a solicitor about taking the case forward.
After losing Theo they tried to conceive again. Tragically, Toni lost another baby in September 2015, six weeks into the pregnancy, then twins just months later.
But in March, Toni learned she was pregnant again. The whole family was nervous but Jordi arrived last month.
Shaun, 26, says: “When we were told he was healthy it was pure relief. This is an opportunity to be happy again.
“The Christmas we lost Theo, we just had to try to keep Christmas Day normal for the boys and face the harsh reality on our own.
“It was incredibly difficult. Having Jordi has helped us so much. I feel he is mending broken hearts.”
Toni adds: “Theo will always be our Christmas angel.”