Purple Butterflies In The NICU Are There For A Profound & Heartbreaking Reason

You may notice a few striking stickers starting to show up on incubators and cots in hospitals' neonatal intensive care units, and wonder what purple butterflies mean in the NICU. This subtle symbol is actually of great significance. The butterfly emblem was designed by UK mother Millie Smith to notify visitors and hospital workers that the loss of a twin or multiple has occurred. She created the necessary symbol after her own harrowing experience.

In November of 2015 Millie Smith learned that she was pregnant and had a strong feeling that she was carrying twins. Her intuition proved correct, but 12 weeks into the pregnancy she received news that one of her identical twin girls had a rare condition that would prevent her from living more than a few hours outside the womb. During a routine scan the doctor had found signs of anencephaly, a developmental defect where the upper part of the neural tube does not fully close and often the child is born missing parts of its brain and skull. Millie Smith and her partner Lewis Cann decided that it was important to continue to carry both children to term, despite the risks.

"Knowing she would only survive for seconds or minutes, I wanted her to be named during that time," Smith told Today. The couple settled on the names Skye and Callie for their daughters. The names were especially meaningful because "Skye was somewhere we knew she would always be, that we could look up at the sky and remember our baby," said Smith. Kingston hospital performed an emergency C-section after seven and a half months of pregnancy on the April 30.

During the birth the couple was accompanied by a "bereavement midwife" and spent the all the time possible with Skye. Baby Callie remained in the NICU for weeks and at first the nurses were sensitive to the situation, Smith told Today, but as time went on things began to change. "After about four weeks, everyone acted as though nothing had happened, meaning the families around me had no idea about our situation," Smith said.

Visiting the NICU a mother of a set of twins, seeing Callie in the cot, made a comment that Smith was "so lucky" to not have twins. The woman was unaware of Smith's heartbreaking situation but none the less, the comment stung. "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," Smith told Today. The pain inspired Smith to create the butterfly symbol as a way to help other parents suffering from a similar circumstance.

"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," she told Today. Smith and her partner have also formed the Skye High Foundation, raising money through crowd funding to aid bereaved families. According to the foundation's Facebook page, 98 hospitals across the UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, and throughout America have contacted them asking to implement the purple butterfly.

Images: pexels, SkyeHighFoundation/Facebook