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What does a killer look like?

My feelings about Lucy Letby, the British serial killer of premature babies as a mum of a premature baby

By Rachel DeemingPublished about a month ago Updated about a month ago 7 min read
Top Story - August 2023
Lucy Letby

My eldest son was born three months early at 28 weeks. He weighed 3 lbs 1oz. He was in the neonatal unit for 10 weeks before he was big enough and strong enough for us to bring him home. In those 10 weeks, I visited him every day, stayed with him and then, left him every night. Every morning, as soon as I awoke, I would call the nurses to see what sort of night he had. My slumber, if it came, was always restless. Nurses administered treatments to him while I was there and while I was not. I trusted them implicitly because I had to. It was incredibly hard to have my fragile baby boy cared for by strangers. But I had to believe that those nurses had his best interests at heart and would administer care with attention and forethought.

It was hard, I'm not going to lie.

We had some close calls, one where he turned blue in front of me and was coaxed from his death with oxygen wafted under his nose. By nurses. Sometimes, he had had a bad night. The nurses didn't expand on that and I didn't ask. "Bad night" was enough detail for me without specifics.

I think back to those days of uncertainty often. So emotional. They dominated my life in every way. When I watch hospital programmes now, the beeping of monitors is all I need to hear to be transported back.

"Just rub his back, mum," the ICU nurse would say, because he'd stopped breathing due to the acid reflux he suffered from an underdeveloped digestive system. I'd reach into his incubator, gently rub him and the monitor's beeping would stop. For a bit.

I was lucky and so was he, because he is now a strapping 16 year old, celebrating exam results that he has worked hard to achieve.

I can't imagine him not being here.

At all the times that he was in the hospital, there were nurses. Of course. They changed from shift to shift and we had our favourites (I remember Mary most of all), the ones that we felt administered greater care. But they were all professional and looked after my boy.

So, to think that a nurse could turn from carer to killer is terrifying.

This week in Britain has seen the culmination of the trial and sentencing of Lucy Letby, a nurse charged with killing premature babies. Her motivation for this is unclear but she was, it is believed, responsible for the deaths of seven children and attempting to kill six others.

13 babies.

It has taken me time to get over the shock of this. It seems so heinous in every way. To target the most vulnerable of human life and subject them to anything other than the most intensive care just seems beyond comprehension to me and I know that virtually any other person would agree with this view. You'd have to be a monster not to.

When I first heard about Lucy, I imagined how I would feel if that had been my son, if he had been one of her victims and I am not ashamed to admit that I am filled with a rage, a hot redness, that frightens me a little. I find that my jaw clenches and my teeth clamp and I am tense, coiled - a defence born of a maternal instinct to protect and shield. I have unbidden violent thoughts and I want to strike out. This is unprecedented for me.

And I feel such sadness too. I think of the loss of something so precious and I reel.

I have cried.

The time that I spent in that hospital was hard, because every day I had to confront the precariousness of my baby's health and swallow my fear that that visit might be the last. I just had to hope that he would be alright and that the day would end well.

To think that he could have been in a place where his life could have been threatened is unthinkable.

I didn't see her straight away, Nurse Letby. I recoiled from it for a while. But I sought out her face because I wanted to see what she looked like.

I wanted to look into the face of a killer.

Do you know what I saw? I saw a young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes. Her mugshot holds a certain awareness of her situation but that's all I can glean from it. And yet, I know that I am looking into the eyes of a woman who injected air into babies to see if they'd die.

When my son was born, he was skinny and bony and tiny. He had to wear goggles in his first hours to protect his eyes from the heat lamp to which he was exposed because he was yellow and the lamp was needed to raise his bilirubin levels. The goggles looked huge on him, dominating his little face. I have them still and they are tiny too.

He was weak and defenceless. Why would anyone want to do anything but see him thrive? Why would anyone want to harm a baby like that?

But, as I look at her, I think, and I am struck hard by this, why can't I see it in her face? And it is this which I find incredibly disturbing. I look at her and I see nothing other than a normal person. I have seen photos of her smiling and she looks pleasant, the sort of woman you could have a drink with and a chat. There is nothing untoward there, no indication of abnormality or malice - no visual indicators.

How would you know, as a mother, as a doctor, as a colleague, that she, the person next to you, is a compulsive serial killer?

The families have demanded justice for the loss of their babies and attended court this week in order to testify and confront Lucy Letby (this woman is no nurse), but she did not attend court for sentencing.

I spoke about rage and an internal redness earlier in this piece that I can feel emanating from me in sympathy for the families of those little ones. But this is nothing compared to the incandescence I feel about her not attending court.

How dare she not attend!

How dare she not confront what she's done!

How dare she not look into the eyes of the people she has robbed and feel their wrath!

How dare she be allowed to cop out of her accountability!

I am outraged.

I am appalled that Lucy Letby has not been brought to face the people who she has wrecked with her madness, her cruelty, her murderous intent.

How can this be? I shook my head in disbelief that she had been given an out because to me, and I am sure that this will be true of those poor families, accountability matters. I'm not sure that Lucy would feel shame for what she's done. Perhaps she does, perhaps she's not capable. I don't know.

But, more than anything, I think that she should have been made to look into the eyes of her victims and that this should have been made part of her punishment, her sentence. She should have been made to listen to the testaments of loss, about how she tore their worlds to pieces by removing one fragile piece of their lives. She should have been made to watch the heaving shoulders of grief, the manifestation of pain and the uncontrollable tears of those relatives in their stooped posture, contorting and lining and defining them because of her act.

It is reprehensible to me that she should be given a choice to stay away, to not attend and confront her actions. Her choices should have been taken away from her the minute she chose to take a helpless life.

She should not have had the ability to decide and her facing up to her victims should have been a compulsory part of her punishment, as well as being locked away.

I am hoping that this will lead to more vigilance and that the concerns of the observant will be listened to with more credence to avoid anything like this happening again.

Because I don't want any parent to ever feel distrust towards nurses. Letby's legacy is bound to taint our perception and Britain has had other killers in the medical profession. Letby was only one nurse but her actions will have an effect and will send out ripples into a community that should never fear the nursing contingent.

They are the backbone of any hospital and should be applauded and praised for their dutiful care.

But if there is one thing that I have learnt from looking at pictures of Lucy Letby, it is to never trust someone on face value.

Because it can hide something lurking underneath.

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About the Creator

Rachel Deeming

Mum, blogger, crafter, reviewer, writer, traveller: I love to write and I am not limited by form. Here, you will find stories, articles, opinion pieces, poems, all of which reflect me: who I am, what I love, what I feel, how I view things.

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Comments (16)

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  • Cendrine Marrouat28 days ago

    Hello Rachel, I finally found your story! First of all, thank you for sharing your very difficult experience with us. I don't have children, so I cannot start to imagine the ordeal it must have been. The best reward is probably watching your son thrive. Please hug him on my behalf. I had never heard of that woman until today. What a terrible story!

  • Thavien Yliaster28 days ago

    I need to return to this article to leave a more in depth comment. I read this and was immediately enraged. You wrote a very well, emotion inducing, article, Rachel.

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a month ago

    This was truly a reprehensible case. I will admit I have avoided this story because it’s a terrifying concept that someone who is entrusted to care of newborn children could do this. I am sorry this fear has turned into a terrifying situation that actually happened. Very emotionally charged and real, I appreciate your perspective

  • Bri Craigabout a month ago

    I always find myself getting mad over and over again whenever I've heard the details of this case. The fact that there were warning signs that the hospital ending up ignoring.... More could have been saved!

  • A. Lenaeabout a month ago

    The rage and sickness that overpowers me when I think about her scares me tremendously, too. God bless all of the amazing nurses and medical staff and parents of NICU babies who only give love and protection. I don't know how this person got to this point. It doesn't make any sense to me. And it haunts me. The way in which you wrote about her, within the context of your own incredible story (so happy to hear about your son), is absolutely beautiful. This is the power of connection, of true writing skills - you can give us all a place to attempt to wrap our minds and hearts around such ugliness and further share in our own humanity. The bravery you show in delicately exploring this is so inspiring, and I can just imagine what a courageous kickass 16-year-old you have been raising. Thank you for sharing this. .

  • Celia in Underlandabout a month ago

    This is so raw and emotiomally vut well written nevertheless. It's horrific. How could she? I can't even begin. I am so pleased to hear that your son is thriving-and congrats to him on results and to you on TS!

  • Sid Aaron Hirjiabout a month ago

    I admire your courage on this topic. Glad your son is thriving

  • Lamar Wigginsabout a month ago

    It's shocking to know that the person is the photo is responsible for such an unforgivable crime. She is the devil and doesn't deserve to ever see the light of day again. Thank you for sharing your story and making us aware of this so-called human.

  • Jason McCoyabout a month ago

    Thank you for this. Thank you for being willing to show your raw emotions like you did. I'm glad that your son is thriving! We also have a preemie born at 28 weeks and 3 pounds even. He is now a senior in high school and amazes us every day.

  • Gerald Holmesabout a month ago

    This brought me to tears. I cannot understand how anybody could even think of doing something like this. Sorry, but all I feel is anger right now!!!! Congrats on Top Story.

  • Jazzy Gonçalves about a month ago

    I'm so sorry that this even had to exist in our time. As a nurse myself I cannot imagine how she went through all that training only to hurt BABIES. This burns me up inside. Working in the NICU is such a hard job to get too, I'm so appalled the system couldn't figure out sooner something was up. Great article, and I'm glad you'd son is great!

  • Suze Kayabout a month ago

    I’m so glad your son is thriving. It’s terrifying to know that evil walks beside us with a human face. This case has sickened me, but also fascinated me, and you put into words the reason why. Thank you for sharing your family’s story!

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarranabout a month ago

    You are so right about not trusting someone based on face value. I mean look at Ted Bundy. I'm so sorry what you go through as your son was born prematurely. I'm so happy he's 16 now! What Lucy did doesn't shock me because I'm into true crime and I always listen to cases on podcasts. So I'm kinda used to this but in no way I'm justifying what she had done. However, I was shocked that she didn't attend court. I thought that was mandatory. How was she able to noy attend? That's ridiculous!

  • L.C. Schäferabout a month ago

    The visceral hate and rage I feel towards her frightens me too. I'm glad she is far away and I'll never see her, because I would go to prison for what I'd do.

  • Emma Kate Colemanabout a month ago

    This is written with grace, Rachel. I admire your courage. Nicely done. <3

  • Judey Kalchik about a month ago

    Only someone that has had your experience could have written this. There have been other articles on the topic on Vocal, but I didn’t read them because baby-killer true crime is something I don’t do. But I trust you and your writing, and I am thankful to have read this. It is shamed that she denied those families the opportunity to publicly confront her. Her acts were done in private by her and the sentence should have been done in public to her face.

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