As my baby’s life hung in the balance, I didn’t think it could get much worse. But then I learnt the devastating truth…
By Kirsty Lister, 30, from Scunthorpe
I carefully laid my daughter into her cot and smiled to myself. Mollie-Grace was just 12 weeks old, and she was the most beautiful thing I had ever laid eyes on.
Of course, as her mother I was biased. But her coming into the world had made me the happiest I had been for a very long time. For once, I had a proper family unit, and that meant everything to me.
It had been just me and my other daughter, Lexi-May, four, for a good few years. I was wary of starting a relationship with anyone as my little girl always came first, but when I met Michael, 30, through mutual friends in November 2013, I was instantly smitten.
He added me on Facebook first, and after a few days of chatting he asked me out for a drink. As well as being handsome, Michael turned out to be the perfect gentleman – he treated me brilliantly, taking me out for dinner and paying me lots of compliments.
He was very well-mannered and had a great sense of humour. He was also quite old-fashioned – he really enjoyed taking care of me and making sure I was ok. I could feel myself falling for him hard, and in time I decided he could meet Lexi-May.
I was nervous of what she would think of Michael, as she was so used to having me all to herself, but luckily she adored him straight away – and he loved her in return.
We started spending more and more time together as a family, and in January 2014 I found out I was pregnant. I was stunned – I’d suffered ovarian cancer years earlier and had been told I’d have difficulty conceiving.
I wasn’t sure what Michael was going to say, as we had only been together a couple of months, but I knew I wanted to keep the baby. To my delight, he was over the moon.
‘She’s a little miracle,’ he beamed, rubbing my stomach. ‘Let’s do it. We’ll be a proper little family.’
Little Mollie-Grace was born nine months later, in September 2014, and when Michael held her for the first time, he had tears in his eyes.
‘I can’t believe I’m a dad,’ he said with a smile. ‘Don’t you worry babe, I’ll take care of you all.’
And he was true to his word. He helped around the house, cooked dinner for Lexi-May and I, and got up with me for the night feeds. He was a loving, doting dad in every way, and every day I thanked my lucky stars that Mollie-Grace, Lexi-May and I had him.
But one night in December, when Mollie-Grace was 12 weeks old, everything changed.
I was exhausted from staying up with her the night before, and I couldn’t stop yawning as I plodded into the living room with a bottle for her.
‘You look knackered,’ Michael remarked. ‘Why don’t you go to bed and try to get some rest? I’ll stay up tonight and take care of Mollie-Grace.’
I was so grateful. I gave him a quick kiss goodnight and jumped into bed.
But at 6.30am, I was woken by an ear-piercing cry. I rushed downstairs to find Michael holding Mollie-Grace, looking panicked.
‘She’s not breathing,’ he cried. Mollie-Grace’s little features were expressionless and her tiny body was floppy.
‘What do you mean she’s not breathing? What’s happened?’ I screamed, looking around for my phone.
‘I don’t know,’ he stammered. ‘She just stopped breathing.’
Frantically, I dialled 999 and the operator instructed Michael to perform CPR on her while we waited for an ambulance. As I watched him desperately try to bring my little girl back to life, I felt my whole world cave in around me.
The wait for the paramedics to arrive felt like a lifetime, and when they finally arrived they drove past our house so I had to run down the street to flag them down.
I went with Mollie-Grace to the hospital while Michael stayed home to take care of Lexi-May.
When we got there, she was immediately taken into a room filled with doctors who started to try to revive her. I paced the halls, confused and distraught over what had happened to my baby.
About an hour later, Michael arrived at the hospital after having taken her to my dad’s house. I collapsed into his arms and sobbed.
After what felt like forever, a doctor came out to speak to us.
‘Mollie-Grace has suffered a massive brain haemorrhage and is fighting for her life,’ he said gravely. ‘There’s only one way a baby could sustain injuries like this. She’s been shaken.’
My stomach tightened into a knot and I felt like I was going to throw up. I turned around to look at Michael, who refused to meet my gaze. Instead, he stared at the ground.
‘Can I speak to you outside for a moment?’ he asked, once the doctor had gone.
I nodded silently and as we stood near the hospital entrance, Michael admitted harming our baby.
‘I might have shaken her, or dropped her,’ he began, and I clenched my fists tightly. I was so angry I was scared I was going to hit him. ‘I shook her when she stopped breathing – it was to get her to breathe, Kirsty.’
I felt like someone had stuck a knife into my stomach. My little girl was fighting for her life and her father was responsible.
Any feelings of love for Michael disappeared instantly in that moment. He knew full well you should never shake a baby. I turned on my heels and walked back into the waiting room. When I got there, the police were waiting.
‘He’s got something to tell you,’ I said to them, pointing at Michael. ‘He’s responsible for this.’
The officers took Michael away for questioning while I stayed at Mollie’s bedside. It was horrible seeing her wired up to so many cables and I felt like I was going mad with worry.
At one point, she stopped breathing and the alarms went off, doctors and nurses ran into the room and ushered me out.
With Michael gone, friends and family members rallied around me at the hospital and took it in turns looking after Lexi-May. As I watched over Mollie-Grace, I thought it couldn’t get any worse. But a few days later, the police arrived to speak to me.
I thought they were going to give me an update on Michael, but instead they arrested me, too. I was gobsmacked – how on earth could they possibly think I would hurt my child?
‘You’ve got it wrong,’ I sobbed. ‘Michael did this – hasn’t he told you that?’
‘Mr Montandon hasn’t admitted anything,’ they said. ‘We need you to come to the station Miss Lister.’
My dad, Steve, 50, stayed at Mollie-Grace’s side for me while I was question by police and put into a cell.
I curled up in a ball and cried uncontrollably. I wondered whether Mollie-Grace was still alive and my heart ached at being kept away from her.
I feared going to prison for something I hadn’t done, and above all I felt anger that Michael had lied through his teeth.
A few hours later, I was released on bail, but I was told the children were being taken away from me until they knew who had hurt Mollie-Grace. Thankfully, they were to be placed with my father, so I would still see them.
‘You’ll be unable to see them unsupervised,’ a social worker told me sternly. ‘That means you’re not allowed to be alone with them. Not even to take them to the bathroom.’
It broke my heart that I was in the frame for something so terrible, but I was just grateful I was still allowed to see them at all, and I knew my dad would take brilliant care of them.
In the meantime, Mollie-Grace miraculously started to recover from her ordeal. After three weeks, she was allowed to leave the hospital.
‘In cases like this we would expect some brain damage or paralysis,’ a doctor warned us. ‘Mollie-Grace is certainly a little fighter, but keep an eye on her.’
Lexi-May and Mollie-Grace moved in with my dad while Michael continued to lie about what had happened to our baby that day. He made no contact with me at all. I wondered how he could sleep at night knowing what he had done.
After 12 months the police said they wouldn’t be charging me, and that I was able to have the kids home with me again, where they belonged.
Finally, 18 months after that horrendous day, Michael admitted shaking Mollie-Grace at a pre-trial hearing and at Hull Crown Court in July 2016 he was jailed for two years for GBH.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s not long enough. He nearly killed his own daughter and then his lies left me in the frame. I missed the first 18 months of her life. I should have been bonding with Mollie-Grace, sharing those first precious moments.
Instead, I was only allowed controlled access to my baby. Despite doctors’ predictions, Mollie-Grace has defied the odds to make a full recovery.
But I’ll never forgive that monster for robbing me of the first 18 months of her life – and for nearly snuffing it out all together.