For the Browns, a ten-day trauma ended with the greatest loss of all

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Love and marriage came late in life to Gordon Brown. As a career politician, he always appeared to put party and country ahead of his personal fulfilment and family life.

But that changed less than two weeks ago when the Chancellor, a man not given to public displays of emotion, declared that at the age of 50 he had become a father for the first time.

He stood beaming outside the Forth Park Maternity Hospital in Kirkcaldy, Fife, to declare that he was a father. The man whose watchword has always been prudence gave an unprecedented show of enthusiasm as he spoke of the experience. "I know every father says his baby daughter is the most beautiful in the world, but she is, and we are so delighted," he said, announcing that he would be taking plenty of paternity leave.

For many of his critics the transformation from a careful and studious statesman to a playful father was welcomed as a sign that his fiscal policies might become more family- friendly than before.

Jennifer Jane Brown had not been expected to arrive until next month, but while they were on holiday at their constituency home in Fife, Mr Brown and his wife, Sarah, whom he married in August 2000, became aware of possible problems with the pregnancy.

On 27 December, she was admitted to the hospital in Kirkcaldy, where doctors discovered, during a routine scan, that the baby was suffering from intrauterine growth restriction. The next day Mrs Brown underwent a 30-minute Caesarean section and gave birth at 12.16pm, with Mr Brown at her side.

Although seven weeks premature and weighing just 2lb and 4oz, Jennifer, who was put in an incubator with an oxygen mask immediately after the birth, appeared to be making good progress despite a mild case of jaundice, a common condition in premature babies.

Within a short time, the baby, who was being fed by an intravenous drip, no longer needed oxygen therapy as she was breathing for herself, although doctors warned that it would still be about seven weeks before she could leave hospital.

Mrs Brown was discharged from hospital last Thursday, as staff said Jennifer no longer showed any signs of jaundice, was being treated in the neo-natal unit and had gained weight. Everything seemed to be going according to plan and the Chancellor and his wife were proud to be photographed together leaving the hospital.

But within hours they were both to feel the excruciating fear and pain of knowing their child was gravely ill. Doctors doing a routine ultrasound scan discovered "cause for concern".

Jennifer was taken to the specialist baby care unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary by ambulance. The unit, which consists of six fully trained consultants neo-natologists, four registrars, two research fellows, six senior house officers and up to 90 specially trained nursing staff, has a worldwide reputation for intensive care of newborn infants and was regarded as offering the best possible chance for Jennifer.

While Mr and Mrs Brown stayed at their daughter's bedside at the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, it soon became clear that their daughter had suffered a life-threatening brain haemorrhage.

Internal bleeding in the brain is a common complication among premature babies although the haemorrhaging is often mild and the condition resolves spontaneously with no long-term damage caused.

Severe haemorrhages, however, can result in permanent disabilities, including blindness, deafness, hydrocephalus or cerebral palsy, or even death.

The brains of premature babies are fed by a rich network of fragile blood vessels. If these rupture,blood seeps into the fluid-filled ventricles. Known as intraventricular haemorrhaging (IVH), there are often no outward signs of bleeding and the problem is discovered during routine scans.

Specialists say it is unusual in babies born at 33 weeks, such as Jennifer, and the condition proves fatal in fewer than 10 per cent of infants that age. However it is now clear that Jennifer suffered a very severe bout of bleeding that caused extensive damage to her brain.

Dr Quen Mok, a paediatric and neonatal intensivist at Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital in London, said as many as half of babies born after 28 weeks' gestation suffer some bleeding in the brain. For those born after 28 to 34 weeks, the incidence drops to between 20 and 30 per cent.

Brain haemorrhages in premature babies are graded in severity from one to four. Dr Mok said: "We usually see this kind of bleeding in patients who are very unwell and on a ventilator. Serious bleeding normally occurs in babies who have had blood pressure problems or lung disease." As Jennifer's condition deteriorated, the Browns decided to have her baptised in the hospital's neo-natal unit. A source close to the family said they feared the worst. The gloomy mood was reinforced yesterday when Mrs Brown's mother, Pauline, and stepfather, Patrick Vaughan, arrived at the hospital shortly after 9am. They left, clearly upset, after 40 minutes.

The rollercoaster of emotions that had sent the Browns to the height of happiness 11 days ago came crashing down at 5.20pm when "the worst" happened. Unable to recover from the haemmorhage, Jennifer Jane died in the arms of her parents.

After spending a further half an hour with their daughter, the Browns left the hospital just after 6pm to begin the grieving process, made all the more difficult by the see-saw emotions brought about by their daughter's apparent improvement in health only days ago.

Professor Cary Cooper, a leading psychologist, said last night: "Obviously it's a devastating thing to happen to any parent and the stress is enormous. The baby had a personality, a name and had been baptised which will make it even harder for them.

"Everyone copes with grief differently but there has got to be a grieving process first." There was a lot of support from Labour colleagues, who urged the Chancellor to take as much time off as he needed. Many friends who saw the birth of Jennifer as the "making" of Mr Brown into a more rounded personality, both socially and politically, said they felt his strength of character would be able to pull him through this blackest of times.

A spokeswoman for the premature baby charity Bliss said she hoped the Browns would be able to come to terms with the devastating loss. "Although the majority of premature babies thrive and grow into healthy children, sadly some babies are born just too early, too small or too sick to survive. Hopefully Gordon and Sarah can keep with them the happiness and joy when their baby was born, and this will sustain them in the undoubtedly difficult times ahead," she said.