Alright guys, this is a kind of a long one so bear with me. I can’t promise that it’s the most interesting thing you’ll read today but if you can stick it out til the end, you’ll see why I decided to share this story. Over the next few minutes I’m going to open up completely and tell a story of personal tragedy, one that rocked us to the very foundations, and how we realised that there’s now an opportunity to give something back to the people who helped us, along with family and friends, through the toughest time of our lives.
If we rewind back to earlier this year, everything was looking great for myself & my wife Mary. My business was going well, we’d been in our house for the past two and a half years, and we were very busy making preparations to welcome a new arrival at the end of April. This was to be our first child. We didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, that was part of the excitement. Truth be known, I may have been a little apprehensive as I’d never really been around kids and wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew the little guy, or girl, would be in safe hands however, as Mary had been working in childcare since leaving school. I guess I saw my role as the proud daddy, maybe injecting a bit of devilment into the situation when required.
However, early on the morning of Saturday 21st of March, we found ourselves en route to Mullingar Hospital. Our initial thoughts were that the baby was coming early. There wasn’t much urgency here and we chatted away as normal on the 35 minute trip down. Upon arrival at the Hospital, we made our way to the maternity unit where the night staff duly set about routine checks, scans etc. Suddenly there was a tension in the room as the midwife couldn’t seem to locate a heartbeat. At this stage, things were changing dramatically. The relaxed atmosphere we’d previously enjoyed was torn apart as we were told that there didn’t seem to be a heartbeat. Shortly after that, an on-call consultant arrived to confirm our worst fears. Our beautiful little baby, who we’d waited patiently and with so much hope for, was gone.
This is the bit where your whole world falls apart. You’re in the room with the medical staff, but you don’t feel as if you’re actually there. You feel as if you’re watching yourself from a distance as this nightmare drama unfolds in front of you. People are speaking, but you’re not hearing any words, words don’t mean a whole lot now anyway. The next step is contacting family to tell them the awful news. Until now they were sleeping soundly, totally unprepared for that phone call. That phone call still haunts my dreams.
On Saturday evening we went to the delivery suite, where after a short time, our beautiful baby daughter Bethany was born sleeping. I swear I’ve never felt that particular emotion before, a rawness that cut through to the bone. However, I’ve also never felt prouder of Mary, who had to go through the ordeal of giving birth, knowing that there was no baby to take home & cuddle at the end of it all.
At this point I’d like to point out the professionalism, compassion and genuine humanity shown to us from the staff of the maternity unit in Mullingar Hospital, from the catering staff through to the consultants, and especially the midwives. They couldn’t do enough for us, providing a special cuddle cot for the room where we could keep Bethany with us during our stay. We were given a memory box from Féileacain, the stillbirth and neonatal death association of Ireland. This had a thoughtful selection of items such as teddy bears, a kit to take hand and footprints, a disposable camera, a little pocket to hold a clipping of Bethany’s hair etc.
The following Tuesday, we took Bethany on her one and only journey to her family home, where she should have had a childhood, should have got her first dog, should have had birthday parties, should have grown up. Should have. Carrying that little white coffin into the house surrounded by a selection of our family and close friends was the hardest thing we would ever do, or so we thought. As I write this now, I take a glance to my left where we placed her little coffin surrounded by teddy bears, for her wake. How can you use the word ‘wake’ in the same conversation as a new born baby??
The next morning we took Bethany on her final journey, again surrounded by the people who matter most to us, to her final resting place with Mary’s father Johnny in the cemetery in Killeigh, Co. Offaly.
This was actually the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do; to stand over a little hole in the ground surrounded by freshly picked and lovingly placed daffodils (thanks Joe) and place our beautiful daughter in the cold ground for evermore. I know she’s not alone now, she has many people to look after her. Mary’s dad & my grandparents to name but a few, but I still would give everything I own and then some to have her with us now.
The next few days, we talked continuously about what had happened to us. I believe that this is what stood to us and made us stronger. Nothing was off limits. The support from family was unbelievable. Everybody stepped up to the plate and made sure we were looked after. Some friends went above and beyond what was expected, some still do to this day, seven months on. Help given during this time didn’t go unnoticed and won’t be forgotten, kind words spoken will be remembered. It’s not been an easy road, nor will it be. You don’t “deal with it”, you don’t “move on”. You process what you have on any given day, and work with that. Some days it doesn’t work. Our house has many pictures of Bethany taken in the Hospital, I have her name on my arm, Mary has her tribute on her arm and we both wear a chain with her handprint every day and will continue to do so, because she will always be a part of our family, however brief her time was on this earth.
That leads me to the next phase of the story. If you’re still with me, well done, I did say it would be long!
Fast forward to today & my plans to honour Bethany’s memory and raise a few quid for the good people of Féileacain and the maternity unit in Mullingar Hospital. I’ve never been much of a sports person, never been into fitness much or showed any interest in playing sports. I originally come from a village steeped in GAA history, but have never played on a team at any level. I always joked that I was too fat as a small child to start playing football and by the time I had gotten a bit older and slimmed down, everyone else had advanced too much for me to catch up!
That’s changed now. As a way to deal with stress I’m in the Aura gym in Tullamore, 3 mornings a week before work. I enjoy training, getting fitter and stronger, both in body and mind. In there there’s no phone, no email no distractions. Just me and my own thoughts. And those thoughts led me to the decision that I was going to take part in the Quest Adventure Series races in 2016. There are 4 in total, the first being in March in Killarney. It’s a combination of cycling, kayaking and trail running. My intention is to achieve a finishers medal in each of the races, while promoting Féileacain and the excellent services in the maternity unit in Mullingar Hospital. For those of you who know me, you’ll know the only running I’ve ever done before is up to the bar to get in for last orders!
This is where you come in. There’s a link at the bottom of this post where you can make a donation, sponsorship if you will. Everything raised, absolutely everything, will go to both parties. I will absorb any expenses incurred for travelling, entry fees, training etc.
Please help me in supporting this cause, to honour our daughter’s memory, to bring some comfort to other bereaved families. Some of you already know the pain & I sincerely hope those of you that don’t may never experience it.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, I hope it hasn’t caused too much sadness in your day. That’s not my intention. I’ve sat on the fence for some time, deciding whether to share this story or not. Myself and Mary have discussed it and felt it was the right thing to do.
Remember, the longest journey starts with a single step.