I was already a dad to 3 and a 4-time grandfather, but none of that prepared me for what was about to come: I had spent the pregnancy trying to be the calming influence to my wife of 5 years as this was her first time. All had gone pretty well and the pregnancy had been fairly textbook until events took some twists and turns. I won’t expand on that, as that’s another story in itself, but on one Friday night in June 2015 everything went very pear-shaped.
Mel, my wife, had been admitted to hospital in Dumfries. I had been with her all week but needed to go to our old house to finish some work before we put it up for sale. I had spoken to Mel a little earlier in the evening, everything was fine with her and baby, but then at about 11pm that night my phone rang.
I drove the 80 miles from the house to hospital to be at my wife’s side. They were prepping her for an emergency C section when I arrived and the next thing I knew I was wearing scrubs in the operating theatre, together with a load of other similarly dressed people and my wife lying on the table looking really worried.
Orla was delivered a little later and was immediately whisked away not breathing following the trauma of birth. I concentrated on doing what I could to console Mel and keep her as calm as possible. Luckily the drugs they gave her were working with me and a few white lies kept her as calm as could be expected.
What seemed like a lifetime passed as we waited anxiously for news. Various people came in to see Mel, but nobody seemed to have any information on the one thing we needed to know about. There were lots of promises to find out what was happening but very little information materialised. I knew that I had to stay strong and calm for Mel, but inside I was shaking (I deserved an Oscar for my acting masterclass!). I knew that she needed to rest and recover.
Sunrise had come and it was going to be a lovely summer day before we got the knock at the door and a senior looking doctor came looking rather serious. Everything for the next couple of hours became a huge confusing blur as we hugged each other and prayed quietly for our wee baby girl.
Orla was to be transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the new Southern General hospital in Glasgow as soon as possible; the ambulance was on its way. All we could do was sit around and wait. I had to keep up my charade for Mel’s sake, but couldn’t help but crumble on a few occasions as things got the better of me. We got a brief chance to see Orla before they took her away in the ambulance and it was heaven to be with her and to actually touch her for the very first time.
I was riding an out of control emotional roller-coaster as I spiraled from fear to anger, to uselessness to hope, and then back to anger again – all the time trying to keep it hidden. Mel, understandably, was a bit of a wreck and needed some sort of anchor to hang onto. I tried to be that anchor.
I arrived in Glasgow on Saturday evening, Mel had followed Orla in an ambulance a couple of hours after her and I had driven home to get stuff for my two precious charges before heading up to Glasgow too. I found Mel on the maternity ward, but not before being told to come back in the morning as visiting times were over! I easily won that confrontation and when I saw Mel I got her into a wheelchair and we went in search of our daughter once again.
We eventually found Orla and it was like the sun had just come out! She looked a good bit better than when we had last seen her and the nurses and doctors were brilliant. The feeling they gave us was one of hope. They showed us so much care and interest and gave us straight-taking, honest answers to our millions of questions. They demonstrated so much professionalism, dedication and empathy over the coming 3 months. Nothing was ever too much trouble and all the staff made me feel so involved in everything to do with Orla and her care.
It was not all rosy during our time there though. We had some really tough times ahead of us and hard decisions that needed to be made; but together with my fabulous wife we muddled our way through, always guided and supported by the staff, support workers and the Reverend Jim! To quote, they were the best of times, they were the worst of times…and like all families we didn’t always get on or agree, but we did stick together and found a way to move forward and to progress. We felt like we were part of a big, ever-changing family at times, one that had a common goal in getting Orla better.
The roller-coaster ride carried on for the next 3 months, but we could see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and as each day that passed and every hurdle we overcame the light got a little brighter. Three months and a few days later we left NICU to take our Orla home. I have never been as happy nor have felt as proud as I did carrying her in her baby car seat out through those doors.
We have been back to visit NICU on a couple of occasions with Orla for her check-ups at the hospital and I am still amazed by the welcome we get. They all must have amazing memories and genuinely are interested to see one of their many “success stories”.
The whole episode and the time since, now being a stay at home dad has changed me more than expected. Orla continues to flourish and even though she isn’t completely out of the woods so to speak, I feel far better equipped to deal with whatever the future brings.
It has took me some time to write this story and at first I didn’t feel I even wanted to but it may just spark something in others who find themselves in these shoes so felt it was worthwhile. My biggest issue was letting all the memories come back to me and finding it impossible to keep on typing as the keyboard was in danger of blowing up with the tears I dripped onto it as it still makes me very emotional.
Luckily those tears are as much about joy as sadness.
There are too many people to mention them all individually, they know who they are, but our heartfelt thanks go out to them for making this particular dream come true. We feel blessed to have had them as part of our story.
Guest blog – with thanks to Martin Butler for sharing his journey through neonatal intensive care with us.
If you have a story you’d like to share please email Catriona at firstname.lastname@example.org