11 June 2012, under
Fatherhood; More Fatherhood articles...
Irish Premature Babies: My Story Part 1
Written by Ronan Halpenny, father of Harry
This is a long story, perhaps you should get a cup of tea, or four...
I imagine that for most people, when they think about the phrase “putting your feet up”, it invokes images of relaxation, comfort and rest. Almost four years after the birth of my son (and hero) Harry, I am glad to say that these are (now) the images that are invoked in me also. That said, almost four years ago the phrase held a much more daunting meaning, particularly for my wife Lisa. There was certainly no relaxation, no comfort, and the only rest on the agenda was bed-rest. For Lisa, twenty six weeks pregnant at the time, in the four days leading up to Harry’s birth, “putting your feet up” was roughly translated to mean “keeping the baby in”.
In short, the cervix had begun to open prematurely (no pun intended!), and had done so to such an extent that the amniotic fluid-filled sac, in which Harry was growing, was bulging from the cervix. The most significant potential consequence of this was premature birth; hence, Lisa was prescribed an indefinite course of bed-rest. Now for someone who is very tired and needs a good sleep, this may sound like a heavenly prescription, but for a pregnant woman at risk of giving birth prematurely, it is far from that. It is a pregnancy prolonging, potentially life preserving activity, which, as stated above, fulfilled the almost exclusive function of keeping the baby in.
In such an instance, gravity is not your friend and mundane tasks such as standing, walking or going to the toilet suddenly become high-risk activities, so these were to be avoided at all costs. The implications of this were bleak; potentially spending the last three months of the pregnancy in a negatively inclined hospital bed with your legs elevated to a level that would counteract the effects of gravity on your cervix, not to mention not being allowed to get out of bed to go to the toilet.
Although we had started discussing how we would deal with such a situation (Lisa was going to take up knitting, and perhaps learn a foreign language!), these conversations were short lived, as four days after being admitted on bed-rest, Lisa had a significant bleed and a physical examination culminated in the doctor declaring “I can feel the foot...”. Anyone for an Emergency Caesarean Section? EMCS, I will never forget that abbreviation in Lisa’s file, or Harry’s either for that matter.
Less than an hour later, Lisa was on the delivery table and I was in a changing room down the hall with our consultant (Dr. Michael Geary), the Master of the Rotunda Hospital...the same changing room as the Master no less, what on earth was going on? During what was a very surreal few minutes, we both got changed into identical green scrubs. I was shaking with fear; he was completely calm and composed. Both of us had very different roles ahead of us in the next hour; he would safely deliver our beloved son Harry, and I would hold Lisa’s hand and cry with her, hoping everything would go OK. Of course in hindsight it is obvious, but at the point where I was hoping everything would go OK, I had no clue of the actual seriousness of the situation, because there isn’t much that can be considered “OK” about a twenty six week birth.
I will never forget those minutes in the changing room. All of a sudden I was sharing the intimate surroundings of a small changing room with a man who I didn’t really know despite having the utmost respect for and trust in, but who made me feel like I was the most important (or indeed the only) person in the world for that few minutes. I was almost embarrassed, in the sort of way that people get embarrassed when they are in a situation or environment that is completely alien to them.
What the hell was I doing in a changing room usually reserved for doctors, consultants and life saving surgeons? I shouldn’t see the clothes and personal belongings of such people, maybe my local football team, but not these great men. Am I honoured to be here? Am I really here? Am I a bit star struck? These were all the thoughts in my head at the time. “Don’t forget to put the covers on your shoes...here is a surgical mask...” he said. What I do know is that for those few minutes we were equal, just two men getting changed together, I felt that there was a bond. I needed to feel that because I was scared. He reassured me that Lisa was in safe hands, and that made me feel better. Such a consummate professional I doubt I will ever meet again, but I’m probably biased.
I will also never forget the image of numerous pairs of white rubber surgical shoes with the names of doctors written on the heel of them in black permanent marker. They are on my list of “things you never think you will see in your life, and if you do it means that something is wrong”. Needless to say, you think you have gotten away with it when you see them once. You certainly don’t think you will ever see them a second time, but I did, about two years later when my daughter Holly was born. Same room, same fear, perhaps the same white shoes...but that’s a story for another time, and it’s taken me long enough to write this one as it is.
I did not know it at the time but during that few minutes I was in the presence of the man who would safely deliver my son in about twenty minutes time. Had I known it at the time, I would have hugged him, such is the love and respect I have for him now. Each time I have seen him since then, I have wanted to hug him. It feels like the only way I might be able to truly show him how grateful I am for all he has done for us. Sometimes words are just not enough. I well up most times that I see him, as I am doing now.
PART 2 here...
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