Written by Martyne
On May 4, 2016, I was sharing a meal with my son, Wyatt, at McDonalds. We never miss McHappy Day. We have been to every McHappy Day since 2013. It’s sort of an anniversary for us – a celebration of Wyatt’s birth, remembering the time we spent at the Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta. It was about this time in 2012 when we were able to bring our baby boy home. At McHappy Day, we’ll grab a table and Wyatt and I will have a mommy and son date. Wyatt will have a Happy Meal and I’ll order a Big Mac. Every year I tell him our story about our experience at the Ronald McDonald House. As he gets older, Wyatt begins to understand more and more what the house means to our family.
It was mid-March in 2012, and life was going so well. I was happily married to my wonderful and supportive husband, Noel. I was a proud stepmother of two boys, Cole, 15, and Adam, 11. My son, Jamie, was about to turn 3 and I was carefully planning his party. I was pregnant early in my third trimester with my son (yes … another boy) who we would call Wyatt. We lived on an acreage outside the Erskine area, in a home that I was so proud to call my own.
We had just returned from a family ski trip in interior BC with my husband’s extended family. On our trip, I remember watching Jamie take his first ski lessons as I beamed with pride from inside the lodge. My sons Cole and Adam were showing off on their snowboards. The weather was wonderful – it was sunny and mild. Our family was together – my mother- and father-in-law, my husband’s brothers and sisters and their families, all the cousins playing together. I felt really good. My pregnancy was healthy, I was full of energy, and I was so excited to be welcoming another child into the world.
On my first morning waking up in my own bed at home after our trip, I knew that something was wrong. I bundled Jamie up, and we set off to the hospital in Stettler. The nurse started an IV, and a fetal monitor was placed on my abdomen while they waited for a doctor to arrive. An ultrasound was performed. My baby was fine, but I would have to be transferred to the hospital in Red Deer to continue on in my care. I was diagnosed with a condition called placenta previa. My husband had shuttled Jamie off to his parents and followed as I was transported by ambulance to Red Deer. I was very nervous but I felt well cared for, so that helped to relieve some of my anxiety.
In Red Deer, I was brought up to the maternity wing by wheelchair, where I met some of the nurses and was assigned a room. After meeting with my doctor it became very clear to me that I would not be returning home. A feeling of immense sadness came over me – I loved my family and I loved my home. How could this be happening? How would we manage? What about Jamie’s party? What about Easter? So many questions and, unfortunately, very few answers.
Those few weeks were very difficult, very lonely and very sad. I felt helpless. Although my husband came to visit me every evening, it was hard to be comfortable in the hospital, and the whole experience was very upsetting for Jamie. The back and forth was tiresome for him, and he was scared of all the IV’s and monitors.
After about two weeks, I was cleared to leave the hospital but I could not go home. Stettler was simply too far away. It would be too risky to tackle my condition in a hospital the size of Stettler, and the hospital is also not set up for the delivery of premature babies.
The nurses and doctors had mentioned that perhaps I could stay at Ronald McDonald House® Central Alberta and I was put in touch with the Family Services Coordinator. A day later, I was moved in to the new, beautiful Ronald McDonald House. Wow! I was given a tour of the House with its beautiful kitchen, well stocked playroom and library, spacious laundry facilities and well-appointed rooms. Finally, we would have the chance to live like a family again! I missed cooking for my family. I missed reading Jamie stories. I missed being a mom.
My husband, mother and mother-in law took turns staying with me, and Jamie could come and spend the night whenever he wanted. The stress and anxiety that Jamie was feeling began to melt away. He felt safe at the Ronald McDonald House. Jamie met so many new friends and spent many hours riding on the beautiful hand carved rocking horse that was so graciously donated. Volunteers would organize suppers for the guests of the House, which was absolutely wonderful. We met the RCMP Safety Bear. We did crafts and played bingo. We were visited by therapy dogs. We spent Easter at the House and it was so special. I loved watching Jamie hunt for eggs. We were treated to a beautiful supper. A volunteer came to paint faces. I was so happy. It was our home.
My stay at the Ronald McDonald House was not without a few setbacks. I would occasionally have to return to the hospital due to my condition. But when I was released from the hospital, I would return to my beautiful home away from home to be greeted by its smiling staff and volunteers, to play with my son again, to be with my family. Coming home never felt so good!
On the evening of April 25, 2012, my son Wyatt came into the world at 35 weeks. Not only did staying at the Ronald McDonald House lift my spirits during my troubled pregnancy, it saved my newborn son’s life. Had we been home in Stettler, I would never have made it to the hospital in time. I am certain that I would have lost my little boy and, quite possibly, my own life.
When I returned to the Ronald McDonald House for one last time, I was a new mom to a beautiful 5 lb. 10 oz. baby boy. Wyatt was thriving in the NICU. I was happy to be able to have the opportunity to bond with Wyatt in the hospital whenever I wanted. The spring weather was mild and it was such a short walk over to the hospital. I could be there for his feedings. I could be there to bathe him. I could be there to hold him. This would have been impossible to coordinate had we been back in Stettler. The Ronald McDonald House was so well set up for new moms – with a pumping room on each floor and the ability to cook your own nutritious post-partum meals.
Our last day in the house was very emotional. It was early May and we had stayed there a total of 42 days. We had made so many friends, had been offered so much support. There were some laughs, some tears and lots of hugs. My son, Jamie, got to go to the Magic Room. What an amazing experience! He picked out a railroad track for himself and a beautiful handmade outfit for his baby brother. We packed up our truck and we brought our new baby boy home.
Whenever we come to Red Deer and drive by the Ronald McDonald House of Central Alberta, we have the most wonderful memories. Jamie loves to point it out to Wyatt. “Wyatt”, he says, “This is where you were born”. And then that little smile lights up – Jamie absolutely loved the house. Wyatt is getting older now and on days when Jamie is in school and we take a trip to Red Deer together, he always points out the window and makes loud exclamations of joy when we pass by the house.
What had started as one of the most desperate experiences of my life is now remembered as one of the very best. This truly could not have been achieved without the wonderful support of McDonalds Canada. I simply cannot express how thankful we are to you for your support of Ronald McDonald House Charities and, in particular, the construction and operation of the Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.