For Hadley

Father and daughter at sunset.

With apologies to my wife, this is a love letter to the love of my life: my daughter (it’s ok, my wife knows this).

After the birth of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob, my wife Haylie and I knew that we wanted to continue building our family.

Of course, after having lost our son, there was some trepidation, and definitely a lot of worry about what might happen with a second pregnancy.

After spending some time reflecting, and waiting until it was medically prudent, we decided to begin trying to have another child.

My wife took a few inconclusive pregnancy tests.  Inconclusive, in that the indicators on the strips were not really that clear.  In the end though, it turns out that my wife was in fact pregnant, and we began the journey towards welcoming another child into our hearts and lives.

Having lost a child previously, my wife’s pregnancy was considered “high-risk,” and as such, we were able to remain under the care of the neonatal specialists at LHSC Victoria Hospital.

As part of our care, we were able to have an extra ultrasound a little earlier than normal, to rule out the difficulties from the first pregnancy: Potter’s Syndrome.  When the time came, we were exceptionally happy to see that things were progressing well.

A short time later, we were able to determine the gender of our baby at another ultrasound.  It is cliche to say that the gender didn’t matter, only that we had a healthy baby.  Given the fact that we had lost a baby previously, this of course rang more true for us than it may have done otherwise.

This ultrasound was not without its moments of worry.  We were told that our baby had an “echogenic focus” and another marker of some sort, the name of which escapes me.  Either way, neither of them sounded good, especially when we were told that these were markers on the heart and brain respectively.  After all, those are considered rather important.  However, since our baby was measuring normally on the developmental charts, we were assured that these findings were nothing to be concerned about.

Since I had complete faith in the excellent medical care that we were receiving, these developments were not a cause of concern for me.

Unlike our first pregnancy, our baby cooperated, which allowed the doctors to determine the gender.  We were very excited to learn that we would be having a little girl join our family.

Things continued to progress well with my wife’s pregnancy.  As we had done with our first child, we took some lovely pictures of my wife with her growing belly in some picturesque settings around our city.

Our second child was expected to be born around the birthday of our first.  While a part of me thought that it would be very cool if our little girl joined our family on her brother’s birthday, I was also liking the idea of her having her own day.

A few weeks prior to the due date, I ran my third marathon, The County Marathon.  I figured I could sneak it in prior to the birth.  Prior to setting out for the run, I wrote upon my hand the name of my son, Jacob, and BM2 for “Baby McKay 2,” since we had yet to decide upon a name.  Given the strong personal connection that I had developed between marathons and our son, I was a little emotional prior to the race.

In the early hours of October 16th, 2015, my wife woke me to tell me that she thought her water had broken.  I thought we could go back to bed for a bit, but she wisely disagreed with me.  We called the hospital, and they informed us that my wife should take a shower and then we should head in.

As we left in the early hours of the morning, it was of course still dark.  We exited our home, and I paused to look up to the sky to see that it was an exceptionally clear night.  I could see a multitude of stars in the sky, and as such, I knew that our son Jacob was with us on this journey.

We went to the hospital, and a nurse checked my wife over.  She advised us to take a walk and come back in a little bit.  We took a short walk, and my wife called her parents to inform them that things might be progressing on this day (they had a 3 hour drive to make).  I also informed my parents of the situation, as they were planning on making the 1.5 hour drive as well.

After our short walk, and our family communications, we headed back to the nurse.  She once again examined my wife and told us the great news that “I think you’re going to have a baby today.”  We were admitted, and of course, were tremendously excited by this declaration!

The birthing centre at the hospital is awesome, as is the care that we have received on both of our visits.  A private room is available, which includes a private washroom, and a nice view over the city.  In addition, we had a nurse by our side for the entire process.  It is an extremely comfortable environment in which to welcome a child into the world.  The care is nothing less than first rate.

Once things really began progressing, I was asked by our nurse to hold onto one of my wife’s legs, as she coached my wife through the process.  I was somewhat surprised by my active role in the birth, but happily so.  It was not until our daughter was very close to her debut, that the doctor was called in to finish things up.

At one point, our fantastic nurse mentioned that our baby girl had quite a head of hair.  I asked her if I could take a look, and gazed upon my daughter for the first time.  Although at this point I could only see the top of her tiny head, it was an incredible moment which will stay with me for the rest of my days.

Before very long, our daughter made her long anticipated arrival, and to put it mildly, my wife and I were overjoyed to have her.  Hadley Isobel Jane McKay brought us unspeakable joy on the day that she was born.  She continues to do so on a daily basis.

Prior to the birth, I had not planned on cutting the umbilical cord.  I figured medical procedures were best left to, you know, people with medical degrees.  However, once it actually came time to do so, I had changed my mind, and took part in this fatherly experience.

At some point after Hadley’s birth, I paused for a moment at the door of the quiet room where we had said goodbye to our son 51 weeks prior (we were only a room or two away from where we had had Jacob).  When we lost our son, people told us that we would be back in the hospital before we knew it, welcoming another child into our family.  I guess they were right.  We had come full circle.

We moved to another part of the hospital for the recovery, fortunate again to have a private room.

The night following Hadley’s birth, we were able to take her home.  We brought her inside, much to the interest of her curious feline sister, Winnie.

Both sets of grandparents spent the night at home with us as well.  In the days that would follow, my Mother-in-Law stayed with us, and helped us get acclimated to having a child to care for.

On the Tuesday after her birth, we took Hadley to her first check-up with our family doctor.  She looked Hadley over, and she was happy with how she looked, was behaving and so on.  Hadley had developed some jaundice, so our doctor told us to come back in a couple of days to have that looked at.

We continued to get used to caring for a child, and of course, our love for her just increased with each passing moment.

As per our doctor’s wishes, we returned for a follow-up a couple of days after our first appointment.  Our doctor observed that the jaundice had progressed to Hadley’s feet, which had not been the case on our prior visit.  She advised us that we should go to the emergency room to have her checked out.  Our doctor suggested that this was not abnormal, and that they might put Hadley under the lights for a bit, in order to alleviate the jaundice.

At this point, there was no sense of urgency, rather, just the suggestion that we take Hadley to be examined further.  We actually discussed going home first to grab the stroller, since we anticipated we might be waiting in the ER for awhile.  Thankfully, we decided to proceed directly to the hospital.

We arrived at the ER and waited for a relatively short period of time, before being admitted.  We were brought into the ER, and Hadley was examined, and had some blood taken.  At this time, everything was still calm, and we were unconcerned.  This would soon change, and our lives would once again be turned entirely upside down.

Suddenly, our room was a whirling storm of activity, with all sorts of medical personnel rushing in to attend to our daughter.  She was whisked away to be put under the lights immediately, with us left to wonder what the hell was happening.

We were informed that her bilirubin levels were exceptionally high, and that our daughter was in substantial danger at this point.  After our experiences which would follow, I soon hoped to never hear the word bilirubin again.

Of course, as it would be for any parents, this was extremely frightening, but given the fact that we had lost a child 363 days prior, it was perhaps even more so for us.

Shortly thereafter, our daughter was brought up to the Paediatric Critical Care Unit where we would end up staying for days.

We spoke to the doctor who gave us the treatment options.  He advised us that he would like Hadley to undergo a blood transfusion, and we agreed with this being the best course of action.

In my mind, I had imagined this process would happen mechanically, but in fact, it was two doctors who manually transferred blood into and out of our daughter’s tiny body.  In the end, Hadley received a double-volume blood transfusion at the tender age of six-days-old.

At some point in this whirlwind ride of a day, we were told by a doctor in passing, that “she’s OK, and she’s going to be OK,” which made us feel much better.  Our little girl spent the night under the lights.  The only contact we were really able to have with her was through the openings in the incubator to hold her tiny hands.

The following day, Hadley was sent to get an MRI, as high-levels of bilirubin can negatively impact upon the brain.  The scan revealed that there was in fact cause for concern for our daughter’s health.  Agonizingly, we would have to wait until the following day to meet with the neurologist, in order to receive the results.

The concern was that Hadley could have something known as kernicterus, which leads to cerebral palsy.  This was of course devastating news for us, and led to a very restless night waiting for our meeting.  We were given a room to sleep in not very far from where Hadley was staying.  We knew that she was in very good hands with our exceptional nurse, and the rest of the medical staff, but we still checked in on her throughout the night.

Before drifting off to sleep for the night, we had some very difficult conversations about what our life might be like should Hadley need some special care.

This all transpired on Jacob’s first birthday.  As our beautiful newborn baby fought for her health, and we agonized over her condition, we also had to deal with the emotions of having lost our boy exactly one year prior.

The following day, we met with the neurologist after what seemed like an eternity.  He told us that he did not think that the scan was conclusive in showing the worst case scenario.  He said he would like to do another scan.  Basically, there were two outcomes from where Hadley stood at the time: 1) she had kernicterus, and would develop cerebral palsy, or 2) she would be 100% healthy.  There was no middle ground.

Throughout our stay in the P.C.C.U, Hadley’s bilirubin levels were continually monitored, and in general, they continued to go down in the direction towards a normal level, which was encouraging.

On our second night in the P.C.C.U., we did not have another room to sleep in, as priority for those rooms is given to families from out of town, which makes sense.  That was OK anyway, as we were quite happy to spend the night in the room with our little girl.

The P.C.C.U services a number of communities in Ontario, not just London and surrounding areas.  On one night, a patient arrived via air ambulance.  Unfortunately, it is an extremely busy facility.  Fortunately, we were lucky to have such amazing medical care for our daughter.

I believe it was on our third night, that we were moved out of critical care, and sent to the regular paediatric wing of the hospital.  Our daughter continued to have her levels monitored on a regular basis.  In addition, she was regularly tested with different neurological tests, reflex type activities, and so on.  Thankfully, she was passing those with flying colours.

By the end of our stay, I could’ve administered those tests on my own, no medical degree necessary.

During our stay, we were in a semi-private room with another family.  They had been in the hospital for six months, ever since the birth of their son.  Once again, our own situation allowed us to really appreciate what families are going through on a daily basis throughout Ontario and around the world.  It’s pretty tough for a lot of people.

Our stay in the Children’s Hospital was first-rate, with tremendous nursing and care for our daughter.

In addition to the world-class treatment for our daughter, there was a Ronald McDonald sponsored area on the floor where snacks were available, as well as sleeping quarters for parents of patients.  Not a place where you ever want to end up with your child, but if you do have to be in a hospital under such circumstances, there is no better place.

I told my wife to take the Ronald McDonald accommodations in the hopes that she could get some rest.  I would of course have to text her from down the hall in order to come feed our little girl as necessary.  As a father who was new to changing the diapers of a screaming child at 3 am, I was thankful to have the tremendous nursing staff on hand, who took pity, and stepped in to help.  As an exhausted and stressed parent, this was invaluable.  Thanks again to those wonderful ladies.

In addition to the great medical care, there was, for lack of a better term, entertainment available.  On one or two days of our stay, a music therapist came to visit our roommate and sang some incredible songs which we were also able to enjoy.

Over the course of our stay, I had returned home occasionally to check in on our cat and pick up some clean clothes.  My wife also came home once or twice, as we needed to shower and so on.  Other than that, we were in the hospital the entire time, for a week or so.  While this was happening, I was unfortunately also required to plan lessons and whatnot for school.  Fortunately, my supply teacher at the time took on much of this burden, which she was not required to do, but I was exceptionally thankful for.

Over the course of our stay at the hospital, I continued to be amazed by the care we received.  Once patients are moved from the P.C.C.U they are assigned a P.C.C.U nurse who follows their recovery.  I can recall that during the visit from our nurse, we ended up chatting about our prior experience with Jacob.  She became emotional upon hearing our story, and said that unfortunately, in her experience, a lot of couples are broken up by such events.  She was happy that that had not been the case for us.

There is a chapel at the hospital, and my wife and I stopped in on one occasion on our way to the cafeteria.  For me, it was just an escape from the craziness of the prior week of our life.  I enjoyed the peace and calm that it afforded.

I did not ask God to help my daughter in this situation.  I did however, ask her big brother Jacob, to take care of his little sister.

Eventually, Hadley’s bilirubin level returned to normal, and with the doctors being happy with how she was progressing, we were cleared to go home again with our little girl.  The doctors were fairly confident that she was going to be OK.  But, they did want a follow-up scan in a few months to be certain.  In addition, we would have to wait to see if Hadley was meeting the various development milestones that are expected of newborn children.

Thankfully, Hadley continued to develop normally, and eventually, the time for the scan came.  After waiting for the results, we could finally be fully confident that our daughter was OK.  I already knew in my heart, from my own observations of my daughter, that this was the case, but it was of course great to hear the medical confirmation.

A short time after Hadley’s release from the hospital, we took her to our special spot in order to honour Jacob’s birthday, since we had been unable to commemorate it as intended while in the hospital.  During this occasion, I made sure to thank him for taking care of his baby sister.

Now, when I run marathons, I run with three names on my hand, my son Jacob, my daughter Hadley, and my wife Haylie.

Recently, I completed my fourth marathon, the Road2Hope marathon in Hamilton.  Afterwards, my family and I went for a walk to a local park.  My wife snapped this picture of Hadley and I, which is one of my favourites.

I’m beyond thrilled to report that Hadley is now 16 months old, and is a perfectly happy and healthy little girl.  She brings so much joy, pride, laughter, and love into the lives of my wife and I on a daily basis.  She is an absolutely amazing little girl.

I am extremely thankful for the tremendous care that my daughter received.  I am indebted for life to our family doctor, and to the heroic actions of the doctors and nursing staff at the hospital.

In honour of my two children, the patients and families that receive first class treatment and care in our outstanding medical facilities, and the great staff that provides that care, I am running the Canadian 24 Hour Championships, a 24 hour ultramarathon, in September.

I am attempting to raise $24 000 for the Children’s Health Foundation, which not only oversees the services that Hadley received at the Children’s Hospital, but also supports research initiatives for children through the Children’s Health Research Institute, and provides support through the Thames Valley Children’s Centre to children and young adults with a variety of special needs.

I am asking you to support the Children’s Health Foundation by donating $5 (donations of any denomination are truly appreciated) and sharing my fundraising page with 5 people.  These small gestures can make a huge difference in the lives of children.

All funds go directly to the Children’s Health Foundation.

I am also seeking corporate donations.  If you know of any available partnerships, please email me at neilgordonmckay@gmail.com.

Thanks again for reading my story and contributing to a worthy cause.

Please follow the link to my personal fundraising page.

Let’s work together to make a difference in the lives of children.