Cross­ing the Line

I Run with Ja­cob

Canadian Running - - SEPTEMBER & OCTOBER 2017 - By Neil McKay In hon­our of Ja­cob, and his daugh­ter Hadley, Neil will be run­ning a 24-hour ul­tra in Septem­ber to raise money for the Chil­dren’s Health Foun­da­tion. To find out how to sup­port Neil, email him at neil­go­r­don­m­ckay@gmail.com.

In the midst of train­ing for my first marathon, my wife Haylie and I were hap­pily ex­pect­ing our first child un­til one rou­tine checkup turned into dev­as­ta­tion, and our world changed for­ever. Af­ter the sec­ond ul­tra­sound, our doc­tor told Haylie to do noth­ing but rest. Her am­ni­otic f luid was low and she was re­ferred to a spe­cial­ist. Prior to this, I had set a goal of fin­ish­ing the Toronto Water­front Marathon in un­der 4:00. The marathon was now a cou­ple of weeks away, but ob­vi­ously my run­ning took a back seat.

“Your baby has some­thing called bi­lat­eral re­nal age­n­e­sis, or Pot­ter’s syn­drome,” we were told. “This is what is termed a lethal di­ag­no­sis.” Our baby was not de­vel­op­ing kid­neys and would not sur­vive out of the womb.

The doc­tor ex­plained that there was noth­ing that could be done for our baby. Noth­ing.

Af­ter what seemed like an eter­nity, we met with a neona­tal spe­cial­ist at the Lon­don Health Sciences Cen­tre. Nei­ther of us could bear the thought of ter­mi­nat­ing the preg­nancy. We still wanted to have the op­por­tu­nity to hold our child. We would have the baby.

At home, try­ing to fig­ure out what to do next, my wife made a poignant ob­ser­va­tion. “Every­body is talk­ing about the baby like they’re al­ready gone,” she said. “And they’re not.” As part of that con­ver­sa­tion, she had the idea that we should do things to­gether as a fam­ily while our baby was still phys­i­cally with us. My wife and I de­cided that we would still travel to Toronto, but ac­tu­ally run­ning the marathon wasn’t a cer­tainty, as I was not sure if I would be able, men­tally, to get through it.

Head­ing off to bed the night be­fore the race, we de­cided that I should just go out and run. It’s one of the best de­ci­sions that I have ever made. I ran that day with the ini­tials of my un­born child and my wife’s name writ­ten on my hand. As I ran, our sit­u­a­tion with our child weighed on my mind, but I be­gan to fo­cus on what we could do to­gether as a fam­ily be­fore t he birt h i n or­der to cre­ate happy mem­o­ries.

As I fi­nally closed in on the fin­ish­ing chute, I looked up at the clock in the dis­tance and it still read “3:59”, so I started to run as fast as I could.

More im­por­tant than my fin­ish­ing time, or a medal, was be­ing re­united with my fam­ily. I met up with my wife, took a few pic­tures, and headed home.

Along the way, my wife checked the off ic ial re­sults: 3:59:59.

Once we ar­rived home, we went for a walk. We took a pic­ture to­gether, which is now dis­played in our home and holds a lot of mean­ing for me. I make sure to pass by that place now when I go for a run.

Just three days later, and only a week af­ter the di­ag­no­sis, we were in the hos­pi­tal await­ing the ar­rival. As I en­tered our hos­pi­tal room, I no­ticed a small graphic of a but­terf ly out­side it – the but­terf ly is a sym­bol of pre­na­tal loss.

On the af­ter­noon of Oct. 23, 2014, our baby was born. As ex­pected, our son was still­born. We of­fi­cially wel­comed Ja­cob Carter McKay into our hands, our fam­ily, and of course, com­pletely into our hearts.

It’s hard to de­scribe the conf lict­ing emo­tions that I went through. I was in­cred­i­bly sad­dened that our baby had passed. At the same time, I was in­cred­i­bly proud of my wife and of our beau­ti­ful baby boy, Ja­cob. He weighed ex­actly 1 lb., but the weight and im­pact that he has had on my life is im­mea­sur­able.

We spent seven hours to­gether as a fam­ily, and then, ac­com­pa­nied by a nurse, we took Ja­cob to an­other room and said an im­pos­si­ble good­bye.

We ar­rived home, still in a state of dis­be­lief that this had hap­pened to us, all tran­spir­ing within a week. That night, I stood out­side and looked up at the sky. It was clear and alight with stars.

The fol­low­ing days were grief-stricken, and turned into weeks. I can re­mem­ber wak­ing up one morn­ing, and there were tears in my eyes – I had been cry­ing in my sleep. At the time, it seemed im­pos­si­ble to come to terms with what had hap­pened.

But now I feel con­nected to my son. When I look up at the sky and see even just one star, I feel con­nected to Ja­cob. When a but­terf ly f lut­ters by, I feel con­nected to Ja­cob. But per­haps most of all, when I run, I feel con­nected to Ja­cob. He was with me dur­ing my first marathon, and he’s been with me for all of them since.

So yes, I run be­cause I en­joy it. I run be­cause it helps me stay fit, healthy and happy. But, I also run be­cause, when I run, I run with Ja­cob.

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