‘We have four kids: two liv­ing, two an­gels’

Shane Ó Foghlú and El­lie Cur­ran went on to have two more chil­dren af­ter los­ing their pre­ma­ture twin boys

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Parenting Loss Of Newborn Babies - Sheila Way­man Ai­dan and Don­nacha’s Wings gives every par­ent who loses a baby in the Ro­tunda the op­por­tu­nity to have im­prints in clay taken of the child’s hands and feet, and then made into ce­ramic “out prints” by artist Louise McCabe of For Keeps. ro­tund

‘We have been a mother and fa­ther. Now we want to be par­ents.” They were the part­ing words of Shane Ó Foghlú and El­lie Cur­ran last time we met.

Ap­pear­ing cryptic out of con­text, those two sen­tences en­cap­su­lated the mov­ing in­ter­view they had just given about hav­ing and los­ing their first-born twin boys, and their long­ing for an­other baby.

In the ever-de­creas­ing at­ten­tion-span of the me­dia, it is not of­ten you get a chance to go back and find out “what hap­pened next” in the lives of in­ter­vie­wees. But two years af­ter talk­ing to Shane and El­lie in the for­mal sur­round­ings of the Ro­tunda Hos­pi­tal’s board­room, I am back with them, this time in the com­fort of their home in Ar­tane, north Dublin.

Four stun­ning, framed pieces of art­work on the wall of the hall­way sum up the cou­ple’s story – then and since. Two of the frames con­tain heart-ren­der­ingly-tiny ce­ramic hand and foot prints of their twins Ai­dan and Don­nacha, but they are flanked by two more frames with small, but al­most gi­ant in com­par­i­son, hand and foot prints of Éabha and Rian.

The cou­ple’s happy an­tic­i­pa­tion of parenthood first time around was shat­tered by the fa­tally early ar­rival of Ai­dan and Don­nacha at the Ro­tunda Hos­pi­tal in 2015. Ai­dan was just 23 weeks old and weigh­ing 660g when he was born on Septem­ber 30th, leav­ing his brother in the womb.

Within 24 hours, the neo-na­tal team had to tell the cou­ple they had done ev­ery­thing they could for Ai­dan and they agreed to the re­moval of life sup­port. He died in their arms soon af­ter­wards.

Three days later, when El­lie’s tem­per­a­ture soared due to an in­fec­tion, she had to be in­duced for the de­liv­ery of Don­nacha on Oc­to­ber 3rd. Although aged just 23 weeks and three days, he weighed 800g and his lungs were more de­vel­oped than his brother’s, so there was hope.

“We got to hear Don­nacha cry – and there was even a lit­tle pid­dle,” Shane re­called in the last in­ter­view, with a flash of the easy sense of hu­mour the cou­ple share. But de­spite bet­ter lungs, Don­nacha had bleeds on the brain and on Oc­to­ber 6th they had to watch him too lose his strug­gle for life.

Dur­ing that trau­matic time, a seed was sown when Ai­dan was put in a cool­ing unit known as a “cud­dle cot” and left with them in their pri­vate hos­pi­tal room. A plaque on the cot recorded its do­na­tion.

“I re­mem­ber think­ing some other fam­ily had sat here a year, or years, ago, had gone through this, had fundraised and be­cause of them this cud­dle cot was avail­able,” says Shane. “Be­cause of that cud­dle cot we got to spend time with Ai­dan – he was our baby; he stayed in the room with us, we slept with him.

“If it hadn’t been for those par­ents . . . we would not have had those ex­pe­ri­ences. At the time, we said, we don’t know how we’ll do it, or when we’ll do it, or where we’ll do it, but we will give some­thing back.”

It was their giv­ing back that was the sub­ject of their last in­ter­view, which was pub­lished in The Ir­ish Times on Septem­ber 20th, 2016. They had fundraised for an ini­tia­tive called “Ai­dan and Don­nacha’s Wings” (do­na­tions can still be made at ro­tundafoun­da­tion.ie), to give every par­ent who loses a baby in the Ro­tunda the op­por­tu­nity to have im­prints in clay taken of the hands and feet and then made into ce­ramic “out­prints” by artist Louise McCabe of For Keeps.

The day af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of that in­ter­view, El­lie gave birth to a daugh­ter, Éabha, just be­fore the first an­niver­saries of the births and deaths of Ai­dan and Don­nacha. Not sur­pris­ingly, it had been a preg­nancy fraught with anx­i­ety – par­tic­u­larly around the time she had de­liv­ered pre­vi­ously

The cause of the twins’ pre­ma­ture births was un­known so, next time around, ob­ste­tri­cian Dr Fer­gal Malone, the master of the Ro­tunda, promised them “belt and braces”, says Shane. El­lie had a cer­vi­cal cer­clage (stitch) as well as weekly pro­ges­terone in­jec­tions in the later stages.

In­duced

She was in­duced at 37 weeks, to try to en­sure she and Shane would be at home with their baby be­fore their sons’ an­niver­saries, and the de­liv­ery was by Cae­sarean section in the end. “I was be­gin­ning to lose my mar­bles,” says El­lie. “I had been in there for 12 hours, heard every scream in the hos­pi­tal and at 7pm there was no move­ment.” She re­calls Malone say­ing: “‘I am re­ally sorry El­lie, I might have to section you’ and I was like ‘Section me!’.”

“It was amaz­ing,” she says of Éabha’s ar­rival at 9.45pm on Septem­ber 21st. 2016. But two days later, on El­lie’s own birth­day, “she was di­ag­nosed with an un­di­ag­nosed cleft palate”.

That morn­ing, Éabha hadn’t latched on to the breast and was quite jaun­diced, so a doc­tor took her off for a blood test. He spot­ted the hole in her palate when she cried. “It was quite far back,” says Shane. “It was easy to miss.”

“Need­less to say, I thought the world was fall­ing around me again,” El­lie con­tin­ues. But the hos­pi­tal’s cleft co-or­di­na­tor was soon with them and once they were given spe­cial bot­tles and teats, she could feed prop­erly. But it did mean Éabha couldn’t be breast­fed so El­lie was pump­ing breast milk to be given through a bot­tle. “It was stress­ful. You’d pump for an hour, get 25ml and then spill it,” she says.

Éabha needed var­i­ous ap­point­ments – for den­tal, speech, and eye checks be­cause a cleft palate can have wide-reach­ing ef­fects in the skull – so it wasn’t quite the straight­for­ward dis­charge they had hoped for.

Those early days were tough at times, ad­mits El­lie, be­cause as well as the nor­mal mood swings af­ter hav­ing a baby, she and Shane were also cry­ing over the two big broth­ers who hadn’t made it just a year pre­vi­ously.

It did help to ac­tu­ally have a baby to hold and to mind at the time of the boys’ first an­niver­saries,” says Shane, “but it was still hard”. He knows peo­ple wanted to think hav­ing Éabha would “fix” them.

“It’s so well-in­ten­tioned. Peo­ple see the

pain you’re in, the hurt, the long­ing. They want you to be bet­ter, as they see it. But it’s not a mat­ter of ‘fix­ing’. No mat­ter if we had 10 more ba­bies, we would still miss Ai­dan and Don­nacha. There will al­ways be a hole there.”

For the boys’ birth­days, the cou­ple got them each a choco­late bis­cuit cake dec­o­rated with blue and white but­ter­flies and they re­leased bal­loons as well.

With El­lie in the twi­light of her 30s, they didn’t want to wait long be­fore try­ing for an­other baby and within nine months she was preg­nant again. She was anx­ious but not as anx­ious as with Éabha, be­ing a bit more con­fi­dent the cer­clage and pro­ges­terone in­jec­tions were go­ing to work again in pre­vent­ing an­other pre­ma­ture birth.

They didn’t care whether it was a girl or a boy “but my big thing was whether it would have a cleft palate”, says El­lie. “In the scheme of things, a cleft palate is noth­ing re­ally but I can guar­an­tee you that the whole of the Ro­tunda breathed a sigh of re­lief when there was no cleft palate!”

Soon af­ter Rian’s birth on May 1st this year, Shane and El­lie could hardly be­lieve they were walk­ing out of the Ro­tunda with a healthy baby who had no fol­low-on ap­point­ments other than the nor­mal six-week check. “He’s just the busi­ness,” she laughs. Life with the two small chil­dren “is manic”, says El­lie, “but we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“Tough but bril­liant,” is how Shane sums up parenthood. “No­body can ex­plain to you how won­der­ful it is. All the lit­tle things and all the firsts. You see lit­tle glimpses of the per­son­al­ity evolv­ing.”

Grief still hits at un­ex­pected times and in un­ex­pected ways, such as last July when Dublin foot­baller Bernard Bro­gan put the first pho­to­graph of his new­born twin boys on In­sta­gram. El­lie had sat be­side him in a wait­ing room at the Ro­tunda when his wife Keira Doyle was 20 weeks’ preg­nant, so she knew that was where they had been born.

See­ing some­body push­ing a pur­ple Out ’n’ About dou­ble buggy is an­other trig­ger be­cause that is what they had or­dered for the boys. As it hap­pened, they ended up getting the same model of dou­ble buggy to use with Éabha and Rian – but they made sure it wasn’t pur­ple.

Or, now, see­ing three-year-old twin boys. “It’s hard to put into words how it just gets you, even though you feel it shouldn’t be getting you,” says El­lie

The cou­ple, both pri­mary-school teach­ers, still strug­gle too with that most ca­sual of ques­tions: “how many chil­dren do you have?”

“This comes up every week,” ex­plains El­lie. “Some­body asked me the other day and I didn’t know the per­son and I said ‘two’ and I was wracked with guilt af­ter­wards.”

“It’s not that you are deny­ing them,” says Shane. “Some­times it’s the per­son and you think ‘I just don’t want to have this con­ver­sa­tion’.” More of­ten he would say “four kids, two liv­ing, or two an­gels”.

You don’t want to spend your evenings coun­selling peo­ple, when they’re in a state of shock af­ter be­ing told what hap­pened, says El­lie.

Wings

The six-part, fly-on-the-wall doc­u­men­tary se­ries on the Ro­tunda Hos­pi­tal, which fin­ishes this Thurs­day (Oc­to­ber 18th) on RTÉ2, has been com­pul­sive if at times painful view­ing for Shane and El­lie.

It was an emo­tional mo­ment when the cred­its rolled on the first pro­gramme and Ar­naud and Aine, whose son had been de­liv­ered at the hos­pi­tal af­ter dying in utero due to a foetal ab­nor­mal­ity, were shown with their other two chil­dren, hold­ing baby Malachy’s framed ce­ramic prints – cour­tesy of Ai­dan and Don­nacha’s Wings.

“I was blown away,” says El­lie. “I was glad I didn’t know it was go­ing to be there – it was such a fab­u­lous sur­prise.” There was “pride, that our boys would have con­trib­uted to this”, says Shane.

Al­most 180 other be­reaved par­ents have been pre­sented with prints since the ini­tia­tive started and for which the cou­ple fundraised ¤30,000. It costs about ¤11,000 a year to run and Carla Glynn of the Ro­tunda Foun­da­tion es­ti­mates they have suf­fi­cient funds for an­other year.

But, as Shane and El­lie have done more than enough, the foun­da­tion is launch­ing a fresh cam­paign for funds to con­tinue hon­our­ing the mem­ory of Ai­dan and Don­nacha and to make sure every griev­ing par­ent who walks out of the hos­pi­tal without a lit­tle bun­dle in their arms will at least have a last­ing me­mento of the life they cre­ated.

As the tag line El­lie and Shane chose for the ini­tia­tive says: “There is no foot too small, that it can­not leave an im­print in this world.”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: DARA MAC DÓNAILL

El­lie Cur­ran and Shane Ó Foghlú with their chil­dren Rian and Éabha at home in Ar­tane, Dublin. Be­hind them are mounted hand and foot prints of their first-born chil­dren, twins Ai­dan and Don­nacha, along with prints of Éabha and Rian. Left: they first spoke to The Ir­ish Times in Septem­ber 2016.

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