Rebecca Aitchison, partner Dylan Murray and their daughter Caitlin are from Waimate, but for nearly four months in 2013 they called Ronald McDonald House South Island in Christchurch home after a complicated pregnancy and neo natal journey.
Rebecca and Dylan, then based in Australia, were excited to be pregnant with twins Caitlin and Victoria. As the pregnancy progressed they learned Rebecca had developed Twin to Twin Transfer Syndrome, which meant she had to undergo two surgeries try to save their unborn babies. Sadly the couple lost baby Victoria a few days before flying back to New Zealand, and because of the risk to Caitlin they were told they’d need to stay near a hospital for the remainder of the pregnancy.
They arrived in Christchurch wondering what they would do, only to be told they had somewhere to stay. “I was pleasantly surprised that I could stay at the House! I had no idea that I could stay before I gave birth, I always thought that it was for families and children who were undergoing treatment or surgeries, I wasn’t aware that unborn children were included,” says Rebecca.
The couple stayed for two months before the twins were born at 32 weeks gestation. Three days later, Rebecca was back at Ronald McDonald House South Island where she and Dylan stayed for the next two months while baby Caitlin battled reflux, drops in heart beats and breathing, moving from incubators to cots and back again, hernia surgeries, heart scans and X-rays.
For Rebecca and Dylan, being part of the House while Caitlin recovered and grew eased the burden of what was an incredibly difficult time. “While Caitlin was in the neonatal unit, having the House so close to the Hospital meant that we could be there at a moments notice if we needed to, or we could sneak to the House for a quick meal before heading back to the Hospital to be there when she woke,” says Rebecca.
Because they stayed for a long time, Rebecca and Dylan got to know the House pretty well and now they have their fair share of memories.
“Probably the most memorable experiences for me would be the nights when the families got together to enjoy meals at night cooked by volunteers,” says Rebecca.
“For whatever reason you were there, dinners were always light-hearted, warm and friendly. Friendships were made and forged over a great meal. Everybody had a story to tell. Everybody had good days. Everybody had bad days. If you were having a bad day, you didn’t need to say a word, people just understood. I spent many dinners crying about the lows of the day with friends while they talked about their good day – the next night it would be the other way around.
“This is how I made it through. The staff and families were shoulders to cry on, and would listen and offer advice if it was needed. Everybody was going through something, it may not be exactly what you were experiencing, but it was tough in its own right.”
When asked what moved them the most, Rebecca and Dylan both had the same answer, saying that it was a ‘home away from home’. “Everything is taken care of. Everything is there if you need it. The staff go out of their way to help and to make sure your stay is smooth and easy. We were asked what we would improve, and I would say nothing. The House is a warm, cozy, friendly, safe and happy place,” adds Rebecca.