There are few situations as difficult as having a seriously ill child. In Canada, 65 per cent of families live outside a city with specialty children’s hospital. Many families must travel long distances to access the medical care their children require, leaving them a long way from the comfort and security of their homes, families, jobs and support networks at a time when they need them most.
That’s where Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) comes in. In an average year, RMHC helps more than 26,000 Canadian families through their most challenging times. RMHC gives families a place to stay together, close to their sick child in hospital, giving them the comforts of home and a community of support when they need it most.
For mom Danielle Young, RMHC South Central Ontario, located in Hamilton, Ontario, became a safe haven for her and her husband, Chris, in 2016. For more than 100 days, they stayed at the house to be close to their first daughter, Poppy, who was born prematurely with fluid in her chest. Poppy had to be hospitalized at the NICU at McMaster Children’s Hospital—46 kilometres away from their home in Paris, Ontario.
“It was 105 long days, but RMHC made it easier,” recalls Young. “It was so nice to have a place to share with other parents who understand—we made so many friends and they are relationships we still have. You have days where you just cannot be in the hospital anymore. It’s hard to just sit there when your baby is really sick and is sedated or sleeping all the time. You also get a lot of information so you need somewhere to decompress. I could go there to retreat and just turn off my head or take a nap.”
For moms in particular, RMHC offers valuable practical support in the form of meals and breastfeeding/pumping spaces, but also gentle, yet critical, reminders to be kind to yourself.
“The volunteers are very good at reminding you with very subtle and caring cues that you are there to also take care of yourself while you take care of your children,” says Young.
Young and her family stayed again at RMHC South Central Ontario in 2021, this time for a six-month stretch when their second daughter, Hazel, was also born prematurely. Hazel’s NICU stay took place during the pandemic, making it a very different experience with added stress and isolation as RMHC had to limit gathering among families, in accordance with public health guidelines. That made it all the more essential to have family nearby. “It was so important for keeping my family close,” she says. “I could be with Chris and Poppy while we supported Hazel. At the time, only one parent could be at the hospital as it was in lockdown. Having a place where Chris and I could have a break together and keep connections with Poppy was so helpful.”
Young greatly appreciated the support available for healthy siblings at RMHC when so much of a family’s focus has to be on the sick child. “It was hard not being able to spend a lot of time with Poppy,” she says. “We had dinners together and tried to make things more normal for her because her world got turned upside down. RMHC made it amazing for her, providing toys, books and activities. And there’s other kids in the House. That really helps you provide for your kids while your life is going in a bunch of different directions.”
After all, being a mom is tough, but especially when your child is ill. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” says Young. She encourages moms staying with RMHC to find time to take breaks from the hospital.
“There should be no guilt about whether you’re there or not. My kids are great. They aren’t negatively affected by the day I slept in or went for lunch. It’s about making sure you are as prepared as you can be for when you take your child home. Moms have a lot of hard jobs, like pumping milk, that add a lot of extra stress. We need to take the support available through RMHC to eat, sleep, exercise and just get some fresh air.”
For this upcoming Mother’s Day, consider the needs of moms with a sick child and make a donation to RMHC Canada.
You can also support families like the Youngs by visiting your local McDonald’s restaurant on McHappy Day (May 11, 2022). A portion of proceeds from all menu items sold all day will support RMHC and families with sick children across Canada.
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