This season’s Real Life Special delves into the stories of three truly inspirational families all exploring parenthood in three very different ways.
Having a child is one of life’s major perspective-inducing experiences. It jolts us out of the everyday, and makes us think about the bigger picture – and about the circle of life, and where we fit into it. Many parents mark this sense of continuity by naming their child after a beloved parent or grandparent, and some experience the bittersweet convergence of the death of a relative and the arrival of a new baby.
However, when the death is a generation closer, and when it’s the death of one of the parents themselves, it’s harder to reconcile. Jessica Tutton has been brave enough to share with us the story of her husband Matthew’s terminal battle with a rare cancer, and the subsequent birth of their second daughter, Matilda.
Not every story can have an unambiguously happy ending, but Gemma and David Corcoran’s comes pretty close. The couple were completely shocked when they discovered that they were expecting naturally conceived triplets – and they already had their hands full with a toddler daughter. But they rallied to the challenge of three newborn boys, and, having more than made their contribution to the next generation, they’re excitedly anticipating the fun ahead as a family of six.
Edward Butler was more fortunate in the outcome of his brush with illness and, having already undergone chemotherapy, as well as IVF treatment to conceive their son, he and his wife, Fiona, mustered their combined strength to deal with another challenge, when they discovered that Ollie had been born with a duplex kidney.
hen Fiona and Edward Butler were told that their six day old son, Ollie, had an extra kidney on his left side they were concerned, but they were also ready to deal with whatever life might throw at them. In fact, this was far from the start of their rollercoaster journey to parenthood – by this time, the Epsom couple had already weathered more than their fair share of ups and downs.
On their honeymoon in 2011, they discovered that Edward had a lump in his left testicle. When they got back home, Edward booked an appointment at the GP, and, after further tests, and just three months after getting married, they were given the distressing news that Edward had testicular cancer. Despite their concern, Edward remained bullish from the outset, “the doctor wanted to operate the next day, but I asked whether he could push it back 24 hours, because I had an important game of golf to play!”
The operation was a success, but Edward was told that he may have to undergo chemotherapy, which could make him infertile. “It was a race against time to bank as much precious sperm as we could!” Unfortunately, the cancer spread to the lymph nodes near Edward’s belly button, and he did indeed have to receive both chemotherapy and radiotherapy. “While we were waiting for the chemotherapy to begin, the consultant explained that they would have to customise the dose very carefully, because I only had one kidney,” says Edward, “this was news to me – I’d lived 32 years thinking I had two! Life is very strange – I only have one kidney, and Ollie has three!”
Fiona and Edward were then told that they would have to wait two years after the chemotherapy treatment before they could start trying to conceive a baby naturally. Keen not to wait that long, they decided, instead, to have IVF. Fiona began the lengthy process of egg collection, “she endured more needles than I had to during my cancer treatment.”
The first cycle of IVF worked, and nine months later, Ollie was born – two weeks overdue, and with a little assistance. “I was watching the whole thing,” remembers Edward, “I was rather alarmed that it took about ten big heaves by the doctor to pull Ollie free, but at last he came – a very healthy 8lbs 13ozs. I even managed to cut the cord.”
However, after two days at home, the couple sensed that something was wrong with their baby boy. “He wasn’t nearly as responsive and happy as he had been. Fiona knew instinctively that something wasn’t right.”
Edward and Fiona took Ollie to A&E, where he was diagnosed with a possible urine infection. After three days on the children’s ward at Epsom Hospital, an ultrasound revealed that Ollie had a conjoined duplex kidney on one side. “Initially we were in complete shock,” says Edward, “and we thought that there would be terrible complications, but apparently it’s quite common.”
Ollie was given a course of antibiotics, and his parents were told that he would probably have to take these until he was two, when he would be given keyhole surgery to prevent any further infections. “We were back in hospital in January, when Ollie had another infection,” says Edward, “and it was clear that we were going to get to know the staff and the corridors of Epsom Hospital pretty well.”
Though Edward and Fiona were still coming to terms with the news – this was hardly how they had planned the first few months with their new baby – they remained upbeat. “We stayed strong for each other – it helps to know that Ollie will be able to go on to lead a normal and healthy life after the surgery he’ll have in a couple of years’ time.”
“We also have a superb support mechanism of family and friends, and we’ve been blown away by the kind wishes of everyone at the hospital.” In fact, the couple have been so impressed by the dedication of the staff at Epsom Hospital, that they decided to start fundraising for the children’s ward. Fiona and Ollie have spent a total of fourteen nights on the Casey ward, and the fantastic support of the staff was noticeable from day one. “We couldn’t fault the care and expertise of everyone there, but we immediately noticed the outdated and tired looking beds for both parents and babies. Some rooms on the ward had modern cots and beds, but several had furniture dating back to the 1980s.” On being told that a new electronic cot bed and adult bed would cost £2,500, Fiona and Edward decided to try and raise the money, and organised a Dambusters themed charity evening to this end. The evening made £3,975 well above their target, and enough to purchase two new beds for the hospital.
The Butler family are now planning have to have a calmer time, for a while. We’re hoping to have a far less stressful few years ahead, while we nurse our beautiful baby back to full health. However, they’re by no means ruling out baby number two, the egg collection worked so well that we have two more embryos in storage we’re already discussing when we’ll unfreeze one so that Ollie has a brother or sister.