In August 2012, expectant mother Marie Breen and her husband Lorcan’s lives were changed forever.
Their second child was stillborn, only to go into full organ failure having already been resuscitated.
Nearly four years later, the Dublin couple has three healthy children, and Marie credits the support she received through counselling, Enable Ireland, and various medical professionals for the life her family lives today.
“I had a job that I really loved, I was going out on maternity leave, and then my life changed completely.
“It was August 2012, I went in for a scan on a Tuesday, I was 39 weeks and six days on my second child. I went in because I had reduced foetal movements.
“They put a trace on and said there was a sign of stress, and they decided that I needed an emergency C-section. The baby came out and there was no noise. The baby was given to the paediatric team and there was still no noise, I just looked at Lorcan and I knew there was something wrong. There was a tiny cough, and I thought, ‘OK she’s fine’,” Marie told the Irish Examiner.
But her baby was not fine; in fact, she was in a critical condition.
“We were told that she was not going to be OK, and she was probably going to die, that she had full organ failure, and they couldn’t get her settled on a ventilator.
“We called her Thea — it means a gift of God. We got a friend of ours, who’s a priest, to come in and say prayers and we called our parents.”
However, a doctor in Holles Street, whom Marie describes as “incredible”, made a life-saving move in the middle of the night.
“The doctor, she was just incredible, said she couldn’t get her stabilised.
“She said she was going to try one more thing and when she came back to us at five in the morning, we just looked at each other, thinking this was it. But she said she had got her stabilised on an oscillating ventilator.
“Within 10 days, they had Thea off the ventilator. She was medically fine, she had a heart and lung problems, and an acquired brain injury but we didn’t know the extent of it.”
Thea then had an MRI scan at 10 days old.
“We were told there were marked changes, that’s called cerebral palsy, and there’s a spectrum and it’s different for each child.
“It’s a wait-and-see situation. If you see a scan of a brain — that doesn’t tell you about a person’s capacity for change, their capabilities, you have to leave the door open for hope, for that child’s individuality.”
Now, almost four years later, Thea is a thriving child.
“Thea is walking and talking and has the cognitive abilities of a three-and-a-half-year-old, and will go to mainstream school.”
Last Thursday morning, Marie was listening to the Ryan Tubridy Show, when a person texted in to ask listeners if they had any advice in relation to going to counselling.
Marie attended counselling for a year after the birth of Thea, and wanted to share her life-changing experience on air. “Part of the issue for me going to counselling was, the day before she was born, she had a completely different life path, and after she was born, it was completely different.
“Who we were before we had her is different to who we are now. It’s very complex for people’s emotional wellbeing.”
Because of the number of appointments Thea had, Marie could not return to work after her maternity leave was over.
“This meant my life was very insular and revolved around Thea and her care.
“When you have a child with a disability, you have high levels of anxiety all the time because of your concerns about their future.
“I went to the doctor to talk about how I was going to go back to work, all I thought about was the child. The GP said ‘I think you need counselling, you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress’,” said Marie.
She rang three different counsellors before settling on Anne, who she felt she was able to engage with completely.
“The counsellor I went to was absolutely phenomenal and at no stage did she say ‘do this, or you should do that’, she let me come to the conclusions.
“It has never crossed my mind not to tell to people I went for counselling, I’m not one bit embarrassed to say ‘I needed help with this’; going to counselling was a thoroughly empowering experience for me. I wanted to go back to being the confident person that I was.”
However, counselling, friends, and family were not Marie’s only form of support.
Thea started attending Enable Ireland in February 2013, and Marie reached out for a parent support group there.
Two of the social workers in Enable Ireland started a coffee morning once a month for parents of service users.
“This morning is a hub of support, empathy, and compassion for like-minded parents,” said Marie.
“We [the parents] started a WhatsApp group and never has a WhatsApp group been such a source of counselling and support.”
In June, and after having a third child [Cillian, 18 months], Marie returned to work.
“Having Thea was a life-changing experience.
“Parents of children with a disability can define themselves by their child, but I am and we are, so much more.”
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