The Ritson-Bennet Family

Red Deer House

Red Deer County, Alberta

Kristen: Our story is fairly unique. On December 19 and 20, Andrew and I attended a pre-natal crash course. My anticipated due date was January 17 so we were definitely cutting it close. I was already 36 weeks, 4 weeks to go, or so we thought! After the course we went to my parent’s farm, did some chores and then proceeded to go for dinner with my family.  We had plans to go for a horseback ride the next day.   although I was planning to tag along on the sleigh. During the course, while practicing labour techniques, I experienced some odd contractions. The instructor quickly advised me to stop the exercise and instead try something different, such as a mental exercise. We joked about me going into labour and carried on.  Little did we know, perhaps it was a sign we should have taken more seriously.  I even texted a friend that evening saying “Once this pre-natal class is done, I think we will be pretty ready”.

Andrew: Later that night, around 3 a.m., Kristen’s water broke. Up until that point she had not been having any real contractions (asides from the ones at the course) so we weren’t sure what to think. Funny enough, water breaking prior to any contractions was never discussed in the course we completed only 10 hours prior. So I sleepily diagnosed my wife with urinary incontinence and fell back asleep. Obviously she was more alarmed than I and turned to Dr. Google while I slept. Again Kristen woke me and after a few minutes debates on what course of action to take, it was decided that we would be best go to the Red Deer Hospital as opposed to Innisfail.  Not expecting to be told that we must stay at the hospital and that Kristen was about to have a baby, we dressed for the cold weather almost as if we were going to do chores.  I also had my insulated boots on. We did not pack clothing, toiletries or anything.

Kristen: The first morning was fairly interesting. I was told that I must have a C-section done immediately as my last ultrasound, 2 weeks prior showed a low lying placenta, which would put me at risk of hemorrhage if I proceeded with a natural birth. A caesarian was not something I wanted to have performed, so I was sent for an ultrasound that morning as I had only begun to have very infrequent minor contractions a few hours after being admitted. The ultrasound showed that my placenta had migrated enough to enable me to proceed with a natural birth.  Next came my hope not to be induced. It was decided that I would be given till 6 a.m. Monday morning before they would start inducing me as up to that point, not much was happening. So we did everything possible to try to bring on my contractions. We did enough stairs that both of our legs were aching the next day, but it was to no avail, I was induced at 6 a.m. and by 2 p.m., little Liam Clancy was born. He was immediately taken by the NICU team and assessed. I got to meet him a few hours later!

Andrew: The first night we spent at the hospital, Sunday night, a nurse suggested that if I needed a place to sleep, they could call over to the Ronald McDonald House for me and set me up with a room. I had never thought of Ronald McDonald House as being a place where a smelly, soon to be fathers could receive a home-cooked meal, a hot shower and a nice bed in a clean, private room. At this stage I truly did not feel as though I deserved to be there and thought it would be best to be near my wife. Having spent many hours sleeping in libraries, not to mention classes, throughout my university years, I thought I could tough it out and sleep in the family visiting area for the night. The visiting area room had terribly uncomfortable couches, immaculate fluorescent lighting and very loud doors.  I did manage to get some sleep, the kind of sleep where you put your hat over your eyes to block out the light.

Kristen: I came and woke Andrew up around 5 a.m. for another round of stairs and then proceeded back to my room to begin the dreaded induction at around 7 a.m. The induction began fairly easy. We played a few games of crib and listened to a music playlist that included Patsy Cline’s ”I Fall to Pieces” and unfortunately Billy Ray Cyrus’s  “Achy Breaky Heart” which neither of us could get out of our heads for the rest of the morning. My wish of not having a caesarian prevailed and little Liam was born, 6lbs 10oz. Not knowing the sex of our newborn prior to delivery and not expecting a child for another month, we had not firmly decided on a name yet.  We knew the baby would be in the NICU for at least a week so we had some time.

Andrew: For some time we disagreed on the name if our child was a boy. I really liked the name “Clancy” which I had first heard from the poem “Clancy of the Overflow” based on a real Australian Drover who was also a fictitious character in the Man from Snowy River. If a boy, Kristen wanted a son, Liam, after a farmer she worked with while living in Ireland after graduating from Agriculture College in Saskatoon. Little did we know that Clancy is also a very Irish name. It was with great joy that upon checking into Ronald McDonald House and exuberantly filling in the forms I came upon the part that requested my child’s name as he did not yet have one. So I got to make an executive decision and named him Clancy, to which the three lovely volunteers at the front desk suggested it was indeed a wonderful name.  I was ecstatic because up until this point there was no way in heck Kristen would go for the name Clancy, now she had no choice in the matter.

Kristen: While I was pregnant, Andrew had persistently been referring to our unborn child as little Clancy, and as he said, there was no way I would allow my child to have Clancy as a middle or let alone as a first name. When we finally decided on a name, Andrew submitted like a good husband we named our child Liam, but it did not seem right to leave Clancy out of the mix since Andrew had persistently read the poem aloud to anyone who would listen. That night he sent me a photo of the Ronald McDonald House registration papers where he had declared to the world that the child’s name was indeed… Clancy.

Andrew: At this stage I still did not really have much in the way of clothes except now a little backpack that family brought up for me. After being showed around and taken to my room, I quickly proceeded to the kitchen where volunteers from Fortis were making two kinds of pork chops, apple bacon glazed chops and mushroom gravy style pork chops. I got there just as they were packing up, and they graciously filled my plate and then I go to follow that up with some of the best apple crisp I had ever tasted.  Not only that but they then proceeded to ensure that I take a complete Tupperware collection and portion of desert for Kristen over at the maternity unit. Unfortunately for the next few days we wasted some tax dollars as I would bring Kristen left overs for breakfast, lunch and then fresh dinner again while her hospital food typically did not get eaten.

Kristen: My family’s plan for Christmas dinner was obviously disrupted, but we proceeded to have a full Christmas dinner on Christmas Day at the Ronald McDonald House with my mother and father, two younger sisters and one of their friends. We had fresh homemade Christmas dinners for a few days in a row and there was always plenty of leftovers to fill up on. The donated homemade baking was not put to waste. Everyday over Christmas, more Christmas treats, baking, desserts and Bles Wold yogurts would show up on the kitchen counter from various volunteers and businesses. Truly there is nothing that makes one feel so at home than to have a fresh home-cooked meals and other items sitting out for the guests to enjoy. This was certainly a Christmas dinner that we will never forget.

Andrew: During our stay we did not spend a whole lot of time hanging out at the House as we wanted to be with Liam in the NICU as much as possible.  Most of our time spent was in the Dining Room getting a bite to eat. Often Kristen would head back to the hospital while I would do a bit of clean up in the kitchen and visit with the volunteers. It seemed that there were always various volunteers around assisting where ever was needed, letting me know about any food that was added to the fridge or making me a plate of food early, before dinner was ready to be served. It was amazing how incredibly clean every corner of the House was. The front desk volunteers such as Barb, Annette and Theresa, and staff worked very hard to ensure that the everyday tasks were completed with pride. It was obvious that all of the volunteers took great pride in anything they did be it preparing meals, baking, laundry, cleaning and hosting. I slept awesome every night I was there and was so grateful to be so close to Kristen and Liam.

Kristen: There were numerous other families at the House while we ere there. One thing that we noticed but never utilized was the Crafts Room. Without a doubt we would have made use of this had we been a family with other children staying at the House with us. One volunteer, Carly, comes in every Wednesday evening to do various expressive art programs. That is a huge commitment and we are certain that there are many families who are grateful for her dedication and enthusiasm. Thank you Carly.

Andrew: On Monday evening, Connie, also a front desk worker brings in her dog “Rooster”. Connie happened to be at the front desk the first night I checked in and I thank her for her approval of this little guy’s name. I told her how much I liked her dog’s name, Rooster, to which I added Cogburn, to which she replied ”that’s where it came from”, John Wayne in True Grit.  Bringing in your dog on a weekly basis for families and children to interact with is a huge commitment. Animals often have an irreplaceable role in the lives of families and children and this is one more thing that makes families feel at home while staying at the House. Thank you Connie.

Looking at the monthly planner board, it was very evident how much of a role volunteers played in the everyday happenings of the House. Thank you for your time and enthusiasm.

Kristen: The dinners at Ronald McDonald House are prepared by volunteers and families from central Alberta. We were very touched to see many corporate businesses from the region donate their time and skills when it is so easy for them to simple sign a cheque. The Saturday morning following Christmas we were served breakfast by the King family of Innisfail, whom my husband grew up with. Their family, like countless families from Alberta have been directly impacted by the enormous efforts of volunteers who donate their time and skills to the Ronald McDonald House, a testament to the ripple effect of volunteering.

Andrew: Kristen and I were very touched by their volunteerism at Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta. We hope to be able to give back as much as we have received. Shortly after our stay, I presented a talk to the innisfail rotary club which is planning to contribute to RMH whether that’s through volunteering or financial contribution.

We stayed at Ronald McDonald House over Christmas from December 22-29. It was truly a Christmas we will never forget. We were showered with gifts and overwhelmed with the generosity of those of you who contribute to this amazing facility. We have nothing but wonderful thoughts of our stay at the House. Central Alberta is so very lucky to have such a facility and to have the volunteers to make it what it is.

Kristen: Before we checked out, we were invited to bring Liam to a very special place. The Magic Room! This is where we got to pick out a special toy for our special little boy. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the culmination of our stay at our temporary home.

Andrew: While in the NICU and adjoining pediatrics unit. We witnessed families experiencing great suffering while seeing their beloved children fighting for survival. We recognized how important a facility like Ronald McDonald House is for both siblings, parents, and the children requiring medical care. Having the facility allows families to be together when they most need to be. We are only one of hundreds of families that utilize the Red Deer facility annually and are honored to be here thanking you tonight. We all live busy lives and sometimes it feels there is not enough time in the day to get done what we need to. A quote I found which pretty much sums it up: “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart”.

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