“You know that feeling as a kid when you walk into the world’s coolest toy store for the first time? That’s what it was like walking into Ronald McDonald House.”
The Martel family story begins on March 23, 2017, when their baby boy was born by C-section. Their fourth child, Ben, would be the only one born in a hospital; their other three children had been born at home.
The night before the scheduled delivery, the Martels packed their hospital bag. Ben’s brothers picked out his first sleeper and Mom Nicole packed enough clothing for one night’s stay, expecting to be home as soon as possible. They had it all planned out.
When March 23 came, things didn’t go according to plan. “Everything I had envisioned happening…didn’t. Ben was born kicking and screaming. Those initial moments of ‘wow, we did it’ filled the room. But then, everyone went silent. Ben was no longer crying and all we could hear was low whispering in the otherwise quiet room,” said Nicole.
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurses took over, leaving Nicole and Dad Mike helpless and scared. “The thought crept into my mind and stayed there: what if we don’t leave with our baby?” said Nicole.
The doctor indicated that they would be taking Ben to the NICU. Nicole went into recovery, and Mike went to the NICU to stay with Ben, while he lay in an incubator hooked up to tubes and oxygen. It would be five days before Nicole and Mike held him. They never did get to put Ben in the sleeper his brothers had picked out for him. A few days later, they learned that Ben had Down Syndrome. “Guilt set in. Anxiety set in,” describes Nicole. “Ben wasn’t going to be like everyone else. It was almost like mourning a loss. A level of grief I had never felt before.”
Nicole had always marvelled at families who could cope with this kind of situation, and now she found herself in their shoes. “And what a blessing it’s been,” she said. “I can’t begin to describe what Ben has done for our family.”
While at the hospital, a nurse in the NICU approached Mike and Nicole with a Day Pass card for the Ronald McDonald House.
“Man, if I could build a house, I’d make a smaller version of this one,” Nicole said. “It had everything. It was so amazing that, while we were there, we forgot about all of our worries.”
The Martel family are “forever thankful” to the volunteers who bake fresh cookies every day, the beautiful blankets on each bed, and the families that donate their time and their money to the cause.
“At the House, there was always a shoulder to cry on. It was never a pity party, but a listening ear. A warm hug when you needed it, and even when you didn’t. When the weight of the world was crashing down on us, Ronald McDonald House picked us back up,” said Nicole. “It offered us a sense of normalcy during a time in our life that was not normal for us.”