The McDermotts, Cathy and Garry with Odhrán , Saoirse (2) and Oisín (11 months), with a photograph of baby Tiarnan. Photo: Seamus Farrelly

Remembering Tiarnán...A Nobber family's journey through grief and the support they received from Féileacáin

In the summer of 2018, Cathy McDermott was getting ready to welcome her second child and there was great excitement in the O'Reilly family as her brother Christopher and his wife Catherine were due a baby six weeks later.

They were talking about how close the cousins would be growing up together and looking forward to the birth of their babies. Never could they have imagined that they would both lose their babies in the late stages of pregnancy, just a week apart.

Cathy was 38 weeks pregnant when they got the devastating news that Christopher and Catherine's baby had died. The next few days were very difficult as they tried to come to terms with the loss of baby Jack. Sadly, less than a week later, Cathy noticed that her baby wasn't moving and went to the hospital with her husband Garry for what she thought was reassurance, only to be told the heartbreaking news that their baby had also died.

Féileacáin, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland, gave huge support to Cathy and her family and she wanted to organise a fundraiser for them in memory of Tiarnán, and also her nephew Jack. Her best friend Eleanor Gallagher came to her in February with the idea of 'Spin for Tiarnán' and Cathy says she as delighted with the idea to remember Tiarnán in such a special challenging way.

Every Sunday morning, the cycling group meets in Nobber for short spins and are building up to the main 'Spin for Tiarnán' cycle on 3rd September. The 78km cycle is from Mullingar Hospital where Tiarnán was born, to Cathy's home village of Nobber, and will pass via Lobinstown where Tiarnán is buried, and where the McDermott family now live.

Cathy also hopes that by sharing her story, it may help others who have gone through the same devastating loss.

She told how her pregnancy on Tiarnán was very uneventful and everything was going well. Her son Odhrán was two and a half and getting excited about the baby coming along. She had worked up to 36 weeks and had her bags packed and ready to go.

"My sister-in-law Catherine was pregnant at the same time. She was due six weeks after me and there was great excitement. We knew the babies were going to be close and grow up together."

Cathy about to go to a hospital appointment in Mullingar on a Thursday when her mother broke the news that Christopher and Catherine's baby had died. Catherine was 33 weeks pregnant.

"It was an awful shock. Mam came with me to the appointment. I remember thinking how am I going to have this baby while they are mourning the loss of their baby. I couldn't stop thinking of them. I went to Mullingar. It was quite traumatic but they brought me straight in and did everything to put my mind at ease. Everything was perfect and they were so reassuring and told me if I had any concerns at all to come in, it didn't matter if it was in the middle of the night or if I came in every day.

"The next few days are a bit of a blur. On Saturday evening we got the call that Jack had been born and on Sunday we went to meet Jack. It was so emotional but lovely. He was perfect."

On Monday Cathy recalls thinking that her baby was a bit quiet but felt it was all in her head and the baby started moving again. "I really thought I was overthinking it. I went to acupuncture that evening and really enjoyed it. I felt the baby move lots. Tuesday is a bit of a blur I don't remember a lot but on Tuesday night, Odhrán was really unsettled and I went in to him. It was very unusual. He insisted that I lie on the bed and stay with him."

Cathy is convinced that something happened that night.

She didn't feel the baby move on Wednesday and rang the hospital to tell them she was coming over. "We all thought it was for reassurance. We got to Mullingar and they put the trace on but couldn't find the heartbeat. The first person tried and then a second and I knew by them they couldn't find a heartbeat and then they called in a doctor. To see their faces as well as ours. It wasn't even a week later, to come across such a situation."

That was 5th September 2018. "I still had to go through the motions. I took medication to bring on labour and went home. I had previously had a section with Odhrán and needed to be kept under close observation. I spent Wednesday night, and all day Thursday and Friday in labour. It was horrific. They were trying to see if it would work but on Friday afternoon they decided to do a section."

Tiarnán was born at 3.45pm as the family was getting together to bury her nephew Jack.

" As Tiarnán was being born, Jack was being buried."

"I was emotionally broken. I felt no pain after the section. I could have ran a marathon. I was heartbroken."

Cathy stayed in hospital for a few days and family and friends could come to meet Tiarnán.

"When I look back now it was very emotional but a really nice time."

Cathy told how the Féileacáin took clay models of Tiarnán's hand and feet and 'Now I lay me down to sleep' took family photos with Tiarnán

On Tuesday they brought Tiarnán home to Cathy's family home where they were living at the time, and Cathy and Garry spent precious time with Tiarnán.

On 12th September, they buried their son.

"The next three months were a very dark road. I couldn't face the world. I couldn't listen to the radio. I would get up and get Odhrán ready but I was in such deep grief. Three months passed and I didn't know what was going on in the world. I functioned and I got out of the house. If we needed something in the shop, I would go in the car with Garry but I would sit in the car.

"My brother Paddy's wedding was exactly three months after Tiarnán died. I tried to perk myself up. It was really difficult but it was my little brother's wedding and he was the last of the family to get married. It was very difficult for them too."

They asked Cathy would she like to do a reading and while at first she said she wouldn't be able, two weeks before she decided she would like to do it for them and for Tiarnán.

Christmas came and was very difficult but the new year was a turning point for Cathy.

"I was always a very positive person, a glass half full rather than half empty person but after going through that, it was hard to think about the glass being half full. In January I decided I could sit here and let life pass by or I could move forward. I knew I wasn't going to get over it and I never will but thought please God we would have more family, never to replace Tiarnán, but to grow our family.

"I decided to look after myself better and we were very lucky that Tiarnán sent Saoirse to us rather quickly. It was an uneventful pregnancy but it was so nerve wrecking and I was constantly monitored. The hospital and the practice in Nobber looked after me so well."

Saoirse was born at the end of September 2019.

"When she was born there was a whole raft of emotions, great emotions, sad emotions. The way I describe it is that it was a like a gaping big hole in my heart. One half was here and that was Odhrán and the other was Tiarnán. Having Saoirse somehow lessened the size of that hole and healed out hearts a little bit.

"Then in 2020 we got our little surprise Oisín. He was born last June and is 11 months now."

Cathy is very grateful to Féileacáin for the support they gave and also the hospital bereavement team. They have a beautiful memory box of little things for Tiarnán and Féileacáin gave Odhrán a 'big brother' teddy and Saoirse and Oisin got teddies too when they were born.

Féileacáin relies completely on fundraising and Cathy also wanted to do something for the local Nobber Cancer support group to show her appreciation to the local community for their support.

Cathy also hopes that by sharing her story it may help others who have gone through what they have and help them to see that while you will never get over the loss of your child, you can move forward in your life.

"Grief affects everyone differently. I did both group sessions and one on one counselling and they were equally as good but I found I got to know people and felt part of another community and got great support through the group sessions."