The mother of two from Otama spent five weeks in the Family Room after son Toby was born nine weeks early in 2016.
“When we were there it was like you were at a ‘home away from home’ really. The rooms were awesome and being so close to the Neonatal Unit meant you could get up and feed your baby rather than having to get up and drive to get there like in other parts of the country,” Jenna says.
“It was just really good being onsite so when the nurses rang you and asked if you could come and do something, it wasn’t an issue- you didn’t miss a cue bubs was giving.”
When second son Jack made a surprise appearance at just 30 weeks in February 2020, and Jenna found herself back at Southland Hospital, she felt okay knowing she would be able to stay in the Family Room again, just seconds away from Jack.
“After arriving from Dunedin to the Neonatal Unit in Southland Hospital, and having Helen there, telling you your room is all sorted, here’s the key go and make yourself at home, it was a huge relief. It was one step closer to home and because I knew the environment, I knew what to expect, and it was great for me to be put at ease knowing I wasn’t going to be shunted out somewhere.”
“It was great because it meant Will and Toby could come and visit, and Toby stayed with us at the Ronald McDonald Family Room this time, he could go and see Jack when he wanted to.
But 17 days in, Covid-19 hit, followed by the nationwide lockdown resulting in the Ronald McDonald Family Room being closed and guests moved to a hotel offsite.
“As much as we’re grateful for being put up in a hotel, it wasn’t the same,” she says.
Things changed dramatically for the family as Will continued working as an essential worker and Jenna had to return to Gore to look after Toby.
So Mondays to Fridays, that’s where she was, travelling to Invercargill to visit Jack in the Neonatal Unit over the weekend.
The most difficult part was not being able to bond with Jack in the same way she had been able to with Toby staying just seconds away in the Family Room.
“I must admit I felt like I didn’t get that initial bonding with Jack – it wasn’t as great as it was with Toby. I love him to bits, but it wasn’t an ideal situation - I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It definitely puts things into perspective.”
Because hospital rules during the lockdown meant only one person could visit at a time, Will was only able to visit Jack twice - once in Dunedin and once at Southland Hospital.
“Will kind of felt like we hadn’t really had a second baby, and it did feel like that because he wasn’t here with us and we were in a situation where we’d only see him in the weekends for about three weeks. It’s not a fun experience. It was a very weird feeling.”
The two very difference experiences, with being able to stay at the Ronald McDonald Family Room, and not being able to, has impressed upon Jenna just how vital the service is.
“Until you’re in the situation where you are using Ronald McDonald House programmes, I don’t think people have any idea how valuable the service is.
“Support it because you’ll never know when you’re going to need it. When we were thrown into that first situation with Toby, we would be left hanging without the Family Room. We lived an hour and a half away when we had Toby so having the Family Room and being able to utilise everything there was a lifesaver. It was one less thing we had to worry about.
“If people are wanting to donate to an organisation, then the Ronald McDonald Family Room, Southland Hospital would be it, especially if you have a family or are starting a family, because you might need it one day.”
You can learn more about the many ways to support families like Jenna's that stay at the Ronald McDonald Family Room here, or email [email protected].