It was early on a fall morning that Amber Van Der Mark recalls being woken up by labour pains, a whole 2.5 months before her due date. After a phone call to the midwife and an assessment at the hospital, it became clear that Amber and her partner Scott’s first baby was going to be joining their family far sooner than they expected, and far from home, too. At just 28 weeks and two days pregnant, Amber was airlifted that evening to Victoria General Hospital, the closest hospital on the Island that provides for infants born so early.
These are not circumstances anyone imagines bringing their baby into, but YANA sees these cases on a regular basis. In the Comox Valley, labour before 37 weeks requires mothers to deliver in Nanaimo, Victoria, and in some cases, Vancouver. Amber shared about the overwhelming feeling to receive the news that she would be leaving the Valley to give birth, and the many unknowns about the weeks and months ahead with a preemie.
“When Scott and I were in Victoria those first two days not knowing when our son would be born, not knowing how long we would have to stay there, it would stress us out,” Amber said. “We were worried about our son coming early, we were worried about eating away through our savings, especially since we just bought a new house; we got the keys to the house the day Ephraim was born. We were worried about where we would be staying and the cost that would come with that. That was until we got a hold of YANA. The best way I can describe how I felt after Scott relayed the conversation he had with one of the representatives from YANA, was as if I just came up from underwater for days and got my first breath of fresh air. My whole body relaxed, my mind at ease, I started to cry.”
Ephraim was born just six days after their arrival in Victoria, a tiny but healthy one-pound, 13-ounce baby boy who Amber described as “a strong boy and a fighter.” Ephraim made amazing progress as the days went by, checking all of the boxes and meeting milestones, but it would still be 69 long days in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) for the new family.
Amber expressed how incredible it was to receive support from YANA throughout their time, and how much more meaningful the support felt because of her parents’ history with YANA. Amber’s family had received the ongoing support of YANA almost three decades ago, something that suddenly became so much more appreciated and understood through her own experience.
“Back in 1990 when our family moved to the Valley, my brother needed to spend some time in the Children’s Hospital in Vancouver for surgeries and back then YANA had supported my parents. From then until my brother reached his late teens YANA was there supporting. Years later, my parents gave back by bidding on YANA’s Christmas trees. I never really thought about how much those donations to YANA my parents made really did mean, not until we were in the NICU and YANA was there to support us. In a way it has done a full circle. YANA helped my parents, my parents donated to YANA, and YANA was there to help us.”
Amber and Scott were blown away when YANA came through again after a sudden transfer to the Nanaimo hospital for the final nine days of their NICU journey. Though they were closer to home, they couldn’t imagine being an hour away from their son, never mind needing to travel down to visit him each day.
“The problem was solved with one phone call.” Amber explained. “YANA had arranged for us to stay in a motel until they could find us a bed and breakfast that was close to the hospital. Again, all I had to worry about now was seeing my son, Scott and I had a place to stay in Nanaimo, it was all taken care of with the help of YANA.”
From penny drives in years past, to Valley Vonka chocolate bars, and the countless other community fundraisers that take place each year, it is this Valley’s dedication to keep showing up that lets families know that no matter what they face, they are not alone. It’s because of the decades of commitment from individuals in our community who step up to provide in ways both big and small, that families like Amber and Scott’s, can be supported through challenging times.
“I cannot express how grateful both Scott and I are from the love we have of this community. We cannot thank everyone enough for their continued support and donations to YANA. I look at my son everyday and just realize how lucky we are to live in a community where everyone is there for everyone.”