Labour of love: Coombe mothers reunite annually to celebrate their babies’ birth

Families celebrate 30 years of friendship formed in the labour ward

From left, Helen Conlan; Eoin Conlan; Caroline O’Leary; Caoimhe Whelan; Patrick Quinlan; and Kathleen Burke on Portmarnock beach in Dublin. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

From left, Helen Conlan; Eoin Conlan; Caroline O’Leary; Caoimhe Whelan; Patrick Quinlan; and Kathleen Burke on Portmarnock beach in Dublin. Photograph: Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland

 

Caroline O’Leary was in the middle of labour when she first met Helen Conlon and Kathleen Burke in the Coombe hospital ward 30 years ago.

“Kathleen and I saw each other first, but we were kind of busy at the time to strike up a conversation at that point,” she laughs.

The new mothers formed a strong friendship following the births of their three children, Caoimhe, Eoin and Patrick, who were born within 12 hours of one another.

“It was mine and Kathleen’s first baby, while Helen was having her fourth and last child that time,” she says.

Their beds were side by side in a six-bedroom ward where, at the time, new mothers and babies would stay in hospital for up to five days, which left time for the women to get to know other mothers and babies.

“Helen is a midwife and it wasn’t her first baby, and she was a great support to me and Kathleen as first-time mums,” Caroline says. “But we didn’t get to see her little Eoin because he was in the special baby unit for some time.”

Neither Kathleen nor Caroline got to see Helen’s son before they left the hospital and they had the idea of meeting up a year later.

“I suggested, well we haven’t seen him, so why don’t we all get together next year on their birthdays and that was the first time me and Kathleen got to meet Helen’s son.”

The tradition carried on, got bigger, and involved more children. Eventually, the event turned into a day out. “We’ve been to Newgrange, the beach, just a fun day out.”

As their children grew older, Caroline thought they might grow out of the meet-ups but it has turned into a solid family tradition for the three families.

“We’re like family now. Helen makes a chocolate biscuit cake, which they look forward to. To this day, she will still bring the chocolate biscuit cake,” she says.