George – the star of the Neonatal Trust.
Today is International Prematurity Day, a day when the work of the neonatal staff around the world gets celebrated, and when families going through the neonatal journeys are recognised. George is our third child, and little did he know that he was doing his bit to promote the Neonatal Trust whilst still in the womb.
Georgie-boy was born on August 25th, 2011, and shortly before that time, I had been asked by the Neonatal Trust in Wellington to perform in their fundraiser concert called Project Born. I jumped at the opportunity to work alongside some of Wellington’s finest creatives and to see the work of Weta Workshop and in particular Sir Richard Taylor.
In my wife Sam’s second-to-last ultrasound, I asked the obstetrician if there was any way to record the incredible sound of George’s heartbeat, and he said he didn’t know. Next thing, we had both stopped worrying about how Sam was doing and were instead checking to see where we might source the audio from. At the next ultrasound appointment, I was armed with my recording equipment, and I managed to capture George’s heartbeat.
Michael Meads was heading up the Neonatal Trust back then, and he shared he and his wife’s harrowing yet inspiring neonatal journey. When it came time to writing a song for the show, it was his story that stayed with me. Michael spoke of coming home from the hospital to an empty house, opening a tin of baked beans and eating them cold from the can. Melissa was in hospital for a couple of months, and when Max and Blake were born, he told me how hard it was to be able to get close to his twin boys, but not close enough.
I wrote the song from a father’s perspective, of the one-way conversations he might have with his newborn child, a child he was not yet allowed to know. It made me very thankful my children Lily, Sonny & George and how lucky we were that their births were relatively straight forward (apart from the water pipe coming away from the waterbirthing pool as Lily was born, and Sam’s arm losing all sensation for 2 weeks following Sonny’s birth…)
When the song was written, I sent my ideas to my long-time producer Asa Bennett in London, along with the audio from George’s last ultrasound. What came back was truly stunning. Along with Aotea Cornelius, Felicity Wait and one Lily-Wai Edwards, I went to Scots College to use their newly installed recording suite, and the vocals were laid down. It was a new thing for me, as all of my singing had to this date been understated and in my comfort zone, but such was the emotion in this song, I had to really push myself and reflect the journey Michael and Melissa had endured nearly a decade before.
The song is one I’m very proud of, and it represented a huge challenge for me, as I performed it live with a backing track for 3 nights in the Project Born show. I was used to performing with my guitar, with a band, in a very different stage setting, but this had me singing the song whilst sitting in the audience, then walking down and onto the stage as the story developed. I have never known nerves like it.
Fast forward five years, and I’m now doing more work with the Neonatal Trust, but this time through Points for Purpose, the social enterprise I am part of which allows people to use their loyalty points to help make a much kinder world. I performed this song at a speaking event for the Neonatal Trust recently, and it brought it home to me just how incredible their work is. They do ground-breaking work, they are underfunded, but certainly not under-appreciated by anyone they have helped.