My friend Jessica and I went to college together years ago. We lived in the same dorm, and she served as my sister’s RA our senior year.
Since our days as Ballard Babes, Jessi has endured some incredible ups and downs in her family life: marrying her husband, Ryan, giving birth to her first son, Lucas, losing her brother, John, and facing the breast cancer diagnosis of her mother, Cyndi. Earlier this year, she experienced another heartache: delivering and saying goodbye to her second son, Brody, in less than the span of one week.
When someone is slammed with such tremendous tragedy, those of us who have not lived through that kind of loss often find the only words we can utter are an admission of our incomprehension: “I can’t even imagine what that would be like.”
That is my heart with this post. By sharing Jessi’s story – the story of Brody’s life – I hope to help those of us on the outside, looking in, to imagine and thus better empathize with the thoughts and feelings and daily life motions of one family navigating the loss of their child shortly after birth.
I thank Jessi and Ryan for courageously sharing their son’s life, granting us a glimpse into their sorrow, and demonstrating how those who know Jesus can grieve with hope.
Brody was born on February 20th. He was with us for five days.
Those five days were very much up and down. They were doing everything they could to save him, and thankfully, the doctors were making sure he wasn’t in pain. Before his birth, they prepared us that we may not even be able to touch him at first. We were grateful when they told us we could touch him; we just couldn’t caress him. When we placed our hands on his little foot, he would stretch and reach out, craving that touch.
Ryan and I were able to stay in the hospital with him for three days, until I was discharged from my C-section. On Brody’s last night the doctor said we could go home, reassuring us we could call anytime. We agonized over it, and decided to go home. On the way home, we talked, trying to grasp what this was going to look like. Brody was going to be in the NICU for a long time. How would we juggle it?
We got home, showered, called in to check. They told us things weren’t looking good.
We rushed back to the hospital and spent the night in his room. The next morning the doctor told us what they were doing to keep Brody alive was starting to cause irreparable damage. His little heart was strong; he was a fighter. He did not want to give up, but his body just wasn’t compatible with life.
An organization called Forget Me Not came in and asked if I wanted pictures. In their experience, they said, most families appreciated having the pictures, even if they don’t want them taken at the moment.
I didn’t. In my mind, we were praying for a miracle. We wanted a miracle. Everyone was praying for a miracle. When they handed him to me, I was going to hold him, and he was going to be healed.
Two summers ago, in August, we shared the news with family the day we took the pregnancy test.
Our 20-week appointment was the week before Thanksgiving, and there was a huge windstorm. We took Lucas with us.
The ultrasound tech did a couple things and started acting flustered; she didn’t come out saying if it was a boy or girl, which was fine because we didn’t want to find out the gender. The doctor came in and said things weren’t looking right, red flags had popped up. She threw a bunch of possibilities at us, told us we needed to see a specialist. I started bawling.
Ryan was supposed to be leaving for a Young Life retreat, and I was supposed to join him later, but I wanted to isolate myself. He talked me off the ledge. People at the retreat prayed over us. It’s crazy when you’re experiencing pregnancy issues, how many people come out of the woodwork and share similar stories.
The next week we met with a genetic counselor who ordered series of tests. We got our results back after Thanksgiving and everything came back negative. We were ecstatic, and thought that if it was something like learning disabilities, it would be OK; we could handle it.
After two great months of scans, I went for an ultrasound in February. The doctor said there was fluid in the baby’s lungs, and that the point had come where the baby would be better on the outside than on the inside. That brought up the issue of me wondering, Why can’t my body take care of my baby?
The doctor said we needed to do a C-section. I had wanted a natural, vaginal childbirth, but I also wanted what was best for my child.
They brought Ryan in right as they were doing the swipe across my stomach. A team of doctors swooped in to take care of the baby, and another team came to take care of me. Watching those doctors work on my baby – they were so amazing with what they did. The anesthesiologist held my hand the whole time after Ryan left to be with Brody.
Ryan got to announce that it was a boy. Beforehand, we had picked out a couple names.
We decided to name him Brody, which means “out of the ditch,” “out of muddy water.”
After Brody died, when we were driving home from the hospital, Ryan and I talked about how we were not going to get a divorce. We were fully aware of the statistics of how some couples who lose a child struggle in their marriage.
The week leading up to Brody’s service, we didn’t have family in town, so we had to make all the funeral decisions on our own. That helped, though, keep Ryan and Lucas and I really tight together.
We buried him in the same place as my brother. I love the idea of Brody being close to John.
I didn’t go to church for a while. It’s not that I didn’t believe in God; I just didn’t want to be around people or large crowds. They would look at me with sympathetic eyes, scared to say something to me, scared to say his name. But there was one woman – someone who had gone through several miscarriages – she’d ask me all the time, “How you doing, Brody’s mama?”
Right after he died, a ton of people poured out their love on us – bringing us food and flowers and gifts. One set of friends chipped in funds to send us on a trip over the summer. Another friend got Lucas a bike trailer so he could ride with us. We were absolutely blown away by people’s generosity.
When people ask me now how to help someone who lost a baby, I tell them, “Just do something.” We know how much it meant to be on the receiving end. And when people didn’t do something, or seemed afraid to say something, it was really lonely.
I wouldn’t say that anytime, through any of this, we questioned our faith. We know through thick and thin, we may not like what God allows, but that He does love us, and is there with us. We didn’t have a crisis of faith, though there were times we were questioning God a lot about what had happened.
It took us awhile to go back and do more genetic testing. We found out Brody had Noonan syndrome, a genetic disorder that prevents normal development in certain areas of the body. Noonan syndrome is a spectrum – some people can live a full and happy and healthy life, perhaps facing some learning disabilities. Brody was on the other end of the spectrum. He also had fetal hydrops, and those two things together put Brody in a spot that made him not compatible with life.
The five days he was with us, Brody taught us so much: the need to fight, to not give up, that life is short. We don’t know when our last day will be, so we’re not going to do things we don’t want to do.
I have been a high school teacher since 2003 and have enjoyed (almost) every minute of teaching, but we made the decision for me to stop working and stay at home. My heart wasn’t in it like it used to be, and I wanted to be home with Lucas and supporting Ryan. I now share essential oils with people and am able to work from home.
Two words that we have clung to – described in the intro of a devotional called “The One Year Book of Hope” – are manna and grace. Just like when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, and needed their manna, we also need our manna to survive, getting into the Word somehow every day. And grace – we need to show people (and ourselves) grace. Some days are harder than others to do that.
One day we were pretty upset with each other, and then realized it was the month anniversary of Brody’s due date. When we recognized that, we were much more understanding of why we had bad attitudes.
Every day we have to be mindful of why we might be angry, and to be honest with our emotions. It’s helpful to know the times I am upset because we lost a child, not because someone didn’t pick their shoes up. It keeps me in check to show grace to my wife and son.
Our immediate family has gotten so much closer through all of this. I am so thankful for Ryan and Lucas.
We have pictures of Brody around the house, and an ultrasound picture of him in Lucas’s bedroom – Luc was insistent we put it there. When we told Lucas that Brody is in heaven with Jesus, it was funny; he’d point up to the sky and say “Brody with Kevin” (not sure if he was meaning “heaven” or a character from “Despicable Me”).
There’ve been times when I’m reading him books before bed, and he’ll look at me and ask, “Momma sad?” and I’ll tell him, “Yea, momma misses Brody.” He’ll run and get a scrap of toilet paper to dab my eyes. Then, he will ask, “Happy now?”
I’m learning to find that balance, letting him in on my grief.
There’s a place in the hospital called the angel room. It’s where you go after your baby dies, so your family can come say goodbye. You can be there as long as you want with your child.
The Forget Me Not people earlier had recorded the sound of Brody’s heartbeat and put the recording in a Build-A-Bear type stuffed animal. I picked a monkey. It was neat for Lucas – he called it his Brody Monkey.
I was worried about bringing Lucas into the angel room, worried about his little spirit. We decided if he started to freak out, Ryan would take him and leave.
Right away Luc asked to hold Brody. He tried to drive one of his little cars over Brody’s face. The Forget Me Not people took lots of picture, cut a lock of his hair, did footprints – those in-the-moment activities that were the farthest thing from my mind.
It was so hard to call the chaplain. It was late in the evening when we finally did. We gave up Brody to this sweet, gentle old man. I have that memory so clearly – I can see him, holding Brody, standing in the angel room as we walked away.
I want to remember Brody. I want his life to help other people. He taught us SO MUCH about what it means to have true grit.
We want people to hear about Jesus as we tell Brody’s story – because without Jesus, I honestly do not know how we would be facing each day. We had prayed for a miracle – that Brody’s life would be spared – but the true miracle is that we were given five days with our sweet boy.
Years ago, I started the John Eagon Scholar-Athlete Award as a way to honor and remember my brother’s life. I run in marathons and half marathons and raise support for the scholarship. All the money is managed through a local Community Foundation and is therefore tax-exempt. A few weeks ago I ran in the Hayden Lake Half Marathon in honor of John and Brody. It was therapeutic doing something physical to remember Brody. And it brings comfort thinking of Brody in heaven with his uncle.
If you feel led to donate, please visit https://bmcf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=1136.
Jessi invites anyone who would like to talk through their losses or ask questions about Brody’s story to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.