Jake and Katie Davenport couldn’t wait to meet their first daughter, Grace, and hold her in their arms. Like most parents, they would treasure the first minutes of their child’s life. But the Davenports knew they had to make each second count because the first 90 minutes they spent with Grace would also be the last.
When the Davenports went to their 20-week ultrasound appointment, they were eager to learn if they would be having a boy or a girl. They never expected to receive the devastating news: both of the baby’s kidneys had developed cysts and would not function properly after birth, a condition called multicystic dysplastic kidneys (MCDK). Most babies diagnosed with bilateral MCDK don’t survive long after birth, and the Davenports were told the condition would not be “compatible with life.”
Because of the impending outcome, it was recommended that the Davenports quickly schedule a date to terminate the pregnancy, and an appointment was made with a doctor in Richmond. Reeling from the sudden and shocking news, Jake and Katie did their best to console each other. “We talked about our options in depth with our doctors, family and clergy and realized it was not our decision to make,” Jake says. “We left everything in God’s hands and vowed to enjoy every moment we were given with our child.” They called the doctor’s office in Richmond and cancelled the appointment.
Katie went into labor early on the morning of March 4th, and throughout the day, as the contractions intensified, so did the couple’s anticipation. At midnight, with contractions coming closer and closer together, Jake drove Katie to Mary Immaculate Hospital in Newport News. “I was so excited about meeting my daughter, but then reality would set in,” Jake says. “It’s a hard place to be. I knew she wouldn’t be with us long, but I was ready to be a father. I went back and forth between feeling joyful and terrified.”
Despite having underdeveloped lungs, Grace Katherine Davenport entered the world with a strong cry. The nurses wrapped her in a blanket and immediately placed her on her mother’s chest. Jake and Katie were left alone with their daughter to experience their first and last moments together.
The couple’s reverend came into the room to baptize Grace, and a volunteer photographer (from the organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep) took photos of the family during their fleeting moments together. “There was so much love in that room,” Jake recalls. “The energy surrounding her was palpable. Holding my daughter was the best thing that had ever happened to me. We told her we loved her hundreds of times in that hour and a half.”
Grace passed away quietly in the arms of her parents that afternoon, knowing only the smiles on their faces and the warmth of their love.
At Grace’s funeral service, friends and family members gathered to celebrate her short life. At the cemetery, Katie and Jake shoveled dirt onto Grace’s gravesite following the inurnment. After Jake finished, he passed the shovel to his brother-in-law, who in turn passed it on to the next person. Almost everyone took part in covering the grave; some even used their hands. “Every scoop of dirt was put in by people we love,” says Jake. “It helped my wife and I realize that everyone we knew was going through the sorrow with us and everyone there that day helped to carry our burden.”
Despite the difficulties faced during their first pregnancy, Jake and Katie knew MCDK was a rare condition and that couples who had lost a child to it often went on to have healthy babies. With hope in their hearts, they decided they wanted to face their fears and try again for another child. In 2013, a second daughter, Elizabeth, was born, and in 2015 the couple welcomed a third child, a son named Van. In the spring of 2017, Katie gave birth to their fourth child, a second son named Beaux. All three children were born full term and healthy.
“Grace will always be a part of our family,” Katie says. “We have her pictures up at our house, and we talk about her with the kids. We want to show other families that they can get to the other side of their grief. Losing a child puts you in a dark, isolating place. Parents going through it feel like they can’t talk about it because they’re worried about others’ reactions. We want to share Grace’s memory to help other families see that there is hope.”
“I always knew I wanted children, but holding Grace made me want kids even more,” Jake says. “Every little moment with our children is special, and we take nothing for granted. Grace gave a lot of people strength and brought my wife and me closer to each other and to our faith. We want to keep Grace’s spirit alive through helping others.”
Avoiding Miscommunication On Miscarriage
Anyone, whether they’ve had a miscarriage or not, can understand that it’s a tragic experience, and it’s more common than most people realize. Someone you know may experience the loss of a baby, whether in the first 20 weeks (miscarriage), after 20 weeks (stillbirth) or neonatal loss (within the first 28 days of life). It’s difficult to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby, and even the most well-meaning friends or family can struggle with finding the right words. Here are a few suggestions for what to say and what not to say:
Recognize their feelings, honor their path of grief, which is so varied, and console them through your presence. Just knowing someone is there for you and that they are open to listening is monumental.
Say the baby’s name out loud. This helps to validate and honor the baby’s life.
Give the couple a gift of remembrance, such as a tree or flower bush that they can plant or a candle that they can burn on the anniversary of their baby’s passing.
Make dinner or start a meal train for the couple.
Send flowers, make a phone call, mail a card, make a donation in the baby’s name, or any other gesture that you would typically carry out for someone in mourning.
Let the couple know how much you care. Let them cry, bring them tissues, sit with them, hug them. Above all, acknowledge that this is a huge loss.
Ask if the couple wants someone to break the news to others for them. In situations where relatives, friends and coworkers are aware of the pregnancy, it can be heartbreaking for a couple to have to share news of a miscarriage to those people. However, make sure you ask before breaking the news.
Understand if the mother or couple needs some distance. Everyone grieves differently, and you don’t know where someone is in their grieving process.
Tell the mom or couple, “Your feelings are valid.” A miscarriage or infant loss brings on many different emotions, and there’s no right or wrong way to feel.
It’s OK to just say, “I am so sorry.” It’s simple, but it’s enough. Say it and mean it, and it will matter.
Listen when the mom or couple is ready to talk. Heather Wilson, founder of Kennedy’s Angel Gowns, shares this: “If I say, ‘Before the baby died,’ or ‘When I was pregnant,’ don’t get scared. If I’m talking about it, it means I want to. Let me. Pretending it didn’t happen will only make me feel utterly alone.”
Don’t be so quick to relate. It’s human nature to want to relate our experiences to others’ and help people to understand that they’re not alone in their struggle. There’s a right and wrong way to do this. If you’ve experienced a similar loss, it’s OK to share your experience and offer advice when they’re ready. It’s not OK to bring up a similar scenario as a way to normalize their situation, and it’s not OK to discuss horror stories of a neighbor or relative who “had it worse.”
Don’t forget about the fathers. They lost a child too. Ask the dad how he is doing, and offer support for him. No amount of strength can prepare a mother or father for losing a child.
Don’t say any of the following phrases:
“God needed another angel.” Or “Now you have an angel watching over you.”
Grief-stricken parents didn’t want an angel; they wanted a baby.
“I understand exactly what you’re going through.”
Grieving parents feel like others can’t possibly understand how they are feeling. Even if you’ve experienced a loss, everyone’s loss is unique and painful.
“It will get better in time.”
Unfortunately, time won’t bring their baby back. It’s a wound that will continue to be there.
“There’s a reason for everything.”
This statement could make a mother feel like she’s done something to cause it and that she was the reason she couldn’t carry her baby to term.
“You’re young; you can try again” or “Don’t worry; you’ll get pregnant again.”
These statements treat the loss as insignificant. Also, no one knows if she will get pregnant again, or if she wants to.
“How far along were you?”
This can come from a well-meaning place, but it can also seem like the question is being asked for comparison.
“You’re lucky it was early.”
There’s nothing lucky about experiencing a miscarriage. It’s still a loss.
“At least you know you can get pregnant.”
This comment could make the couple feel that their grief isn’t justified because someone else is grieving a different matter.
“At least you have another child.”
Having other children doesn’t make the loss of a baby any less significant or heartbreaking.
“It’s time to move on.”
It’s not anyone else’s place to tell a grieving woman or couple how long they should grieve.
Most importantly, don’t be the friend who doesn’t say anything.
It can be difficult to find the right words, but it’s important that you acknowledge the loss. A local mom who’s experienced four losses, shares this: “When I think of the hurtful things I heard from people, it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the silence I heard (or didn’t hear) from others; as if my baby never existed, like I was never pregnant, like if they pretending it never happened maybe I would forget? I don’t know why people chose to be silent, but that hurt worse than any comment I received.”