In October of 2012, one month after our wedding, I took the test that revealed we would be having a baby. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I literally had to take a picture of the stick to confirm there were indeed two pink lines and my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. My husband was overseas on deployment at the time. I decided to send him a package with one pink and one blue newborn outfit with a note that said, “Which one do you think we will need?” I will never forget the day he opened the box on Skype. He had the best new dad reaction I have ever seen. He was this big tough guy on the verge of tears shouting, “Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?” and “I can’t believe it!” He was overjoyed; we both were. It was an amazing feeling.
We spent almost four months in pregnancy bliss. We shared the news with friends and family, and decided to keep the gender a surprise. We picked out baby names, chose nursery colors and furniture, perused the never-ending list of baby necessities, and began to picture our lives as being a mom and dad. However, we had a few bumps along the way. I experienced some spotting and the first ultrasound revealed that our baby wasn’t quite as far along as we thought. We thought, “No big deal” as they pushed my due date back two weeks and reassured me that everything was okay. That was until 16 weeks of pregnancy when a blood test came back showing the baby had an elevated risk of Down Syndrome.
Then, on January 18th, I went to the specialist for an anatomy scan. They were searching for developmental signs of Down Syndrome. It was another a day I’ll never forget. That morning I was preparing myself for what doctors would say, researching what they would be looking for, and praying that our baby would be healthy. At the appointment, my mom and I spent what seemed like an hour in a silent room as the ultrasound was preformed. Pictures were taken of every inch of our baby’s tiny body. Then the doctor came in with a concerned look. He spoke of growth restriction, contracted muscles, possible missing fingers, malformation of the hips, fluid on the brain, and enlarged heart, and the list went on. I felt the tunnel vision set in and my brain was shouting, “Tell me the long bones are short, that the baby has rocker bottom feet, and there’s bright spot on the heart.” I wanted to hear all the things I had read about that would indicate our baby would have Down Syndrome. Babies who have Down Syndrome live, they are sweet, happy, and they LIVE. And then in a serious voice, he said, “What we see here is not Downs Syndrome. We need to do some further testing to learn more, but these conditions are not compatible with life.”
WHAT???.........What does that mean? It sounded so final. “Incompatible With Life.” How could that be? As he said the words, I was watching my baby on a screen kicking and moving. I kept thinking this baby is ALIVE! Can’t you see!? The words wouldn’t come. I sat there in a fog as they planned more tests, preformed an amniocentesis, and told me I had two weeks to make a decision. What decision? I couldn’t even comprehend what they were saying.
All I could think of was that I wanted my husband there with me. He was on deployment again and until this moment I had spent my time reassuring him that I was fine and I could handle it. I wasn’t fine anymore. That night he called and I had to put on my doctor voice and explain the news to him, or at least what I could remember. He was on a plane the next day and home two days later.
The next few weeks were full of appointments with the maternal fetal specialist, fetal cardiologist, geneticist, and my regular OB. We learned that our baby’s chromosomes were normal. We also discovered that our baby’s brain had not fully divided; it was a case of holoprosencephaly. One particular doctor seemed certain that our baby would not live. He said our baby was in distress and that it would likely be a stillborn in the next few weeks. He said baby’s heart was not functioning properly, and he stressed the legal deadline for termination. Abortion? We knew this wasn’t our call. God gave us this baby and He would decide when it was time to take him/her home. We quickly realized how impersonal it felt saying “the baby…. “ or “it….” We wanted to call our baby by name. We went to our regular OB and told him we wanted to know the sex. It was a BOY!!! We named him Sawyer! We had our sweet little Sawyer man.
Things started to change for us; we started connecting more and more with him. Friends and family began praying over our Sawyer. We tried to remain realistic and prepare ourselves for the worst while simultaneously praying for miracles. We knew this was going to be a long road, but we knew it was our road to walk. There was a reason we were chosen to be his parents.
My 21st week of pregnancy was when I started to feel Sawyer move fairly frequently. My favorite time of day was the late evenings when I could just sit and wait for his next kick. It was this same week that we had another appointment that I will never forget. It was a pretty typical visit with another ultrasound, progress report, and more talk of what to expect. We were past the legal termination date in our state so we were relieved we wouldn’t have to hear about that, or so we thought. Most of the doctors had realized our goal was to meet and hold our son and that we weren’t going to give up on him. However, this visit was with the one doctor who seemed to have the most negative outlook. He was the same doctor who told us Sawyer’s heart was failing and he would be stillborn in the next couple weeks. This time doctor doom and gloom informed us that we could still travel to Atlanta, Georgia, or Chicago, Illinois to terminate if we chose. He apologized for bringing it up but said “I just wanted you know because, if you were me daughter, I wouldn’t want you to have to go through what you’re about to face.” We decided to never see that doctor again.
Would you like to know what we had to face in the 5 months that followed? LOVE! Unconditional Love! Sure there were tough days and there were nights where I would lie awake and worry and plea with God to save our son. There were moments that felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest, but, for the most part, there was love. I was getting to experience pregnancy, which is something many women never get to experience. We loved on our son everyday. We read to him, I sang to him, we talked to him. He played and bounced and kicked and grew and I got to experience that. We dreamed of him and prayed over him. His heart got stronger and it turned out it was almost completely normal. He made it to one pound and then two pounds! Our Sawyer was a fighter! Every time the doctors said “This is it,” Sawyer would say, “Sit back and watch me!”
We prayed for miracles and focused on enjoying every moment we were given. We went on day trips and little adventures. We had wonderful maternity pictures captured of our adventures with him. We had a garden party instead of a baby shower and my husband and I planted the beautiful flowers that were given to us. They serve as a precious reminder of the spring and summer we spent loving our baby boy. Was this what that doctor didn’t want me to get to experience?
On June 7th 2013, at 37 weeks of pregnancy, I developed preeclampsia and was admitted to the hospital. My blood pressure continued to rise and medicine would not control it. That evening we were told we could wait no longer; I would have to deliver via C-section that night. We met with NICU doctors and determined our birth plan. If they thought they could save him, they would take him. If not, they were going to give him to us immediately. I will never forget how active Sawyer was that whole day. I sat in the hospital and watched my belly bounce up and down and I knew this would be our last day together like this. Even as they took me back to prepare for surgery, he was on the move. As the spinal block was administered and I began to go numb, I sat holding my belly and his sweet little kicks were the last thing I felt.
A few minutes later my husband was by my side and I cried as they cut my belly open to bring our little boy into the world. I watched as our doctor handed a silent baby to the team of NICU doctors. They looked him over, listened to his heartbeat, and turned and handed him to my husband. A sweet nurse took our camera and snapped the only picture we have with our son alive. She also told us she had called the chaplain down if we wanted to have him baptized. He came in and sprinkled water on Sawyer’s head and prayed a quick prayer and then left us alone. As the doctors stitched up my belly, my husband held our sweet little boy. Sawyer Elijah Gibson was born at 9:48 pm. He weighed 2lbs 10oz. His little heart stopped beating at 10:05pm. He had all ten fingers, ten toes, and the cutest little feet. He was our tiny little boy and he was perfectly made just the way God intended him. He spent 37 weeks in my womb and 17 minutes in the hands of his loving dad before he went to Heaven. We dressed him in a cowboy sleeper, one his dad picked out for him, and we spent the night holding him. We loved on him, kissed him, and read to him. When morning came, we said our goodbyes to his earthly body. On June 17th, we buried our little boy at an intimate graveside services, just his dad and me.
They say life is a gift. Sawyer will always be our perfect gift. God used him to make us stronger in our faith, to bring us closer together, to teach us how to love, to make us enjoy life, and to reveal what it really means to be a parent. I’m a better person for “having to face” that.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about Sawyer. I dream of what life would be like if he were here. My husband and I think up stories about him, the adventures of our little Sawyer. I hear him in the wind chimes, and I see him in all things beautiful. Bluebirds have been my sign for him since I was pregnant. The day before we asked the doctor what the gender of our baby was, a bluebird came and landed on a branch in front of me. I don’t recall ever seeing a bluebird before then, but in that moment I knew he was a boy. Now it never fails when I’m having particularly hard day or just need a touch from my angel boy, a bluebird will come and land near by. We continue to embrace Sawyer and honor him for what he means to us. He will always be our first-born son and our little angel who watches over our family until we can all be together again.
Written by Ashley Gibson, Sawyer's Mommy (North Carolina)
Photo Credit: Joy Davis Photography