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Haven William


I have always believed that I was born to be a mom.

I was the kid who had allll the baby dolls. Christmas, my birthday, give me more babies. I decided early on that I was definitely going to have 9 children. 6 of my own and 3 adopted. Apparently, I assumed my future husband would be totally on board with this plan. I never considered any hitch getting in the way. Get married, have babies, case closed. And for a while, that's exactly how it was.

I met my husband, Mark, at Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio. I'm from Norwalk, Ohio and he's from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We decided we liked Ashland, so we stayed.

We married in 1998 and had our first child, Amelia Grace, in 2000.
Our second, Owen Dempsey, followed in May of 2002.

So far, so good. No trouble getting pregnant and two beautiful, healthy, thriving babies.
And then.

When Owen was nine months old, I decided that speeding up my perfect timeline was the best idea.
(At this point, I should mention that my 9-kid plan had been drastically reduced to a more manageable 3 or 4!)
So, Owen's 9 months old and I'm pregnant again.

The first 8 weeks were fairly normal and followed the same pattern as my other pregnancies. When I hit the 8-week mark, I noticed that something wasn't quite right.
I went in for an ultrasound and the baby had no heartbeat.

The words every mama fears hearing, right?

We were sad and disappointed, but we also knew that it wasn't an uncommon occurrence. We leaned on Jesus and His perfect will and timing and I truly had peace throughout the experience.

Of course, not one to be deterred from MY plan, it wasn't long before I was pregnant once again.

Pregnancy #4 and I had just had a miscarriage so the odds were in my favor, I thought. Due to the previous loss, I had an early ultrasound at 9 weeks.

This was the beginning of a massive turning point in my life and in my walk with Jesus.

The first unsettling thing was the amount of ultrasound pictures the technician was printing out. She just kept printing more and more. But, when she was done, she only gave me two and then she hugged me and said, "Good luck, honey."

Amelia had been breach, so between that situation and the previous two, I was no stranger to ultrasounds. Never had anyone hugged me at the end. And not just hugged me, but said "Good luck" in a decidedly morose tone of voice, I might add. That simple, kind gesture struck fear in my heart.

As I waited in the waiting room for my name to be called to see the doctor, I looked up and saw the ultrasound tech talking to him. She had the long, long strip of pictures she had just taken and she was pointing things out to him. So, the sick feeling cranked up a few notches.

When I did see the doctor, the appointment proceeded as usual until the end. He told me that there was "something" on the ultrasound that was concerning and that he wanted me to go to Akron Children's Hospital in Akron, Ohio, for a higher-level one with a maternal-fetal medicine specialist.

In 3 weeks.

So, let's recap real quick - obviously something is wrong and they think that I should wait 3 WEEKS to find out what.

I went home in a kind of daze and called my husband and my mom and told them what had happened. After not being able to answer their questions, I decided to call the doctor and ask some myself.
He hadn't told me WHAT they would be looking for at this next ultrasound, so that was my first question. His answer was that there was something wrong with the shape of the baby's body.
Very vague. Not reassuring.
But here's the thing about times like this - because three weeks is an eternity when you're waiting to find out what's potentially wrong with your child.

I couldn't do anything but pray and turn to the Word. I had NEVER actually been in the driver's seat, as much as I thought that I was.
And here was the proof.

I went through many emotions, but the thing I kept telling everyone was, "As long as it's not fatal, we can handle anything. A handicap or anything else can be dealt with - as long as this baby is alive."

So after the longest three weeks in human history, Mark and I went to Akron. We had an ultrasound with the specialist watching and when it was over, he said the words that are burned into my memory.
I can still hear the tone of his voice and remember his exact words.

"Well, it IS what we thought it was. Anencephaly. It's always fatal. Of course, you have the option to terminate."

So there it was. An answer and so NOT the one we wanted.

We were obviously stunned but quickly told the doctor that terminating was not an option for us. We would carry this baby for as long as the Lord allowed.
The doctor was very kind about it and never mentioned it again, thankfully.

They sent us home with some reading materials, though the only thing I remember about it is that there was a book of heart-wrenching poems that I couldn't even read.

Now it was time for the rubber to hit the road, so to speak.
Until this point, I had lived a pretty uneventful Christian life. I accepted Jesus at 6 years old so I never felt that I had this amazing "before and after" experience.
I used to joke that I didn't have a "testimony." Wellll, those words were suddenly becoming pretty ironic.

As the weeks passed, I threw myself into the Word. Specifically, I read through Job several times during my pregnancy with our son and it changed me. It transformed my outlook and opened my eyes to the truth of God's sovereignty.

Now, if you had asked me before we received this diagnosis if I believed God was in control of every facet of our lives, I would have said "Yes" without hesitation. But this was different. It wasn't all about "Me" or "I" or "My" - it was about HIM.

Job chapter 38 really did a number on my heart. It's full of God asking Job questions like, "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" and "Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out a path for the lightning?" Over and over, God asks Job these questions. But He was asking me the questions, too.

Who was I to question what God was doing in my life through this baby?

During this time, I kept reminding myself, "It's not about me." Because more than anything, I wanted this child's life to bring glory to the Lord - in whatever way HE chose. So, this was our attitude as the days, weeks, and months went by.

We had chosen a name for our son - Haven William.

We determined that we would pack all we could into the time he would physically be with us. Every kick was an occasion to gather around and enjoy it. Thanksgiving and Christmas were extra special that year because they were the only ones he would be alive for.

We grieved, but we also lived intentionally.

As time went on, we decided it was a good idea to make funeral arrangements so that things would be in place whenever the time came. I can honestly tell you that this was the low point for me. There aren't words to describe planning your child's funeral as they kick and roll around, full of life. I'll leave that, except to say that we worked with a funeral director we knew from church and he was amazing. He made an excruciating situation as "easy" as it could have been.

Once the plans were in place and I had written a very thorough birth plan that I shared with my doctor and the hospital, we were able to relax a bit. All we had to do was wait and enjoy our son.

Now, in the world of an anencephaly diagnosis, every parent wants their baby to be born alive. That's the goal. Any precious few moments with your live baby in your arms would be an indescribable gift. That's what we wanted, but at the same time, I was praying that the Lord would do it the way HE wanted.

He gave us 32 weeks with Haven.

On the evening of February 9, 2004, as I was telling Mark about our day, I felt a huge kick. The biggest one ever. We laughed about it, kept talking, and went to bed as usual. The next morning, I felt a little off, but not enough to pay that much attention. I was so busy with Amelia and Owen, who were almost 4 and almost 2, that I didn't really realize something wasn't right and Haven wasn't moving until late in the morning. I called the doctor who told me to come in and made arrangements for the kids. Mark couldn't leave work and I didn't mind going alone. I figured he'd start moving around again about the time I got to the hospital anyway. But as soon as the ultrasound tech started the procedure, I knew. It didn't take her long to confirm. She quietly said she was sorry and sent me to the room to wait for the doctor.

I'd like to say the doctor who came in (not my usual doctor) said the perfect words. But he didn't. Again, words that are burned into my brain, "The fetus has expired." Wow.

You know what expires? Milk. Milk expires. Not my baby.

Anyway, we scheduled the c-section for that Friday, 3 days away. This was another of the lowest points for me. Those 3 days were bittersweet, to say the least.

I wanted to hang onto Haven's physical body as long as possible, even though the real him was gone. As long as I was still pregnant, it was "okay." Despite the practical details that needed to be dealt with, I really didn't want to leave the house during this time because I didn't want to answer the questions of the well-meaning people who want to touch your belly and ask when the baby is coming. It was draining.

Friday, February 13, 2004 arrived.

I don't remember a whole lot about that morning or the drive to the hospital. We had given our birth plan to the hospital already and, mercifully, I was the first operation scheduled for the day so there wasn't a lot of waiting around. I'm thankful for that.
During the procedure, the room was quiet, other than the doctor giving instructions. It was so different than my other births. I was used to the doctors chatting about golf and other mundane things.
It was SO quiet.
Then the doctor said, "The baby is out."

There was no hustle and bustle, no rushing around, and no newborn cries. A nurse asked me if I'd like her to bathe Haven and dress him and I said that would be nice. Looking back, I wish I had thought to say that we wanted to do this for him ourselves.

It wasn't too long after I was taken back to my room that the same nurse showed up with our little bundle, dressed in a perfectly-fitting outfit a friend had made and wrapped in a blanket that was a gift from another friend. I can honestly tell you that from that moment until the time we had to hand Haven over for the last time, we were full of joy.

We soaked in every hour we were able to spend with him, physically. We undressed him and redressed him and checked out every inch of his precious little body. He was gorgeous, of course. We thought he looked like his big brother, Owen, the most. He was born at 32 weeks, so he was tiny, just 2 pounds and 13 ounces. This is significant because Amelia was 8 1/2 lbs and Owen weighed 9 lbs. 1 ounce. We were not used to small babies!

We just enjoyed him, like we had with our others. We had him with us most of the day and into the early evening, when some physical changes let us know it was time for our funeral director friend to come. We were able to work things out with the hospital that graciously allowed us to give Haven to the funeral director ourselves instead of having to get him from the morgue.

Every mama who has lost a baby will tell you that there are certain things that they dealt with better than others. Not having Haven go to the morgue was a big one for me. I wanted Mark and I to be able to hand him over ourselves and I'm still so grateful that we were allowed that privilege, even though it was against their protocol.

Being in the hospital without your baby isn't fun. It straight up sucks. But we had sweet friends who came to visit and take up the time. Some even brought books and magazines and chocolate.

Our pastor and his wife came to see us and we were able to talk about the service we wanted for Haven. I had already basically laid out what we wanted and the pastor was nice enough to go with it. We chose to have Haven cremated and planned the service for the following week to give me a little bit of time to physically recover. We didn't want to have Haven's urn at the service, but we did set up some framed pictures of him. Mark and I really wanted the memorial to have a strong gospel message and Pastor Dan totally nailed it. It was perfect.

You have to understand that when your baby dies, planning their funeral is one of the only ways you get to care for them and getting it right is a really big deal.

We were so blessed by the number of family and friends who came out that day to honor our son and show us their support. We will never forget the love we felt that day.

So, then what?
You throw yourself into the planning for the birth and the funeral and then it's over and your new normal has to begin.

For me, it looked like finding other mothers with a fatal diagnosis and walking alongside them. It truly was the best healing. Now, 15 years later, I have made deep and lasting friendships with other mamas who have walked the same road.

Many people make the false assumption that life goes on and you get "over" it and you leave this child in the past and you don't bring it up and you don't talk about it, case closed. That's wrong for so many reasons. It doesn't honor your child, it doesn't help you make connections with other people who experience loss, and it doesn't give you the opportunity to share how the Lord worked through your baby's brief life.

The Bible tells us to mourn with those who mourn and I have taken that quite literally. I am honored to share my story, Haven's story, to let others know it's okay - healthy, even - to share theirs.

I'll finish up by talking a little bit about how we keep Haven present in our family. We went on to have another son, Wilson Beck, in March 2005, a little more than a year after Haven. I'm proud to say that Wilson has grown up knowing all about Haven and the special place he has in our family.

We have pictures on the wall and a special shelf with his urn and some pictures on it in our dining room. We celebrate his birthday with cake and a family game night every year. We find unique ways to include him in our Christmas picture each year. It's been fun for our friends and family to try and find how we've done it when they get their card in the mail. This is probably my favorite thing. A few years after Haven was born, we asked friends to write his name in the sand when they traveled on their family vacations. It has continued to grow and we now have pictures of his name in the sand (and sometimes snow) on every continent except Antarctica! We have lots of states and even countries and it's so cool. I write a Christmas letter every year and include a section that updates our friends and family about Amelia, Owen, and Wilson and what they're up to. Of course, Haven gets his section where we share all the places people wrote his name in the sand for us.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share our Haven with you.
I promised myself that I would never turn down an opportunity to talk about our boy and how the Lord used Him to change me, deepen my faith by taking my eyes off of myself and putting them on Jesus, AND how he continues to use him.



Last update: January 24, 2020