Evie’s Story.

A year ago today, our lives were changed forever.  On February 21st, just a few days after a routine anatomy scan, we gave birth to our beautiful baby girl, Evelyn “Evie” Gray at just 21 weeks gestation.  Over the years, we’ve read and seen so much about the “yes, and”, holding the bitter and the sweet, the joy and the pain together, in both hands, but we had no idea to what extent this theory would penetrate our hearts and impact us as we continue to navigate the unknown.  Evie is our first-born, our baby girl that made us parents, and opened our hearts to love in ways we didn’t know existed.  Today, on what would be here first birthday, this is her story.

When we got married in 2009, we had no idea where life would lead us. Shortly after we were married, we moved to Nashville and started school. We went through undergrad together, then graduate school, and then started our careers, all within the first 6 years of our marriage. Soon after we began our careers in education in 2016, we were both ready to take the next step and start a family. After years of trying on our own with no luck, we made the decision to seek medical help. After a year, we were then referred to a fertility specialist. On October 21, 2021, we found out we were pregnant. After five years of struggling and battling infertility, we were finally pregnant. From there, the pregnancy was completely by the book. At 6 weeks, we had our first ultrasound, heard the heartbeat, and were released from our fertility specialist. At 8 weeks, we had our first appointment with Ashlynn’s OB. Everything was right on track. Shortly thereafter, we found out that we were having a beautiful baby girl. We were both over the moon. At 16 weeks, we had another great appointment. Next up was our 20 week anatomy scan.

The week of our anatomy scan, family came to visit to shop for Evie.  Little did we know everything would change in just a matter of days.  At our anatomy scan, we settled in and were excited to see Evie so up close and personal for the first time.  As we sat down, we immediately knew that something was wrong.  They weren’t able to locate Ashlynn’s cervix on the ultrasound.  We were completely unaware, but the maternal fetal medicine physician was notified immediately and was watching from his office.  From there, things went from bad to worse.  After the anatomy scan, Ashlynn’s OB stunned us when she walked in the room.  She sat down, exhaled deeply, and said, “We have a problem.  Your cervix is dilated, and the amniotic sac is already in the birth canal.  You’re going to deliver your baby soon”.  At that time, we were at 21 weeks gestation.  In hopes of a miracle, our doctor rushed us to Vanderbilt Medical Center in hopes of being able to save the baby and make it to 22 weeks.  At 22 weeks, there is a chance the baby can survive, so that became our goal.  At Vanderbilt Medical, we met with a wide variety of physicians, including the NICU team on what to expect after delivery.  It was completely and utterly surreal.  

At that moment, we immediately went into survival mode.  Our family surrounded us, and early in the morning on February 21st, Ashlynn felt what we thought might be a contraction.  We immediately went to the hospital and were admitted.  Still, our goal and medical plan was to make it to 22 weeks.  From there, it went from waiting to whirlwind.  And it all happened so fast.

That afternoon, Evie was born into the world.  We held her tightly in our arms, amazed at how beautiful she was and how much she looked like us.  We loved on her as long as we could, and that evening, she passed away.  That night, we stayed with her in the hospital.  The next morning, we walked out of Vanderbilt Medical Center with a box of pictures, what she wore after birth, and a mold of her footprints.  Our hearts were shattered.  

From there, it was a complete blur, but today, on Evie’s birthday, I don’t want to share how difficult it was—and believe me, it was and is difficult, and that’s putting it lightly.  Today, I want to talk about the good that Evie brought all of us and still does.  Our family and friends surrounded us in ways I didn’t know were possible.  People we didn’t even know personally reached out.  We have never felt more loved than we did in the hours, days, and weeks following Evie’s birth.  Our family dropped everything and rushed to our side.  Thinking back on it, I still can’t believe it.  

Evie split my heart wide open.  I look at the world differently these days, and it’s all because of her.  Because of Evie, I love Ashlynn more than I ever have and in different ways that I didn’t know I was missing.  She was the closest thing to Jesus I think I’ll ever see on earth—perfect, flawless, and pure.  She taught me that tragedy is just that—tragic, but the twists and turns and the beauty that comes forth over time have the power to impact people in such a monumental way.  She taught me the power of stepping forward without the answers I want.  She taught me that hope changes everything, not the knowledge of knowing why, but pure hope that propels us forward slowly, one step at a time.  Who I was on February 20th and who I became on February 21st are similar people, but with very different perspectives.  

There’s still one thing I’m trying to figure out though. We found out we were expecting on the 21st of October. She was born on 21st of February at 21 weeks. I see the number 21 over and over with Evie, and I don’t understand the significance, but one day, when I see her again, maybe I will. Until then, I owe her everything. I was supposed to teach her everything I knew, but she ended up teaching me the only thing she knew—how to love unconditionally.

What 2022 Taught Me.

Well, hello friends! Hello from a very long hiatus. When I wrote my most previous post, I didn’t think it would be one of the only posts that I would write for the remainder of the year. I thought it was the beginning of me writing more, sharing my story, but the truth is that I wasn’t ready. 2022 has been filled with more pain and more joy than I knew I had the capacity to withstand, and I just didn’t feel like I was ready to share until my heart was more settled.

I’ve done these posts every year since starting this blog, but this year is the hardest to write. Not just because of what I’ve experienced, but I feel as though I’ve learned so much, it’s impossible to put into a single post. For those of you who may not know, due to complications, my wife gave birth to our daughter earlier this year, and while we had her for a few short hours, she passed away the night after her birth. So, today I will share just a few things I’ve learned over this year. And just a warning—this post does discuss infant loss, so if you’re uncomfortable, please feel free to move on. This year was the hardest year of my life, I just can’t candy-coat it, but I look forward to the possibilities ahead in 2023.

God is holding me regardless of whether I see it or feel it.
After losing our daughter in February, I was so angry at God, and honestly, it’s something I’m still processing. I never felt abandoned by him because I’ve seen so many miracles in my own life, but I truly was expecting something remarkable that didn’t come. I’ll share more of our daughter, Evie’s story in the coming months, but through the pain and depression and grief and what-ifs, God still held me. I don’t understand why things happen the way they do. The fact of the matter is that no one is immune to tragedy because of the world we live in, but I truly believe that God is still God and He’s writing a bigger story that we won’t understand this side of Heaven. Regardless of my fear, regardless of my doubt, regardless of what is in front of me, God is still who He says He is.

Anyone that says, “God will never let you down” is wrong.
Hear me out on this one because I’m sure I just turned some heads. Think about this. Have you ever prayed for something that didn’t come? I’m not talking about praying for a future spouse or for a job, although those are very valid. I’m talking about praying for a miracle that doesn’t turn out how we had hoped. Whether it was cancer, pregnancy loss, illness, infertility, or something else that required us to step out in faith only to lose the one thing we’d been praying for God to save, the truth is that if we live on this Earth long enough, God isn’t always going to do the thing we want. Why? I have no idea! My guess is because we all transcend beyond our life on this planet and there’s so much more that we have yet to see and comprehend, but God is God and I simply am not. Yes, God let me down the day that our baby girl passed away, but here’s what I’ve learned—God may let us down, but He never leaves us. If we live long enough, we’re going to experience loss that is unexplainable in some facet. Don’t get me wrong—I still believe all things are possible with God. I still believe that God wants to give us the desires of our heart, and I still believe that God is in the business of miracles, but the reality is it may look differently than we want or expect. And, we may not understand this side of Heaven, but if we believe what we say we believe, if God is who He says He is, this isn’t the end of the story. I wonder if it’s only the beginning, even in my limited knowledge. I’m about the farthest thing from a theologian, but I feel something inside of me saying that our lives here on Earth are just the beginning of what God has for us.

Our daughter’s death will never be beautiful, but her life is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
This goes back to the idea that we can hold pain and joy in the same two hands, that life is bitter, but also so sweet, the “yes, and”. One thing I learned about death this year is that there’s so much beauty in life. Holding our baby girl for just a few hours changed me forever, for the better. God used her to change the way I look at everything. Her life pushed me to lift my eyes toward Heaven, and while I would change the entire outcome in a nanosecond if I could, the gift that she gave her Mom and I deserves to be shared. I hope I always remember that even in our darkest hour, there was so much beauty.

Courage > Knowledge.
When tragedy strikes, we want knowledge. Why? Why did this happen? Why didn’t you save them? The biggest question I asked myself over and over when we lost our daughter was why? But, one thing that I’m learning (slowly) is that courage will get us a lot farther than knowing why. Knowing why doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change the outcome or the reason, but the courage to take one small step forward, the courage to lift our eyes towards healing, the courage to take tragedy and let God use it to help others will transcend any question we may have. Tragedies alone are not a gift, but what changes us, moves us forward, shifts our perspective very much is.

What I Thought Lent Would Be.

Every year in early January, I begin to get excited as I look ahead toward Lent. I begin to think about what I want to give up (or fast from) and what I want to study during this special time. This year, I was more excited than normal because I felt as though my life were blooming in new ways. My wife and I were expecting our first baby. We also were seeing opportunities arise professionally as well. When I saw the He Reads Truth study for this year, I thought to myself, “This is perfect!” I truly felt as though I was coming alive. I ordered the Bible study and couldn’t wait to begin.

Then, the unthinkable happened. On February 21st, we delivered and lost our beautiful baby girl and our dreams shattered. It wasn’t just the fact that we lost our daughter, but we also lost the hope and excitement that surrounded her. She was ingrained in every thought, every decision, every purpose since the day we found out we were pregnant. We also lost the hope of what was to come—the family gatherings, the holidays, taking her to football games, all of the anticipation surrounding her life. Our hopes and dreams came crashing down and the last thing that I felt I was doing was “coming to life”. The opposite would be a more accurate depiction of how I felt that day.

Lent began for me in a Nashville hotel room. In the midst of loss, my wife and I decided to get away for a couple of nights. We didn’t want to go far, so we booked a hotel in Nashville. I desperately needed a change of scenery. Every single thing in our home was a reminder of what was lost. We needed rest. We stayed in, watched TV, ordered delivery, and talked and prayed about what was next. On the first day of Lent, I opened up Come to Life. While reading scripture, this was the first verse that stood out to me—

“The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” -Romans 8:21 (NIV)

My soul needed that verse more than I knew. A promise that we, all of creation, will be liberated from death is exactly what I needed to read just over 2 weeks after the loss of my daughter. It didn’t stop the pain. It didn’t make me hurt less, but what it did do was give me the smallest glimpse of hope. So small, in fact, I don’t think I realized it, but on that day, God planted something in my heart that is still growing today.

This years Lenten season brought tremendous pain. I didn’t know I could hurt the way I do and still breathe and function. Actually, some days, I barely did function. I felt dead, numb, and out of touch with reality. I felt as though life was going on around me, passing me by, but I was standing still. But, as I started forcing myself forward, I noticed that my fundamental values and thoughts were shifting. Things that were significant before aren’t so significant now. Things that I was previously interested in seem boring to me now. I see the importance of things with a fresh perspective—family, the fragility of life, the impact of our words and actions—all of it feels different. Even the way I worship feels different.

The Bible talks about how God can take the tragedies our of lives and use them for good. I’ll never, ever call losing my daughter “good”, but I can tell you what I’m learning about myself. My heart is wide open. Not only that, my heart is willing to go and do what God has for us now more than ever before. I’m more dependent on Him because I’ve had no other choice. I see a purpose in every since action I take. I love those around me better than before. I truly see the world very differently than I did before February 21st, and I am grateful for that. I guess it turns out that I really am coming to life.

During our Easter service at church, as we were worshipping, a group of special needs individuals were sitting across from my wife and I. Everyone in the group was singing at the top of their lungs. Their worship was so genuine, pure, and authentic, and if I’m honest, it made me cry. There was something so special in that moment, and I thank God for it. And I thank God for what He’s doing in my life too even though the pain is almost unbearable at times. I thank Him because what He’s doing points me towards Him.

I want you to know as I’m writing this, there’s nothing I can type that will allow me to tie a pretty bow around my situation and move on. We still lost our daughter. We still grieve that everyday. I actually feel pretty lost at the moment in all honesty. But, here’s the thing—just because I feel a certain way doesn’t mean that I actually am. Because of our relationship with Jesus, it’s impossible to be lost because He has us right where we’re supposed to be. And even though I’m impatient and I want what I want right now, I know that good things are ahead. Because of that hope, I can take my next step, one at a time, into the next season God has for us.

The Difference Between Then and Now

It’s been just over 4 weeks since we brought our beautiful baby girl into the world and held her as she slipped away into Jesus’ arms. So much joy and so much sadness was wrapped into such a short period of time. It almost feels like a bad dream—that I’ll wake up and things will be different.

Grief is so strange. You’ll be fine one second, and then the next, you’re right back to the starting line. I think it’s important to embrace these moments. I think it’s important to feel all the feelings associated with this type of loss, but I also think our sweet girl deserves all the joy of the world as well. It’s easy to try and diminish what happened because of the sadness and pain surrounding it, but our baby girl lived a short and beautiful life, and she deserves to be honored in that way. I have so much to share in the future, simply in hopes that we can be a light to others going through similar situations. But, for now, these small offerings are all I have.

Evie changed both of us the second we saw her. We saw a glimpse of heaven in her that we had never seen before. She was truly the closest thing to Jesus I’ve ever seen. And, because of that, our lives are changed forever. I don’t care as much what people think anymore. Things that I thought were important are seemingly insignificant now. The character of our family and friends was truly revealed during this time. We have never felt so loved. And still, there’s a heaviness in my steps that wasn’t there before. I hope that goes away with time as we look towards what’s next for us.

I don’t know much. I don’t understand why these things happen. I don’t understand why one minute I’m okay and the next, I’m overwhelmed with so much emotion, it’s hard to stand on my own two feet. I don’t know what’s next for us, but I do know this—our baby girl, in her short, beautiful life, had such an impact on everyone she met. She gave me a new heart and took a piece of it with her simultaneously. She gave me new eyes to see the world. In all the confusion surrounding everything that unfolded, she gave me clarity about what really matters here. But, most of all, she gave us the greatest gift that we had been praying for—to become parents.