Austin Cade Standridge was our surprise baby #3! We had no immediate intention of having a 3rd, especially not with my daughter still just barely 1 year old. But, my son (then 7) had prayed and prayed for a baby brother and he got his wish, though not in a way any of us could have ever imagined.
The pregnancy seemed pretty routine until my 20 week ultrasound. After a rather interesting ultrasound they dropped the mother of all bombs on us and told us that our baby #3 had what is commonly known as Potter’s Syndrome and would not survive long after birth, if he even survived to full-term. We were in shock, devastated, our lives at that moment completely turned upside down.
We went from planning the fun way in which we would share the boy/girl news with our two other children and their grandparents to now having to decide do we continue with the pregnancy and if so how do we plan for what happens when our baby passes. And then to have to tell our son the news, who had begged us to skip his second day of school to go to the doctor. The hardest and most heart wrenching thing I’d ever had to do up to that point, we were very open and direct with our son explaining everything the best we could and encouraging him to ask as many questions as he needed.
My husband and I, after the initial shock wore off, decided not only would we carry our baby as long as God would allow but that we would do all we could to make the most of the time we had left with him. From a small bucket list of things we wanted to do with him to just enjoying the pregnancy as much as possible bringing both our children along with us on our journey.
On November 21, 2014, I went into pre-term labor at 32 weeks and our sweet baby Austin was born in the wee hours of November 22, 2014. He was born alive and survived just 45 minutes. Both his brother and sister were there to meet him and say good-bye to him. They allowed us to stay with our baby for quite some time as we had family trying desperately to get into town that wanted to hold him just once. We allowed his big brother to hold him often, and his big sister gave him a couple of kisses but was a bit afraid to hold him. Leaving him in the hospital was the hardest thing I’ve ever done… The next week was a whirlwind of decisions and plans and not to mention Thanksgiving, we buried our sweet baby #3 the day after Thanksgiving.
Lost and in a deep state of grief I began to seek out ways to keep his memory alive. To keep him close to us in some way, to make sure that his big brother and sister (especially since she was too young to grasp what was happening around her) remembered him and knew that they once had a baby brother who now looks over them from Heaven. Christmas came around and I needed some place tangible to go and something tangible to leave, and so did my son. It just made sense to me that we decorate his graveside and bring him some small presents and flowers. It felt right. These visits have now become deeply important to our family, we visit him almost monthly, each time stopping at the local grocery and allowing the kids to pick out which flowers or toys we are going to take to him this time. There is time allotted on every holiday to make a special trip out to see him. He gets an Easter basket right along the other kids and the Easter Bunny puts a few treats in that we take to him on Easter Sunday. There’s even a special bubble set that is reserved for the kids to take out to the cemetery and blow bubbles for him and the other babies around him. The kids actually look forward to our visits with him and ask to go, even the now 3 year old!
We’ve also got several pictures of him around the house. And thanks to our wonderful NILMDTS photographer who captured some beautiful moments with our baby, I was able to create a photo book of his story that is kept in my coffee table and we show to the kids every now and then. My daughter has since learned who he is and points him out to us. She’s figured out that she has a baby brother named “Baby Austin” and “he sleeps with the flowers”. We were given a special “angel” candle shortly after he passed that we keep on the mantle with another photo of him. We light the “angel” candle on special occasions such as birthdays and holidays to help us feel that he is there with us.
We also made sure to include him in some way in a recent family photo session, and I intend to make sure that any future sessions include him as well. We are a family of 5, just one of us lives in Heaven. It is important to me that he remain a part of the family, not just for my husband and me, but for his siblings as well. After all, he was the baby brother that his big brother had prayed so fervently for.
We’ll never know why his prayer was answered in such a way… I never want to feel like he is being forgotten or he didn’t happen. These are ways that make sense to me, that worked for our family and help me get through the agonizing pain of not having him here. They’re ways for my kids to tangibly see that he did exist.
I know that what we do does not and will not work for every family. All I can say to anyone trying to figure out how to tell their children about the sibling they never got to meet is to take your time and do what feels right to you. Be it showing them something tangible like the hospital bracelet or blanket or a picture and using that to tell their sibling’s story or taking them to the gravesite they didn’t even know existed. Whatever you do, it is keeping their memory alive in your own special way, and that’s the most important part.