In January 2018, we were expecting to have our first child. We had a very routine pregnancy but discovered during our last appointment just one week before his scheduled delivery date that our son had no heartbeat. Jacob Austin Ryan was born on January 23rd, 2018, a stillbirth at 38 weeks.
While we were still in the hospital, and still very much in shock, we were asked by our nurses if we would like to have a photographer come in to take pictures of our son. Initially we were unsure, but a few of our family members were able to convince us that we would appreciate having pictures of him, even though it seemed like a somewhat morbid idea at the time. We agreed and soon we met Julie, our photographer from Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, who gave us what would become our most treasured keepsakes from our son’s life.
Afterward we were showered with love from family and friends, along with a nonprofit support group that we were introduced to called M.E.N.D. (Mommies Enduring Neonatal Death). We had several friends and acquaintances come forward to share their stories of loss, and we could not believe how many people we knew who also had a stillborn child, a miscarriage, or an infant loss at some point in their lives.
As we continued to meet people who had similar stories, it occurred to us that anything we could do to help comfort another grieving family brought meaning to our son’s life in a way that nothing else could, and to our pain as well. Eventually we asked ourselves what we could do to benefit other families like ours, and our answer was to put on the First Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss 5K in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area.
Photograph courtesy of the Ryan family
We decided to split our proceeds 50/50 between the two nonprofit groups who had helped us so much after our loss: Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep who gave us our incredible pictures with our son and asked for nothing in return, and the support group M.E.N.D. that we’ve leaned on heavily for the last two years. The first annual event took place in October of 2018 and, thanks to our awesome volunteers and sponsors, was met with great success. We had around 200 participants and we were able to make donations to our charities totaling over $6,000.
We have since welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Joanna Rae Ryan, who was born on July 22nd, 2019 and was able to “walk” the 2nd Annual Pregnancy & Infant Loss 5K strapped comfortably to her momma’s chest. Despite less-than-ideal weather conditions on the day of the 2nd race in October, we were able to make donations totaling just over $8,000 thanks to some incredible volunteers, sponsors, and participants. It is our hope that we will be able to continue the race in 2020 and beyond to help support grieving families all over and to honor our son Jacob’s memory.