Updated: Nov 17, 2020
We will hold him in our hearts until we can hold him in Heaven.
Emily and Taner Ward discovered they were pregnant with their son, Caleb, on August 6th, 2019. They were nervous, at first—their daughter, Clara, was only eight months old at the time—but those nerves quickly gave way to excitement.
“We were ecstatic,” Emily said. “I went and got it confirmed the next day and told Taner, and we were just ready. We were ready for him.”
For 34 weeks, Emily’s pregnancy went off without a hitch. She rarely experienced any symptoms, other than a few headaches here and there.
“I couldn't have asked for an easier pregnancy,” Emily said. “All of our appointments were great. His heartbeat was always strong. We had no indication that there would ever be anything to go south.”
On March 3rd, Emily woke up to another perfectly normal day. She buckled Clara into her carseat, and the two of them visited Taner at work for lunch.
It wasn’t until four in the afternoon that Emily began to feel like something was off.
“I realized that I hadn't felt him move all day,” Emily said. “And I just thought, well, maybe I've just been busy. I've been moving around. Maybe he's just having a lazy day.”
Emily called Taner and asked him to pick up a Doppler, a handheld ultrasound device, on his way home from work. When Taner arrived, they used the Doppler to try and pick up Caleb’s heartbeat—nothing. They continued to try, even testing the machine on Taner to see if they were using it properly, and when it did not read Taner’s heartbeat, they chalked it up to user error.
Still, they packed up Clara and drove to the hospital for tests, just to be safe.
“We were holding hands and Clare was babbling in the back and I just remember thinking, you know, I'm just nervous, he was having a lazy day and I just wasn't paying attention enough,” Emily said. “This doesn't really happen in real life. You don't think it's ever going to happen to you.”
Laid to Rest
When they arrived at the hospital, Emily and Taner received the worst possible news: a hyper-coiled cord at his abdomen had cut off all nutrients and oxygen. Their baby boy, who had shown no complications in over eight months, was gone.
“They said they could still see the blood flow on the ultrasound, that it had happened really recently,” Emily said. “We were just too late.”
After about 17 hours of labor, Caleb Michael Ward was born on March 5th, 2020, at 5:13 a.m. It was the hardest night of their lives, but Taner and Emily were never alone. Caleb was born surrounded by friends, family, and two Hopeful Heart Project doulas, Kayla and Hannah.
“They were just so welcoming and compassionate,” Emily said. “It was amazing having family come in to support us, but it's just a completely different feeling when you have people come in who have been through the same storm that you're going through in that moment. They've come out stronger and they know how to comfort you and convince you that you can come out stronger, too.”
Kayla and Hannah stayed with the Wards for a full day after Caleb was born, as friends and family took turns holding him, taking pictures, and getting prints of his tiny hands and feet. And when it was time for Caleb to go, they advocated for Taner and Emily every step of the way.
“There was just a whirlwind of emotions that entire day, feeling great that we got to meet him and hold him, but knowing that we're not going home with him was really hard,” Taner said. “It was very comforting knowing that we were the last ones that laid him down and it wasn't just some stranger.”
Weather the Storm
No grief journey is the same, and for Caleb and Emily, the process has included challenges many of us could never even imagine. The COVID-19 pandemic brought life to a sudden halt just one week after Caleb passed away; it was not until October, seven months after his death, that Taner and Emily were able to mourn him in the presence of friends and family with a memorial service.
All the while, they have struggled to help Clara, not even two years old, understand and process her own grief.
“I don't really fully understand if she knew exactly what was going on at that time, but she definitely knows who he is now. She knows that there's somebody very special to us that's not actually here with us,” Emily said. “She says his name, and she kisses his urn every night before bed. So that’s very special.”
Taner and Emily will spend the rest of their lives trying to understand what happened to Caleb, but they will never have to walk this journey alone. Hopeful Heart Project will be there every step of the way.
“Hopeful Heart Project has supported us through everything,” Emily said. “When we went into the hospital the night that Caleb died, we were completely unprepared for what was to come. They helped us through every wave of emotion and they helped us weather the storm when we weren't sure if we could do it ourselves.”