“In June of 2015, just three weeks before reuniting our long-term foster boys with their family, we found out I was pregnant. We were shocked and elated, to say the least. Our oldest daughter was 8 years old and the heartache of losing her foster brothers was quickly overshadowed by a joy I can’t put into words. It felt like God was rewarding us for opening our hearts and our home to foster care, and it was the greatest reward I could imagine!
By 20 weeks, my pregnancy was going smoothly, and I felt great. But as we gathered around for an anatomy scan to watch our sweet baby’s heartbeat light up the screen, I could sense the air in the room change. Something wasn’t right as the sonographer checked. And double-checked. Scanning me for nearly an hour. When we left the sonogram room to walk down the hall to see my OB-GYN, I told my husband to take our daughter home. I didn’t want her to hear what I knew was coming. My husband probably told me I was overreacting, but I don’t remember.
A brain cyst and they couldn’t find the heart’s aortic arch. Our baby was sick, really sick, and I was devastated. And terrified. All I could do was cry as I sat across from my doctor. She was so sweet and encouraging and optimistic, saying all the right things, but it didn’t matter. My happiness, my reward – the reward I thought I deserved – had been stolen from me so completely and all I had left was gut-wrenching pain and the worst heartache possible.
Within days, we were given a diagnosis. Our baby had an extra copy of the 18th chromosome, or Trisomy 18. And… he was a boy. We were having a son. A son we were told wouldn’t likely make it to delivery and if he did, probably wouldn’t survive long. We were told to hope for a miracle but honestly, to prepare for the worst. Our son hadn’t been born yet, but everyone said he was dying.
Over the next few days, we named our son ‘Julian’ and worked to come to grips with our new reality. Through everything, one thought just kept creeping back into our minds… we still loved our son and he deserved to have his life celebrated, no matter how long that life was. That’s when we made a decision. We wouldn’t just sit around and cry. We would love Julian more than anyone had ever loved anyone, and we would ‘wildly celebrate’ every second of his life, no matter how long he was with us.
It started with everyday adventures living in South Louisiana. We took him to the pool and had the world’s best snowballs. We had Mardi Gras king cake shipped to our house and went to the best beignet café in all of New Orleans. We tailgated for football and listened to Daddy’s favorite music. We visited the aquarium and the beach. We went to LSU sporting events and pizza joints. You name it and Julian lived it, all while still nestled safely in my belly.
He took family pictures and ‘school’ pictures, and pictures with his foster brothers and pictures playing with Batman toys. We traveled to three states and threw two separate birthday parties for him – one when he was 200 days old in the womb and another when he was 250 days old. Every holiday was crammed into the last few months of my pregnancy. In July, we gathered with friends and had the most amazing feast for Thanksgiving. Santa stopped by in August and dropped off presents under the Christmas tree. And with every day, every adventure, Julian was beating the odds. He was surviving and thriving, and I spent every waking minute savoring his constant movements inside me.
Then delivery day arrived.
On October 5, 2015, the amazing happened. We delivered a beautiful living miracle. Julian Reid, 3lbs, 13oz, and perfect in every single way, just as he was, with his clenched hands and oversized feet. Absolutely perfect. And he continued to defy odds. To everyone’s surprise, after just a few short days in the hospital, he came home with us. And it was in that moment, we knew we were gifted the greatest reward. We held him every moment of every day. We sang to him and read books, we prayed over him, and we rejoiced in his milestones. We also cautiously settled in to this new life with feeding tubes and oxygen tanks and daily weight checks and cardiology appointments. For Julian’s entire 33 days of life, he was our world. We never stopped appreciating the tiny miracle of a human we were entrusted with. He knew what it meant to be fiercely loved and deeply cherished and wildly celebrated. His life was full of purpose and through him, we were given a little glimpse of what Heaven must feel like when we held him in our arms for those 33 days.
Some would say we lost so much when our son died, and that is true, but we also gained a full lifetime’s worth of love during his time with us – the kind of love you can feel deep in your soul. We also had so many signs all around us bringing us comfort, usually showing up as bluebirds in the oddest of places. It was like we could never stop feeling that somehow, he was still with us. And one of the greatest signs came that Valentine’s Day.
On the morning of February 14th, just a few months after Julian passed, my husband and I were walking out of the house, headed to get coffee when a feather floated – almost hovered –right in front of us. By this time, the bluebird thing had become an almost daily occurrence, so we couldn’t help but knowingly look at each other and just quietly smile. I scooped up the feather and held onto it as we made our way out. But, as we sat at a little table enjoying our morning coffee, another tiny feather made an appearance and slowly landed on our table. To this day I get chills thinking about it. I quickly grabbed my phone, snapped a pic, then tucked it in my pocket snuggled right next to the first. On the drive home, I kept thinking … two feathers … what does that mean? But I had a hunch. When we arrived home, I went straight to the bathroom and found a pregnancy test shoved in the back of the cabinet. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was torturing myself, but I had to see. And there it was, exactly two years since the day we got our foster boys, February 14, 2016, Valentine’s Day, just 3 months after Julian left us … we learned he had sent us a gift. A perfect, tiny gift, smaller than a feather.
As excited as we were, we were also desperately nervous. We had just been through so much. What if something was wrong? What if there was no heartbeat? How long should we wait before telling our friends and family we were pregnant again? These were the same people who were still grieving the loss of Julian with us, after all. I couldn’t get to the doctor fast enough.
After several months and more than a couple appointments confirming things were going well, we finally told our family and friends. Everyone was so excited for us! Their smiles and hugs and words of encouragement were amazing. We felt truly loved, and like our world was taking on this new, incredible chapter filled with promise.
And then my doctor called.
We had decided, for no reason at all other than to put our minds at ease during the pregnancy, to do a blood test to make certain the baby was healthy. No reason not to, right?
My doctor – the same doctor who had sat across from me just months before, holding my hand and crying with me over Julian – started, ‘Tami…’ And in that moment, I knew. I couldn’t breathe because I knew. My heart sank into the depths of my stomach because I knew. Or at least I thought I did. ‘Tami, it’s Trisomy 21, Down syndrome…’
My heart exploded with relief! In a matter of seconds, I went from being almost knocked to my knees in fear to experiencing the most intense high I’d ever felt! Down syndrome??? We can do Down syndrome! I had fantasized so many times while pregnant with Julian that maybe the doctors were wrong, maybe the tests were wrong, maybe he just had Down syndrome. My husband and I must’ve asked God a thousand times, ‘Why did Julian have to have trisomy 18? Why couldn’t he have something less scary, something with a better outlook. Why couldn’t he just have trisomy 21?’ There was no doubt in my mind, we could do Down syndrome!
In response, all I could stammer out was, ‘The baby is okay…’ Maybe it was a question. Maybe it was a statement. Because to me, in that moment, the baby was okay. In fact, our baby was way more than okay, he or she was perfect. Down syndrome or not, a healthy baby was all we needed.
Fast-forward to today and we have a beautiful, kind, funny, healthy 2-year-old daughter named Evangeline Love, who just so happens to have a little ‘extra’ in her DNA. She is the most perfect, little girl, so full of joy, and just like Julian, we love her for exactly who she is. And nobody can take that away from us.
They say having two children with a trisomy condition is extremely rare, almost unheard of. But we know we were given exactly what we needed as a family to make us who we are today. Julian showed us how to love unconditionally and he prepared our hearts for the life we would have with Evangeline. His life and passing also brought us so much closer to God and shined a light for us to see God’s handwork in our everyday lives. Evangeline, or ‘Evie’ as we call her now, has brought us incredible joy and helped heal our hearts from the tragedy of losing Julian. Together, they lit a fire in us to advocate for all children with special needs and to show people that their lives – like all lives – have so much meaning and the waves of their love and light are far-reaching.
Our hope is that others will hear their stories and know that there is so much hope beyond the fear. I’d choose them both every day for the rest of my life.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Tammy Pearl. You can follow their family’s journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar journey? We’d love to hear from you. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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