This is not my normal style of post. I typically cover topics like employer branding, recruiting, social media and personal branding — the exact things I’m passionate about and champion of as the head of talent and brand at TSP. Those items are a huge part of who I am, but there is another big part of what makes me, well, me.
I’m all-out #dadlife as the father of _____ children.
Why the blank above? It represents the long and sometimes awkward hesitation I often find myself taking to determine the ‘right’ number to insert into that pause.
You’ve got kids? How many?
Such an easy question, right? Not so much when you’ve endured the unexplainable and had to bury a child.
You see, a big part of what defines me and determines my outlook on life, in general, is that fact that I have two children here on earth and one in Heaven — I’m the father of an angel baby.
When you’ve suffered child loss, there’s not a single day that goes by in which you don’t think about what could have been. However, my family and I are hyper-aware every year between May 26 and June 17, as those are the exact days my daughter Leighton was alive in 2011.
Child loss is obviously a difficult subject and it makes people understandably uncomfortable. Most don’t know what to do or what to say when the subject arises, and let’s face it, when it does come up, the subject is usually changed as quickly as possible.
I didn’t write this article for sympathy — I wrote this because I want to be able to answer “3 children” confidently and without hesitation when I’m asked about the number of children I have. I figured one of the best ways to achieve this was to just put it out there.
OUR STORY, OUR MIRACLE
All my wife and I ever wanted to do was to have a family. After many years of trying to achieve this dream through a variety of different methods that included international adoption, domestic adoption, and in vitro fertilization (IVF), we were blessed to finally hear those words we had waited so long to hear — “You’re pregnant!” Our twins were truly going to be our miracle babies.
After a surprisingly uneventful pregnancy, hospital bedrest became the new reality the day we reached viability (24 weeks). My wife, Amy, spent the next five weeks in the high-risk OB unit of the hospital. Then, the twins decided they were ready to come into this world.
Leighton and Jaxon were born on May 26, 2011, at 28 weeks and 6 days gestation (just over 11 weeks early), weighing 2 pounds, 8 ounces, and 2 pounds, 6 ounces, respectively. They were tiny little fighters that amazed us and the hospital staff. We knew we were on our way to taking home our healthy miracles!
A phone call rocked our world at 12:30 am, June 16, 2011. Leighton had developed an unusually high fever for a preemie — it was later diagnosed as late-onset group B strep (GBS). Despite the hospital’s best efforts, the infection overtook her little body and 48 hours later she was in the arms of Jesus.
After Leighton’s passing, the doctors and nurses watched Jaxon around the clock and had started him on precautionary broad-range antibiotics. Throughout the next several weeks, Jaxon had his fair share of ups and downs, but ultimately after 74 long days in the NICU, Jaxon was brought home on August 8, 2011.
With the twins, we thought our family was complete, but with the loss of Leighton, we felt strongly that we wanted Jaxon to grow up with a sibling here on earth. Early on, we spoke openly with Jaxon about his twin sister, but we knew there were experiences he could only share with a living sibling.
Proving that after every storm there’s a rainbow, we welcomed our rainbow baby, Olivia, on November 25, 2013. We finally had the family we’d dreamed of, albeit differently than we envisioned — two children here and one in Heaven.
Since losing Leighton, we’ve spoken about our experience for Leighton’s Gift (the foundation we set-up in her honor), as ambassadors for March of Dimes, and at a variety of other engagements. We’ve also had the privilege of meeting and becoming great friends with other families who have unfortunately had to walk in our same shoes.
It’s not uncommon during these conversations or engagements for us to get emotional, but that’s totally normal. People don’t often bring up the loss of a child as a means of “making it easier on the parents,” when in fact it does the exact opposite. By not talking about our daily reality, you’re not lessening the impact, you’re increasing the innate fear we have that our child could be forgotten. She may not physically be with us anymore, but she was here, she was a person.
Fear of the unknown is often what propels people’s discomfort and ultimately what creates my hesitation in answering that seemingly simple question, “How many children do you have?”
“How will they react?” “Will I get emotional?” “I’ll never see them again anyway…”
Those are just a handful of the questions and excuses I’ve posed to myself in recent memory. Those excuses stop today. The next time I’m asked, “How many children do you have?”, I’ll confidently answer with the truth — I have three.
I can’t speak for all families who have lost a child, but I know for certain we want to talk about, and we want people to know about, our angel baby, Leighton. She’s an absolute member of our family. If you’ve experienced child loss, then you’d know you never, ever forget. Instead, you live each day the best way you know how.
I’m all-out #dadlife as the father of 3 children.
Chris Skaggs is the head of talent and brand at TSP, a privately-held IT services company, and co-founder and president of Leighton’s Gift, a non-profit with a mission of turning a tragedy into something positive. Branding, digital marketing, talent acquisition and HR are all functions Chris has developed building teams, processes and strategies from the ground-up. Passionate about giving back, he also serves on the boards of a variety of different organizations. A natural storyteller, Chris’ work and experiences have been featured on CNN, Marketing Sherpa, CBS Radio, Recruiter.com and Glassdoor. Get connected online, @chrislskaggs.
Originally published at medium.com