The term ‘struggle’ is defined in Webster’s dictionary as ‘to make strenuous or violent efforts in the face of difficulties or opposition’. I struggled with female reproductive issues since my first menstrual cycle began at the age of 15. I went to specialists to see why my periods were non-existent, special diets and birth control pills to get me on a regular cycle. I knew back in those days that when the time came to have children, my body would give me a struggle to conceive.
Fast forward when my husband and I got married in 2009, we were ready to have a baby so I sought help from a fertility specialist in Ft. Worth and with success, I got pregnant with my firstborn child, a son named Rhys. My husband and I wanted our kids close so we started trying right before my son turned one. We went back to the fertility doctor and although this time around was more of a struggle with months of failed Clomid procedures, we opted for IUI and we welcomed our twins, Meghan and Samuel when our son Rhys was 18 months old.
I struggled with post-partum depression after Rhys was born and the problem only got worse when I had the twins. Three kids under the age of 2, working full time and trying to take care of myself and my family was a true struggle at times, but with the help of my gynecologist and incredibly supportive husband, I got on medication to ease my depression struggles. My gynecologist had been my doctor since I was 15 years old and she knew of my struggles to have a normal cycle. She knew of my post-partum depression and knew that once I had my twins, my family was complete in my eyes so she “tied” my tubes and completed the procedure with cauterizing my tubes after the twins were born via cesarean section.
My family tagged ourselves as the ‘Hanclan5’. Every Instagram post, every Facebook post, even Twitter used hashtags for our Hanclan5 at every moment I could. Having the kids this close definitely brought challenges but so much joy from each day. I felt so blessed by God and often wondered why I would still struggle with depression when I have so much fulfillment in my life. Depression is really a dark time and those that suffer from it can relate to the ups and downs at any given moment. I began taking a low dose anti-depressant soon after the twins were born and I began feeling some relief from my depression and live to enjoy the moment more. My husband was and is such an amazing support system, I truly don’t know what I would do without him. He encouraged me to train for my first marathon in 2013. I began running longer distances and fell in love with the sport. So, I completed my first marathon and running became a great release for me. I also found my church again…
I am a proud child of God that attends First Methodist Mansfield. I grew up in Mansfield and my family would attend church on holidays. We would go for Easter and Christmas Eve. My pastor was the same one when I was a little girl and I enjoyed listening to his sermons. I began attending church regularly, each Sunday at 9:30 contemporary service so I could listen to the band and hear the great message to come from the Pastoral staff, mainly then it was from my childhood pastor, Mike Ramsdell. Pastor Ramsdell later married my husband and me, baptized our three children as well as myself and delivered countless sermons that have left an impact on my life. Now, I want to go out and do good works in this broken world. I am continuing my faith and have eyes wide open for the path that God has laid out in my life.
One of my favorite bands is Imagine Dragons. One of their songs, ‘Roots’ is a great one. One lyric, in particular, has a place in me that seems like it is rooted at the moment…”Hell will always come before you grow”. I was baptized on June 23, 2016. I found my faith and trust in our Lord and savior and I was in a good place with my depression. Then, I got shot. On November 1, 2016, I was on a training run in Mansfield when a teenage kid on a joy ride decided to shoot me with a 5mm in diameter pellet. I was shot in the neck and although at the time I did not know what happened, I later found out the full details thanks to the Mansfield police and a video surveillance taken from a home nearby. The old me would have tried to track this kid down and dealt with him myself but the new me wanted him to turn his life around for good. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted him to pay for what he did to me and potentially could have done to my family. I had an angel with me that day for sure. The pellet came very close to the carotid artery and I still have it in my neck. It is too close to a large facial nerve that controls the left side of my face so surgery is too risky. However, I feel very lucky that the situation was not worse. He could have left my kids motherless. I want him to learn from this. I want him to turn this situation around and make it awareness for kids going down the “wrong path”. Like I mentioned above, an angel was watching over me, and I truly believe it was my Sawyer Jude, even though I did not even know of him then.
I found out I was pregnant on December 21, 2016. I had missed two months of cycles but like I mentioned earlier, I did not have a regular cycle history and fertility issues so I wasn’t too concerned. However, I had been training for my second marathon and had a few weeks of feeling low energy, nausea. I told my best friend and she told me to get a test, so did my husband. They both know how to deal with me and just kind of laughed it off like there was no way I could be pregnant, knowing my history, but wanted me to ease my mind. The tests came out positive and I headed to my gynecologist for a blood draw and immediately got concerned that I had an ectopic pregnancy since my tubes were tied. I convinced the staff to get me a sonogram for that reason and there was little Sawyer, not in my tubes but my uterus. I was 9 weeks pregnant and although I was in complete shock, I had tears of joy and excitement when I saw that sonogram. A true miracle. Every child is a miracle from God, but I instantly felt that this little one was special.
I am not going to lie. Once the shock and excitement wore off, I was scared. I am a stay-at-home mom with three kids, we just bought a house to suit our family of five. I suffer from depression and that brought on new worries since I had not taken anti-depressants until after the twins were born. I got off the meds cold turkey and plugged through the terrible withdrawal symptoms. I was also “advanced maternal age” (insert eye roll) so that got me into a separate category of additional tests and scans that needed to be done. I went ahead and got said tests done, mainly for preparation and to find out the sex of our baby sooner (I was impatient, to say the least). Stepping back a bit…I was shot on November 1 and had gone to the ER once I realized it was a pellet and had scans done to see the location and actual damage caused. Although the doctors said the baby would not have felt the effects, I was still concerned about radiation and dye that my body was exposed to at the time.
Flash forward, tests came back after two weeks, longer than expected because my perinatal specialist had the sample tested again. My baby had over 90% chance of having Trisomy 18 or Edwards Syndrome. He recommended an amniocentesis so we scheduled that for four days later to get the full sample fluid. There was a chance that the test was false positive or that the T18 would not affect every chromosome in his body. The waiting period for the amnio results could take up to two weeks. Mike and I told the family and were in prayer each day. He was our miracle. We gave him the name of Sawyer Jude Hanson. We read up on T18 and the terrible effects this abnormality has on children. The days leading up to the full results were hard, yet full of prayer. I could feel the prayers from our family, friends and church congregation. I kept our Pastoral staff and a few dear friends aware of each day and they would pray for me and even had others praying for us and our baby boy. Mike and I went and met with our dear friend and Pastor, Johnny and he sat and prayed with us. Johnny listened to our fears, our worries, and our challenges that we were faced and placed no judgment…only love.
I remember the day vividly. I was at the pediatrician’s office, taking one of the twins in for symptoms of strep. I was checking out at the front desk when I received a phone call from my gynecologist. Sawyer had full blown T18. Tears fell instantly and I felt so confused, so sad and lost. I called my husband and we cried together. The research we had done on T18 was hard to read. Full blown T18 brought many challenges and the odds were worse for males. My heart was truly broken. I was assured that nothing I had done created this outcome. This was an error in cell development when he was conceived. I had to make a choice. My doctor urged me to consider termination of the pregnancy and my gynecologist was very straight with my husband and me when we met with her. She would do everything she could to monitor him, but my health was her #1 concern. As I mentioned, she knew me since I was 15. She knew my history, my struggle with depression, but she also knew what an amazing support system I had in my family. I did not understand why Sawyer was given this outcome. Each sonogram I would see, he looked fine. His heartbeat was strong, he was growing where he needed to be growing. My world turned upside down and I was in a dark place. I prayed to God to take him from me, so I would not have to make this decision.
Mike and I decided to go to a clinic in Dallas that my gynecologist had recommended. I did NOT want to be there, the second we drove up. It was like a scene from the movies. There were picketers outside. We were warned about them and told not to talk to them or make eye contact. The picketers were not allowed to be on the premises so they would stand outside on a sidewalk with their rhetoric. The second we walked in the building, I judged. I judged hard, too. We were not like these people, we should not be here. We had the means to take care of this sick child. I immediately teared up and closed down. We were there for 5 hours. I had a sonogram, I spoke to a counselor, I had blood drawn from a nurse. And I was numb the entire time. I did not feel human. I felt like a monster for being there.
I should tell you that I have always been pro-choice. I believe that it is a woman’s choice to carry or not to carry. However, I classified those individuals that struggled with the choice, as someone who could not care for a child whether that be mentally or financially. I did not see myself in that category. It was hard for me to accept the fact that I was making this choice.
During the sonogram part of the clinic visit, I heard the heartbeat. The tech said that it looked like my placenta was attached to my C-section scar from the twins. They brought a doctor in and I was told I needed to see a specialist for a Doppler sonogram to make sure if the placenta was attached. I did not want to do that. I told them that they should just have the tools to prepare for that during the procedure. I lost that battle but the earliest they could get me in was the next morning, early in Dallas. I told them that I was there for information, did not know if I was going through with terminating. I was in fight mode. On our way home from Dallas, I cried the entire time. I remember yelling at my husband that he did not express his feelings enough. I felt alone at a time. That was not a fair assumption I made on him. He was hurting too, but he was making sure I was OK. He put my needs before his and had told me that no matter what decision I made he would support. This was his child too and he did not want to have to make this decision either but he wanted to make sure that whatever choice was made that we were both secure in it. He was also scared about my mental state and I knew that. He has seen me hit a dark place before, my depression was rearing its ugly head and he was scared for me. I remember praying in my closet, on my knees telling God to help me. I wanted God to literally yell in my ear what to do. I knew in my heart that I did not want Sawyer to suffer, but I wanted to meet him. I wanted him to see me, to look into my eyes and know how much I truly loved him and I did not give up on him. Even if only for a few hours after birth, I wanted him to see me, to feel me and my husband and know how much we truly loved him. He was not planned but he was ours. He was our miracle baby.
The next morning my best friend took me to Dallas to visit the specialist and get the Doppler sonogram needed. The clinic had said I needed to come in for an insertion of cervix softening in preparation for the procedure the following day but I had still struggled and decided that I would just not show up if I didn’t want to. During the sonogram, the doc asked if I wanted to see him, and I said yes. The monitor lit up and there he was, with his ailments. One femur measured at 13 weeks and the other at 19 weeks which is what gestation I was currently at. His heart had two ventricles that were conjoined. His brain had cysts throughout and he had club feet and clenched hands. His nasal bone was missing and he was beautiful. I cried right then and there as my friend held my hand and cried herself. I knew I could not continue on with the pregnancy. I had to put my selfish desires of holding him aside. I would not have let the doctors whisk him away after delivery, no matter how much he needed to get medical attention. I would have delivered him and held him until he passed. That was not a life for my child that I wanted. I called Mike and told him to meet me at the clinic for our scheduled appt. Mike was not there for the sonogram because I had told him to take our kindergartener to school and the twins were being taken to their pre-k by a friend later. He wished he had gone so he could see for himself, especially after everything I explained that I saw and the doctor was so gracious to point out, no matter how hard it was to see.
Mike and I sat in the waiting room at the clinic, but this time I did not judge. What I saw in those days at the clinic were eye-opening and sad, but they were the same days as my own. Each person in that room had a story. Each person in that room did not deserve the original judgment I passed on them. Because the procedure is a two-day process, I saw the same women. I will refrain from giving details of the individuals I saw because their story is just that…theirs and I do not know it. I was in a losing time in my life but the faith I had in my Lord and Savior had never been stronger. Like I mentioned before, I could feel the open prayers from the congregation at my church, my friends and family. It was as if He was holding my hands the entire time, along with Mike.
The procedure did not last long. In fact, I don’t remember it. The nurses and doctors that I had seen for two days were very gracious. I wore my feelings loud and clear those days and they knew how I felt. They knew I was struggling, and they took care of me to make sure I was comfortable. I thank them for that because let’s face it, those were the darkest days of my life. They did not know my entire story, just that my baby boy was sick and I was choosing him to have life eternal instead of a terminal life on earth. They did not know that I struggled with depression since my other children were born. They did not know the struggles I overcame, mentally, to make it there each day. They did not know that I contemplated suicide in summer of 2012. They did not know that I was on anti-depressants for my disease and that I had quit cold turkey when finding out that I was going to have another child, who was a true miracle in himself and a gift I did not see coming. They did not know that even though my faith is strong and my family and friends are the greatest support system for me, those evil thoughts of harming myself came rearing its ugly head again and this time even worse than before. I felt some closure with my decision after the Doppler sonogram, I truly believe that God gave me those images because He knew how I felt and He knew I did not want my baby boy to suffer. God gave me those details to make the decision I knew in my head was right, but my heart was holding back for a different outcome. I chose life eternal for my baby boy.
The days to follow were full of emptiness. I had all of the symptoms of delivering a baby, without the baby to hold. I was sad, I was vulnerable and I prayed to God during each of those moments of heartbreak. I missed the possibility of him. I did not share these details with the world, only a handful of dear friends and our family, knew the entire story as I am laying it out right now. Having to make a choice on whether to say goodbye to Sawyer now or wait until the day would come where he would stop moving or be born only later to pass away in my arms seemed hard to express to everyone I came in contact with. During the waiting period between blood test and amniocentesis results, I did online research on stories of children diagnosed with Trisomy18. Most stories I read were those of women choosing to continue their pregnancy. Very rarely would I find articles of termination. Maybe those women are struggling to find the right words in a society that is already at so many odds with each other. I wanted to hear feelings from both sides. I wanted to share my story but knew it would be difficult for more reasons than one. I stayed strong in the midst of my sadness. I saw my therapist, my gynecologist and spoke to my family often about how I was feeling. This was a new low in my fight with depression but I just had to take it one day at a time, especially due to the fact that I have three children at home to care for.
The kids. When we originally told Rhys about how we were going to have another child, his face lit up with excitement. He was so happy. He loved babies and he was very proud to have another sibling. He would have been my helper for sure. Meghan and Sam were excited, too and would often tell me the names they would pick out for a girl or boy. The procedure was on a Friday. We went to a funeral home in Dallas on Saturday and arranged for Sawyer’s body to be cremated and my mother picked out a lovely Urn for him. We told the kids on Sunday. We told them that Sawyer’s heart was very sick and he was in heaven now. They were all very upset but did not ask any questions until weeks later. Meghan would cry all of the sudden and finally state that she wanted Sawyer, she wanted to be in heaven with him. She takes pictures with Sawyer’s Urn often, she talks to him during prayer. My Mom bought a little lovey for Sawyer, once we found out that he was a boy. We gave that lovey to Meghan for comfort and that helps her as well. I have always believed that God speaks through children and spirits of our loved ones visit them in dreams and I have shared this with my kids so that they aren’t afraid to express their true feelings and have an open heart and mind when they go to sleep at night. We will get through this as a family and keep Sawyer’s memory alive in their hearts and minds is what also helps me remember that we will meet him one fine day.
Rhys made a decision for our family, that we should honor Sawyer each year on his birthday. He went to be with our Lord and Savior on February 24th and although I will never forget that day for the rest of my life, we are going to honor his due date as his birthdate, July 25th. This year, we are sending blue and purple balloons into the sky to celebrate him.
I have learned so much on this journey and I know it is not far from over. There is not one single day that goes by that I don’t think about Sawyer Jude. His Urn is in mine and Mike’s room. I speak to him every day. Some days are harder than others but each day is a step closer to seeing him in our Saviors kingdom. This makes me say it is well with my soul.
I am going to close with some notes I took from a sermon from one of my Pastors at my home church. The sermon series was called ‘Looking for Leaders’ and on this particular message, Pastor David Alexander focused on Proverbs 4. These notes tugged at my heart and my story in particular.
• Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
o Leadership is an act of courage and courage is formed in the heart.
o The heart is where God plants God’s dream.
o The heart is where the battle for leaders is lost or won.
I love Sawyer Jude. I love what his short human life taught me. I want to be a leader for love and compassion. I want to raise children to love God and others with their whole heart and always know that no matter what, we are all children of God. This means we listen to each other, we don’t judge each other, and we lift each other up in times of sorrow even if it is not something that we can relate to nor agree on. The heart is the answer and that answer is Love.