Words by Jen Gibson
The day after Easter, 2012, I waddled into the doctor’s office for my 30-week check-up. After having two girls, we were ecstatic to be finally having a boy. My pregnancy had been normal, so I was definitely not expecting these words from my doctor’s mouth, “There is something wrong. His head is measuring on the big side. I want you to schedule an appointment with a fetal specialist right away.”
The longest six weeks of my life began, and I shuffled between fetal specialists and a fetal neurosurgeon. Eli David was born on May 24, 2012, with fluid on his brain, a cleft lip and palate, and the diagnosis of a rare brain disorder: holoprosencephaly (HPE). His prognosis meant that instead of a long, vital life, his was going to be short and confined. My life instantly changed, like a bomb exploded. Nothing was ever the same again — including me.
HPE can have a fast decline, but as Eli began to decline we still hoped he would turn around. On October 25, 2012, we were awoken in the wee hours to be told he would not make it through the day. At 8:59 pm, exactly 5 months and one day since his birth, Eli took one last breath and went still. With that last breath, my soul was ripped and a piece of my heart was stolen. My world collapsed, darkness engulfed me, and my body went numb. How do you live with a piece of your heart gone? How does one live again?
Navigating the grief road has not been easy. Too many bumps to recount, a marriage that almost fell apart, rock-bottom depression — all while parenting two precious girls with their own broken hearts. I longed for light and purpose, but was engulfed in darkness. It took several years of counseling, grief support group, and friends dragging me along until I could reach toward the light. Before Eli, I was a big dreamer. Head in the clouds. I believed there had to be something more to life. As my darkness slowly faded, I began again to dream for a purpose. I dreamed of a place for women to come share their broken hearts, their pain. A space for them to be authentic, honest, and real.
That dream became a reality in October 2016, 4 years from the day Eli passed, with Stories from the Trenches. I will be on this grief road forever. How could I not? Great love equals great grief. But I am grateful for light, purpose, and paying it forward—all thanks to my precious son, Eli.
Jen Gibson is a wife and mother of three children, two beautiful girls and a perfect son in heaven. Through her grief she found purpose in starting an organization called Stories from the Trenches - an online community for women to share their stories of heartache and triumphs. She believes love is a verb, unicorns are rainbows from her son, and women were made for connection.