By Renee Williams
When Kayla and Eric Johnson found out they were expecting their third child, they embraced the news with great joy and anticipation. As the pregnancy progressed, the Johnson’s shared their excitement with family members and eagerly prepared their young children for the new arrival. As an experienced mom, Johnson knew the importance of receiving prenatal care so during her second trimester, she completed screening to check her health and the health of her unborn child.
“When I was sixteen weeks pregnant, I opted to have blood work done to check for any abnormalities…Johnson says. “At eighteen weeks, I got a call that there was a problem and that I needed to go see a maternal fetal medicine specialist.”
Recognizing that a positive screen could indicate an increased risk of Down syndrome, the Johnson’s decided to follow through with additional testing. Unsure of what lie ahead, the couple agreed they would take on the diagnosis, whatever the outcome and made a commitment to “love the baby forever.”
Two weeks later, a more detailed ultrasound revealed that the Johnson’s unborn child had a condition known as bilateral multicystic dysplastic kidney. MCDK is a congenital anomaly of the kidney and urinary tract. At eighteen weeks gestation, the Johnson’s were told their baby “was not well and would not survive.”
As the Johnson’s rational minds struggled to understand the prognosis, a deep sense of agony gripped their hearts. In an instant, the expectant parents were faced with bearing the unbearable: losing a child. Although the couple held onto a fragile thread of hope that their baby would survive, they began making preparations to say goodbye to a child who would touch the deepest part of their souls and alter their lives forever.
For the next 10 weeks, the Johnson’s openly grieved and surrendered to the experience of their pain while vowing to keep their hearts fully open to love. The Johnson’s were determined to allow Wyatt’s voice to be heard and allow his legacy to find its own way to completion. The Johnson’s recognized that their unborn child would ultimately bring life to the truth of the adage: love never fails.
Celebrating Life and Baby Wyatt’s Legacy
On June 2, 2016, Wyatt Lee Johnson was born at 30 weeks gestation and weighed three pounds and nine ounces. Wyatt survived for two hours and 10 minutes surrounded by family. Johnson recalls, “I never got to see his eyes open and he did not have the strength to move but when they took him from me and laid him on the warming bed…he let out a super small, really quick cry. It was shorter than a second but I heard it and it still means the world to me.”
Bella Bruce, Wyatt’s maternal grandmother and founder of WLJ Angel Gowns adds, “The time with baby Wyatt was amazing. He was held, hugged and kissed. Everyone talked to him and told him over and over how much we loved him. For his last little bit of life, his daddy held him…Baby Wyatt passed knowing nothing but absolute love.”
When it came time to plan Wyatt’s memorial service, the Johnson’s focused on a celebration of love and remembrance. Johnson says, “This was the one and only thing we would ever ever be able to do for him…The casket we picked out was beautiful…It had his name on the front and had his initials and wings on the top. He had toys around him and a beautiful handmade blanket over him…He had the most perfect words spoke about him, beautiful pictures were made and over 100 baby blue balloons were released to him with special messages written by the people in attendance. It was all beautiful, amazing and more than we could have ever imagined pulling off. It was perfect, just like our sweet baby Wyatt.”
One of the hardest moments in planning Wyatt’s memorial service was finding something to bury him in,” Johnson recalls. “We had nothing for him to wear when he was born. I had to spend over 12 hours the day after I gave birth trying to find something to put him in. I went to so many baby stores but no one had anything. I ended up buying an American Girl doll gown and adding blue to it for him…” Bruce adds, “It was emotionally hard for Baby Wyatt’s mom to find him something to wear so we decided that no family should ever have to worry about what their precious baby will wear.”
Love Never Fails
Turning their tragedy into a courageous act of love, Johnson and Bruce formed WLJ Angels Gowns to honor the life and legacy of their beloved Wyatt. WLJ Angel Gowns is a volunteer based organization that makes “angel gowns” or burial gowns for other babies that are taken too soon. “We wanted a way to keep Baby Wyatt’s memory alive,” says Bruce. “That is how the idea of WLJ Angel Gowns was created…The WLJ stands for Wyatt Lee Johnson…By helping other families of infant loss, the organization has become a mechanism to also help our grieving process.”
Offering words of support for others who have experienced infant loss, Bruce says, “Talk about your babies. Do not let anyone try to tell you that you are wrong for loving and missing them…there are more people out there who know your pain and will help you survive. Support plays a major role in the grieving process. If you can not find support at home or with your family or friends, please reach out to us…We do not want you to ever feel alone. We are here and we do understand.”
Bruce has been a vital asset to the growth of WLJ Angel Gowns and encourages the community to get involved. “We ask everyone to share our Facebook page, WLJ Angel Gowns and talk about us to help get the word out,” Bruce says. “The more help we can get and the more people who know about us, the more families we can help. We do not want any baby to not have something to wear. Also, if anyone would like to host a workshop, we ask that they contact us. We are also in need of seamstresses who can volunteer time to deconstruct dresses and sew gowns.”
All angel gowns are donated free of charge to families experiencing infant loss. Donations of wedding gowns and formal gowns are not limited and the organization accepts any style, size, color and length. Sewing material such as thread, pins, needles, lace and ribbons are also needed. Money donations are accepted to cover shipping expenses of the gowns along with the purchase of boxes, and tissue paper to ship. Bruce also offers to personally deliver every angel gown to the CSRA and will make visits to hospitals, homes, funeral homes or anywhere else that is needed.
Johnson concludes, “For the people out there who are struggling with opening up about your loss or losses, please know there are good people out here that will support you. It is hard mentally, emotionally and physically to be an angel parent…There are sadly so many of us and if we all stand together, talk and support one another, we can see a huge change in our society…”
WLJ Angel Gowns has succeeded in keeping Wyatt’s memory alive by fusing the tragedy of infant loss with an opportunity to shift fear into courage, anger into benevolent action, isolation into joyful connection and grief into a deeper awareness of the preciousness of life, no matter how short lived.
For more information about WLJ Angel Gowns contact Bella Bruce at WLJ Angel Gowns, PO Box 211, Gracewood, GA 30812 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appears in the February 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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