I've known Ethan and Stacy for almost a year, and in that year a lot has changed. The first time I met them was in the parking lot of Dulles Town Center on a cool, damp November morning. I remember bringing her some diapers and winter clothing. When Stacy reached out to me via the Village, we had just begun and I didn't have the massive amount of support I have now. We didn't have any clothes for her son and so I pilfered from my son’s closet - shoes, jeans, shirts, a winter coat ... all items I had packed away and saved in case I ever haad another son who might be the right size at the right time. I decided that there is no sense in saving those warm clothes for a child who may or not grow into them one day (my second son Jack is now the same size as Ethan was last winter and so I am headed out to the stores to find him a winter coat again). The meeting with Stacy was brief. It was cold, it was drizzly ... it was a parking lot in November. I did peek in and say hi to Ethan who was bundled in his car seat and cute as could be. And a few days later Stacy sent me some photos of Ethan, dressed up in Asa's hand-me-downs. It made me happy in a way that words cannot express to see her son in my son’s clothing. It made me feel like what I was doing mattered. It gave purpose to my life, it was a reason to keep going, keep pushing to grow the Village larger, to be sure that every mom who came to us for help would always, always get everything she needed from us.
We didn't hear from Stacy again for months, and that seemed like a good thing. When a mom doesn't get back in touch with us, generally it means things are going well and she doesn't need us. And then, one earth-shattering day, we got word that Ethan was in the hospital, fighting for his life. He had been violently shaken and left unconscious for several hours before anyone called for help. Stacy received a call from the hospital telling her to come right away. She left Richmond at 3am to get to her son (who had been staying with family for a couple of days). When she got there she found a dying child in the place of her vibrant toddler. His injuries were severe and numerous, he underwent several surgeries, MRI's, CT scans and against the odds, he survived. After months in the hospital he moved to a rehab facility in Baltimore. Stacy has commuted from Front Royal to Fairfax to Baltimore to Dunn Loring ... she has done literally everything in her power to keep her head above water while the world has fallen down around her.
Today she let me know that Ethan has been diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. The doctors have repeatedly said he will never walk, never talk, never eat again. He has a feeding tube directly into his stomach. He indeed cannot walk or even sit up. He needs help to use his hands to try and touch or grab things. But he engages in joyful laughter with his mother. He smiles at her. He says 'momma'. He loves her. And she loves him. After that terrible day, that may be the one thing that remains unchanged in their lives - their total and utter devotion to one another. Mother and son. Momma and baby. They are connected forever through love.
The road she and Ethan are on is long and hard and as a bystander I have felt completely useless and powerless to make any kind of difference. In fact the only thing I know I can do is try to prevent this from happening to any more children. I connected with Kelsie Kuyath, the founder of One Shake Is All It Takes - a non-profit she started after her four month old daughter was shaken and suffered a series of strokes and other life threatening injuries. One Shake Is All It Takes is spreading awareness of SBS and has provided It Takes a Village, Baby with several resources that we are now handing out to every single parent who comes into the Village. The devastation of losing a healthy, vibrant baby through something so entirely preventable is one that I cannot fathom. Witnessing from the sidelines broke my heart into a million tiny pieces, and I know that my heart will never be fully healed from this. All I can do, all any of us can do, is keep moving forward with love, and wherever we can help lift a burden or soothe a weary soul, we should.
For anyone interested in learning more about what we include in our Shaken Baby Syndrome prevention packets here is a link to One Shake Is All It Takes who provided crying plans for us, as well as a great book that was written to help soothe and guide parents in times of stress and exhaustion. Calm Baby, Gently. To donate to Stacy and Ethan please click here gofundme.