Shannon Philpott-Sanders

Writing, Reflecting, Teaching, Parenting

A Family’s Journey of Life and Death Tests, Strengthens Faith

mess_logoPublished December 2004 in The Messenger,
The Newspaper of the Belleville Catholic Diocese

 Every night, Jamie Detmer clutches a teddy bear as she sleeps. A recorder inside the bear allows her to hear the heartbeat of her baby who died suddenly this summer.

The crib is packed away in the basement and the baby clothes are no longer hanging in the closet – yet the teddy bear remains.

The sound, recorded during an ultrasound in her second trimester, is comforting for the 16-year old who endured a teenage pregnancy this year and lost the gift she and her family anticipated.

On the dining room table, sitting next to her parents – Dale and Geri Detmer – a tall white candle burns brightly in memory of the child. The candle was given to the family Nov. 1 at the All Souls Day service at their parish – St. Dominic’s in Breese. A photo of the baby is displayed on the candle and underneath his name, Landen Christopher Detmer, is his date of birth – June 3, 2004, and his date of death – June 3, 2004.

Expecting to deliver a healthy baby boy in June, Jamie Detmer, her mother Geri and her boyfriend Chris, were shocked when the doctor told them he couldn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat.

“Within hours, we were not only saddened, but angry,” Geri Detmer said. “I questioned God and what he was after.”

The Detmers said their faith was tested, but in the end prevailed as they continued to grieve the loss.

“You feel it isn’t fair and try to rationalize the how and why – that’s where the anger comes from,” Dale Detmer said. The death is “not justifiable and it’s not right, but that is not for us to decide.”

With family support, Jamie delivered the deceased child hours later at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese. Her family coached her through the difficult birth.

“The hardest part was knowing that we were not going to have that gift afterwards,” Geri Detmer said.921-i_love_you_teddy_bear

Together, the Detmers and Jamie’s boyfriend, Chris, celebrated the birth and mourned Landen’s death. They held him, bathed him and dressed him. Friends and family provided comfort and photographed the child.

“It was helpful for everyone,” Dale Detmer said. “We needed to see the baby and spend time with him.”

The family continued to support one another. Jamie’s twin brother, Michael, stood by her side during the birth and her older brother David, a lance corporal in the marines, rushed home from North Carolina to be by her side. Originally asked to serve as the child’s godfather, David was now asked to serve as a pallbearer.

Over the next few days, the family relied upon Phyllis Berndsen, a volunteer in the pastoral care department at St. Joseph’s Hospital who baptized Landen and assisted with funeral arrangements, and their pastor, Father Pat Peter, for support.

Though the support was “overwhelming” and “appreciated,” Dale Detmer said the family still struggled to understand why and how this tragedy happened.

“It was unbelievable,” Dale Detmer said. “Up until that point, everything was going so well. She was taking care of herself, and the tests showed that the baby was healthy.”

The family soon learned that Jamie had a genetic blood clotting disorder. According to their family physician, she naturally developed blood clots throughout the pregnancy which traveled through her arteries and into the umbilical cord. At the very end, the baby could no longer survive without the blood supply. According to Geri Detmer, the disorder could not have been detected by an ultrasound and typical tests run during pregnancy.

It was a relatively healthy pregnancy for Jamie, a junior at Central High School in Breese, even though the pregnancy was unplanned and unexpected.

“Once everyone came to terms with knowing that she was pregnant, we were mostly concerned with her health,” Geri Detmer said.

Dale and Geri Detmer were also concerned about Jamie’s emotional well-being as she prepared to become a young mother.

The thought of abandoning Jamie during this time of need never crossed the Detmers’ minds. “I can’t understand why people would do that,” Dale Detmer said. “You lose a daughter and not only that, you lose a grandson or a granddaughter.

“What has happened, has happened and as a parent you cannot change it – you just accept it and support your child,” Dale Detmer said.

Geri Detmer agreed. “Don’t be ashamed, don’t be embarrassed, don’t ship your daughter off for nine months; support her and be there for her. Pregnancy is such a wonderful experience whether your daughter is 16 or 25. I could not imagine not being there for her – answering questions, going to doctor’s visits and getting the chance to hear the baby’s heartbeat. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.”

The Detmers acknowledge that they were surprised when they found out Jamie was pregnant but chose to be positive and welcome the idea of a new addition to the family.

“I don’t think that any of us felt shame or found that we couldn’t look people in the eye,” Geri Detmer said. “It was more about the fact that we had been given this gift and we wanted to do the right thing.”

The Detmers encouraged Jamie to “keep her chin up” and stay focused on school. She began to teach others about the physical changes in her body and the development of the baby through school projects.

Her parents said Jamie “grew up a lot in those nine months.”

“I thought more about my future and what I wanted to do,” Jamie Detmer said. “I concentrated on school and just didn’t care about going out anymore.”

Though she is still planning for a career as an accountant, Jamie Detmer must now plan without the child she expected to raise.

“The experience has made her more focused on her future plans,” Geri Detmer said. “It is all about getting through college, getting good grades and getting a job.”

Her plans also include her boyfriend Chris. Not only was Chris supportive throughout the pregnancy, he has also continued to provide support for Jamie and the Detmers while grieving the loss of his child. “They have maintained an emotional support system for each other,” Geri Detmer said.

The Detmers admit that many lessons have been learned through this tragic experience. “You learn to slow down in life and reach out to people in need,” Geri Detmer said.

“You find out what is really important,” Dale Detmer said. “It puts things into perspective.”

Parish and community support has also helped the family put their grief into perspective. “Throughout her pregnancy, Jamie received several blessings in the church and part of you, being religious, feels like when you have a blessing that nothing can hurt you and nothing can interfere,” Geri Detmer said. “The reality is that the baby did die and she did everything right as far as her health, nutrition and well-being.”

The Detmers continue to seek grief counseling at St. Joseph’s Hospital and through community support groups. They also continue to rely upon each other. “We’ve gone through what some families can hardly bear. Some wouldn’t be able to get past the pregnancy,” Geri Detmer said.

“We’ve been through both a pregnancy and a death – and we’re stronger as a family because of it.”

 – Shannon Philpott

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July 16, 2009 - Posted by | Feature Stories, Newspaper Writing | , ,

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