Crossing the Line
I Run with Jacob
In the midst of training for my first marathon, my wife Haylie and I were happily expecting our first child until one routine checkup turned into devastation, and our world changed forever. After the second ultrasound, our doctor told Haylie to do nothing but rest. Her amniotic f luid was low and she was referred to a specialist. Prior to this, I had set a goal of finishing the Toronto Waterfront Marathon in under 4:00. The marathon was now a couple of weeks away, but obviously my running took a back seat.
“Your baby has something called bilateral renal agenesis, or Potter’s syndrome,” we were told. “This is what is termed a lethal diagnosis.” Our baby was not developing kidneys and would not survive out of the womb.
The doctor explained that there was nothing that could be done for our baby. Nothing.
After what seemed like an eternity, we met with a neonatal specialist at the London Health Sciences Centre. Neither of us could bear the thought of terminating the pregnancy. We still wanted to have the opportunity to hold our child. We would have the baby.
At home, trying to figure out what to do next, my wife made a poignant observation. “Everybody is talking about the baby like they’re already gone,” she said. “And they’re not.” As part of that conversation, she had the idea that we should do things together as a family while our baby was still physically with us. My wife and I decided that we would still travel to Toronto, but actually running the marathon wasn’t a certainty, as I was not sure if I would be able, mentally, to get through it.
Heading off to bed the night before the race, we decided that I should just go out and run. It’s one of the best decisions that I have ever made. I ran that day with the initials of my unborn child and my wife’s name written on my hand. As I ran, our situation with our child weighed on my mind, but I began to focus on what we could do together as a family before t he birt h i n order to create happy memories.
As I finally closed in on the finishing chute, I looked up at the clock in the distance and it still read “3:59”, so I started to run as fast as I could.
More important than my finishing time, or a medal, was being reunited with my family. I met up with my wife, took a few pictures, and headed home.
Along the way, my wife checked the off ic ial results: 3:59:59.
Once we arrived home, we went for a walk. We took a picture together, which is now displayed in our home and holds a lot of meaning for me. I make sure to pass by that place now when I go for a run.
Just three days later, and only a week after the diagnosis, we were in the hospital awaiting the arrival. As I entered our hospital room, I noticed a small graphic of a butterf ly outside it – the butterf ly is a symbol of prenatal loss.
On the afternoon of Oct. 23, 2014, our baby was born. As expected, our son was stillborn. We officially welcomed Jacob Carter McKay into our hands, our family, and of course, completely into our hearts.
It’s hard to describe the conf licting emotions that I went through. I was incredibly saddened that our baby had passed. At the same time, I was incredibly proud of my wife and of our beautiful baby boy, Jacob. He weighed exactly 1 lb., but the weight and impact that he has had on my life is immeasurable.
We spent seven hours together as a family, and then, accompanied by a nurse, we took Jacob to another room and said an impossible goodbye.
We arrived home, still in a state of disbelief that this had happened to us, all transpiring within a week. That night, I stood outside and looked up at the sky. It was clear and alight with stars.
The following days were grief-stricken, and turned into weeks. I can remember waking up one morning, and there were tears in my eyes – I had been crying in my sleep. At the time, it seemed impossible to come to terms with what had happened.
But now I feel connected to my son. When I look up at the sky and see even just one star, I feel connected to Jacob. When a butterf ly f lutters by, I feel connected to Jacob. But perhaps most of all, when I run, I feel connected to Jacob. He was with me during my first marathon, and he’s been with me for all of them since.
So yes, I run because I enjoy it. I run because it helps me stay fit, healthy and happy. But, I also run because, when I run, I run with Jacob.