Tiffany Bowen and her son, Stephen III, celebrate the holidays in their adopted home of DC.
Pre-2011, I was one of those fools who would have told you my life was perfect. I was happily married, had a beautiful one-year-old, money in the bank, and my husband was a player for the Dallas Cowboys. At any time I could pick up and take a trip wherever I wanted. I had a great group of friends. What more could I have asked for? When I became pregnant with twin boys, it was further proof that my life was blessed. But in the midst of my pregnancy something went tragically wrong, and at 24 weeks I had an emergency C-section.
That day still feels like a very bad dream. When I arrived at the hospital and the nurse told me I was 10 centimeters dilated, I told her she was mistaken, that maybe she needed to go back to school, or call a doctor. I was not nice to her because she had to be lying. She was right, however, and within 30 minutes I gave birth to two baby boys: Stephen III and Skyler, weighing in at 1.6 pounds and 1.7 pounds, respectively. The doctors said it would be an uphill battle, with a 50-percent chance of survival.
In the coming days, I prayed more than I ever did before. Each day that passed meant a day closer to being in the clear. But before I got too confident, the doctors told me Stephen III needed heart surgery. When you have twins, the smaller baby usually has a harder time. Stephen was smaller, and this surgery made me think he had the greater risk. Even though he wasn’t even 2 pounds, he had a successful surgery. A few days later, the doctors gave me more crushing news; Skyler had an intestinal infection, and they put him on antibiotics. However, by midnight, the doctors were calling me back to the NICU. By 2 am my baby boy died in my arms. My 6-foot, 5-inch, 315-pound husband and I cried like babies. I did not know a person could produce that many tears.
Redskins defensive end Stephen Bowen Jr. with his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, Stephen III and Trinity.
You never know how strong you are until you have to be. The coming weeks were a blur. I had given birth to twins, buried one, and moved across the country to our new home outside of DC (a contract came for my husband from the Washington Redskins in the midst of all of this). And after a three month NICU stay, we brought home our surviving twin. That NICU stay was a blessing in its own way. I met other parents just like me. Some watched their babies drift off slowly, while others had no warning. Some parents told me they couldn’t afford a funeral or cremation services and did not know what to do. I started doing research and could not believe what I found: In some states, premature babies whose families cannot afford to bury or cremate them are considered “medical waste.” That’s right—they are thrown away. In other states they are placed in mass cremations, with all the other bodies that are unclaimed. How is this possible? It happens every day. And it’s not right.
In late 2011 we started Skyler’s Gift Foundation. Each day we work to make sure that these families, who are going through the worst times in their lives, do not have to worry about the cost of burying their babies. We have helped several families from all across the country find money to bury their infants. Afterward, we get them the counseling they need. It’s not fluffy, pretty, or fun, but it’s aid that is utterly needed. When an adult passes away, you mourn the loss of who they were, but when you lose a child, you mourn the loss of who they might have been. That night, as Skyler drifted away in my arms, I promised him that I would never let anyone forget him. Through Skyler’s Gift I am making true to my promise to my baby boy. More important, I am not letting anyone forget the other lost babies.
Life goes on. It has for us. Stephen is still doing his thing every Sunday on the football field with the Washington Redskins (HTTR!); our little girl is 4, and Stephen III is a thriving 2-year-old boy. Life is not perfect; I learned that the hard way, but it’s also really good.
Help raise money for Skyler’s Gift at the second annual NFL bowl-a-thon on May 2, 2014 for which players from the Redskins and other teams will bowl with fans. 202-903-0783; buy tickets at skylersgift.org