In 2015, Marietta residents David and Brittney Bottoms gave birth to a son, John Tate, who lived for two brief hours … but whose life is continuing to impact an entire community. This is their journey of grief, grace and glimpses of miracles, in their own words.
by Brittney Bottoms, as told to Elizabeth Cossick | photography by Matt Druin
David and I had our son, Drew, and then it took us quite awhile before becoming pregnant with John Tate, our second child. Early in the pregnancy, our OB/GYN sent us to a perinatologist for high-risk pregnancies. After the ultrasound, the doctor told us something was likely very wrong, and, by week 14, further tests had confirmed that our baby – a boy – had full Trisomy 13, a rare condition in which every cell of the body has an extra thirteenth chromosome. Trisomy 13 babies typically do not live long after birth.
CHOOSING THE JOURNEY
The perinatologist basically laid it out for us, telling us to consider our “options.” He bluntly said, “Some people believe these babies add value to their lives, but I disagree.” We told him terminating the pregnancy wasn’t something we were going to do, and he looked at us like we had three heads. But, we knew we were going to carry our baby, John Tate, to whatever natural end was ahead.
Our biggest prayer was that John Tate would be born alive. The chance of miscarrying is super high with Trisomy 13, with a 50 percent miscarriage rate by 12 weeks and a low live-birth rate of only 1 in 20,000. Every week, we said, “Okay, we made it another week.”
Although we had planned to deliver at WellStar Kennestone, our doctor gave us a brochure for a program at Northside Hospital called Heartstrings, for people who walk through pregnancy with a baby that will not live long after birth. I called Northside, but there wasn’t much they could do since I wasn’t delivering there. So, I called my OB/GYN’s office and asked if WellStar offered anything similar. There wasn’t any program like that in place, but they referred me to a nurse on staff, Cathy Jones. Cathy had been through her own traumatic childbirth experience, and she spent an hour on the phone with me. She committed to walking this journey with us, and became a friend, counselor, guide and so much more.
She walked me through a birth plan – what did we want the day to look like? She helped us consider what type of care we would provide, and we opted for Comfort Care, where the baby would be handed to us right away for as much time as possible. Cathy thought of every detail, even arranging a private room for our family as they waited.
MEETING JOHN TATE
At 35 weeks – a week before my scheduled C-section – my water broke, and I headed to WellStar Kennestone. It was the middle of the night, so I hesitated to call Cathy. But, David reminded me that Cathy said she would be mad if I didn’t call, day or night, so I called her. Without skipping a beat, she drove to the hospital to be with us, even though she wasn’t scheduled to work that day.
We knew a C-section delivery would give us the best chance of meeting John Tate. As they prepped me, they wouldn’t let David come in, but Cathy was there. She let me lay over her during the spinal, and she said, “Do you want me to pray with you?” She prayed a beautiful prayer, and then she walked us through the C-section, saying, “It won’t be long now.” Thanks to Cathy, we have a video of the birth (which she took) and over 700 photos with John Tate. John Tate arrived and was handed directly to me for skin-to-skin contact. He was pretty blue when he was born, but as soon as he was on me, he turned pink, which was amazing to see. He made such sweet little noises.
All the nurses were so wonderful. They quietly cared for us and then would step back. Our whole family came in to meet John Tate, and we had a pastor from our church come and baptize him. We knew he didn’t need to be baptized, but we just wanted to do it for him. The hospital staff allowed that; they just cared so well for us.
GOODBYE TOO SOON
After he passed, we called Terry and Chad Pendley, whom we had arranged with prior, who own Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home. They came into the room, and the hardest thing of all was letting go of John. I can’t even begin to explain it. It was incredibly difficult. David’s plan all along was to walk John down with the Pendleys, but in that moment, he just couldn’t do it. My sister, Candie, walked down instead, and she said Chad carried John Tate, rocking him the whole way. They treated him with such tenderness, like their own baby. They even brought the hearse to the hospital, a formality they didn’t have to do. They showed John Tate such care and respect, which meant the world.
After John was gone, grief just consumed David and me. We both ended up on the hospital bed wailing, and David knew he needed to pray, but he didn’t even know what to say. So, he just simply said, “Give us peace; give us peace.” It’s one of the clearest answered prayers we have ever experienced because in that exact moment, an unexplainable peace came over both of us at the same time. We instantaneously calmed down. It’s one of those moments where we look back and think, ‘Our faith is real. Everything we believe is real.’ The peace is hard to even describe, but it was tangible.
PURPOSE THROUGH THE PAIN
All along, we knew that John Tate’s life wasn’t an accident – that there was a reason God allowed this to happen. There was a reason he was born “beautifully broken,” as we described him. Cathy told me that when I was ready, she had some ideas for me – ways to use our experience to help others.Eventually we talked, and we agreed that WellStar Kennestone needed a standardized level of care for families choosing to walk through a pregnancy with a life-limiting diagnosis. We wanted everyone to have the experience we had; we wanted everyone to have a “Cathy.”
So, we began working with the WellStar Foundation, developing a program called Journey Through Bereavement or JTB, which are also John Tate’s initials. The program established a designated bereavement coordinator at WellStar and also partners with Rachel’s Gift to provide special nurse training on infant loss. Each family also receives lifetime keepsakes of their baby, physical connections to the child that was only in their arms for a brief time. We launched the program in 2016, with WellStar’s intention for it to eventually be available at all of their delivering hospitals.
The year after losing John Tate, we were driving past the hospital, and our son Drew said, “Isn’t that where John Tate was born? That was a GOOD day,” which pretty much sums up our vision. We want to give every family the same gift – the gift of a GOOD day in the midst of such tragedy.
David and Brittney Bottoms candidly relate how their situation – carrying their son full term knowing he would not live long after birth – was incredibly difficult. But through it, they emerged stronger, touched by what they describe as “little miracles along the way.”
“Many people would likely have felt that if John Tate wasn’t healed on earth, it wasn’t a miracle,” shares David Bottoms. “But, it was a miracle that his brain divided like it was supposed to, and it was a miracle that he was born alive.”
“God isn’t a genie in a bottle. We all tend to think of miracles as big, sweeping scenarios like total healing or a complete 180-degree change in a situation. But we’ve learned that, while God can do those things, we also can’t put Him in a box. He had a plan for John’s brokenness and the way he was. He has given us glimpses of His purpose through all of this, and those glimpses are miracles, too.
“God didn’t heal John Tate miraculously on earth and make him different from who he was, but God is still good. Even though John isn’t here with us, God is still good. He is good the whole time, and His goodness itself is a miracle.”
David, Brittney and Drew Bottoms were blessed with a beautifully healthy girl, Eliza Grace, on June 19, 2017. Yes, Drew says that was also a GOOD day. For more information on Journey Through Bereavement, visit bit.ly/wellstarJTB or contact 770-793-8093 or Roxanne.Graham@wellstar.org. For more information on Mayes Ward-Dobbins Funeral Home located in Historic Marietta and Powder Springs, visit mayeswarddobbins.com or call 770-428-1511 to talk to the Pendleys.