MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, April 26th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: grieving tiny lives.
Yesterday, you met Laura and Michael Sutton and heard their journey of suffering and miscarriage, and their testimony of God’s faithfulness. Today, Part Two of that story. Here now is WORLD’s Anna Johansen Brown.
LAURA SUTTON: This is the butterfly bush. Most of this last batch of caterpillars already got eaten—that was something else that we realized.
ANNA JOHANSEN BROWN, REPORTER: For the first two years she lived in this house, Laura Sutton didn’t even know this bush existed. The previous owner had planted a butterfly bush. But she didn’t like butterflies. And she spent those first two years dealing with traumatic health issues and miscarriages.
LAURA SUTTON: People kept asking well, how was Wisconsin and I'm like, Well, I can take a shower without passing out now. But I have no idea how Wisconsin is.
In the fall of 2018, she noticed the butterfly bush. It was completely covered in Monarch caterpillars.
LAURA SUTTON: And for whatever reason I got into my head, you know what, we're going to build a butterfly box. And we're going to grab some of these monarchs, and we're going to watch them turn into butterflies.
She set up a butterfly box and filled it with caterpillars.
LAURA SUTTON: And what followed was such an interesting mixture of the horror of death and the beauty of life all wrapped up into one.
After two devastating miscarriages, Laura and Michael Sutton felt that God was closing the door on more biological kids. They started looking into adoption.
The process took about a year. Fifty hours of state training, meetings and interviews and background checks and fingerprinting and $50,000.
They had to make a profile of their family to present to birth moms. The moms then get to choose who their baby goes to. It took a couple of tries. They got rejected a few times. But they finally got connected with a pregnant mom in Florida. The baby was due in the summer.
LAURA SUTTON: And August 8, we got the call that the baby was born, but she had been born by emergency C section, and she was two months premature.
They never did find out what went wrong—why the doctor thought Keira needed an emergency C-section, and why she was two months early.
LAURA SUTTON: So now we're waiting in the waiting room, waiting to find out whether we get to meet Keira in the NICU, little 32-weeker, all the questions going through my mind. What is it going to be like to have a NICU baby? Is she going to be okay?
When she got to hold Keira for the first time, Laura thought it would be hard. Everyone had told her adoption was difficult. You don’t have the biological bonding hormones helping you to instantly love that child.
LAURA SUTTON: But I was psyched up for it to be hard, and I was not prepared to fall in love with her so quickly. She was so beautiful. She was so perfect. She was everything I wanted.
She was so small. Somewhere around three and a half pounds.
The birth mom signed the papers. And legally, Keira was theirs, their brand-new daughter.
LAURA SUTTON: In the NICU with her, skin to skin, all the nurses were reporting that she was strong and kicking, that she was doing awesome for 32 weeks, and she was going to graduate very quickly and be on her way in the world.
But the next morning when they got to the hospital, they knew something was wrong.
LAURA SUTTON: There were personnel everywhere, maybe was not there, they wouldn't let us in. They ushered us to a back room. And the doctor came in and asked whether I knew what hypoplastic left heart syndrome is.
MUSIC: [Heart Shaped Hole]
During the night, Keira’s body had abruptly started failing. Her heart stopped. Doctors resuscitated her, but she had massive brain and organ damage. That’s when they found out that Keira had hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
Two of her four heart chambers were severely malformed. So much so that they couldn’t be operated on. The doctor said it was one of the worst cases he’d ever seen. Maybe a full heart transplant could save her, but she was so tiny, she likely wouldn’t survive the operation.
When the doctors finally gathered for a full staff meeting with Laura and Michael, no one would make eye contact with them.
MICHAEL SUTTON: It had the feeling of, of, you know, the funeral home, right, where no one wanted to be the one to break the news.
The doctors eventually admitted the truth: There was no way Keira was going to survive.
LAURA SUTTON: And so we asked to go ahead and take her off life support so that she would not have to suffer any longer than she already was.
We were there. We got to hold her. And they pulled all the tubes and we got to hold her and we sang. We sang to her and we prayed over her while she died.
JOHANSEN BROWN: What did you sing?
LAURA SUTTON: Hymns. And I don't even remember which ones. Whatever we could think to sing in the moment.
The hospital staff offered to get them a chair, an old fashioned, true wood, beat up rocking chair, set in this small dark hospital room full of machinery and lights and screens and stainless steel rails.
MICHAEL SUTTON: And so I just wondered, I wondered how many other families had sat in that same chair that we sat in with Keira? How many special last moments have been? How many how many stories? How many stories are in that, that one chair.
And so we had we had about I don't know. Maybe an hour maybe it was only 20 minutes. I don't have a clear sense of time. But we had a few moments where we were able to sit with her.
LAURA SUTTON: And it was surreal because the room was dark. It was one of these cardiac intensive care units. Everyone walks by on tiptoe. The doctor declared the moment of death, and then he left us alone. And we had some time with her body afterwards.
They flew home empty. No baby in the car seat carrier they’d brought.
LAURA SUTTON: Grief is a funny thing, because I remember the first couple of months after Keira died after we came back, and we tried to resume normal life on the other side. I remember how strange it felt that I wasn't crying, much. I cried. But I felt so numb. So incredibly numb.
That’s when she found the butterfly bush. That’s when they started watching those tiny caterpillars die and be reborn.
LAURA SUTTON: And can you see the shape of the butterfly wing forming inside there?
That first year with the butterfly box, most of the caterpillars never made it into their cocoons. The vast majority of them got eaten by spiders or killed by parasites.
LAURA SUTTON: So we got to watch what really was that was a butterfly graveyard as these caterpillars got devastated by disgusting forms of death.
But at the end, they still had five or six Monarchs that made it.
LAURA SUTTON: You never could have dreamed of the beauty that would come out of the death of this little caterpillar was so profound, to to be reeling with the ugliness and the horror of the death. And then to stand in such awe of the hope of this life that came out of it.
Butterflies have very short lives. But they are beautiful while they’re here.
The Suttons don’t regret loving Keira.
LAURA SUTTON: She was a soul that God created and loved and that it was right and worthy to love her. Even if it was only the smallest bits that we were able to give her.
MICHAEL SUTTON: God gave us Keira for a week. And who are we to say, how long we get any of our loved ones. And so I feel like we would, knowing how it turned out, we would have still gone through it.
MUSIC: [Before and After]
A few weeks after Keira’s death, the Suttons got a small white box in the mail. The funeral home in Florida had mailed Keira’s ashes to them, to bury on their property.
The company that came to plant the tree brought a massive drilling machine. Loud as all get out, noise and fumes and shaking the very earth.
LAURA SUTTON: You would think that any kind of wildlife would be as many miles away as possible. While Keira's tree was getting lowered by this machine into this hole, there were monarchs dipping in and out of the tree as it was going in, like multiple monarchs flying through her tree. And I sat there and cried. God sent monarchs. And I don’t know why monarchs would do that naturally because there were no flowers on the tree. We’ve never seen monarchs on the tree since, in three years. The monarchs have no interest in the tree, it doesn’t have anything flowering on it. It was just God, who told the butterflies to be there.
Reporting for World, I’m Anna Johansen Brown in Burlington, Wisconsin.
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