When Tiffany and Stephen Bowen found out that they were expecting twins, they were elated. The joy they felt was indescribable. Tiffany always considered herself a healthy person and had given birth to a healthy full-term baby girl 18 months earlier. During the pregnancy with her twins, she received excellent pre-natal care and she and her husband felt no need to worry.
That changed when she went into labor during her 24th week of pregnancy. After the most frightening hour of Tiffany’s life and an emergency C-section, Tiffany and Stephen welcomed their twin sons, Stephen and Skyler into the world. From the start, both babies were rushed to the NICU and put on ventilators as their lungs were not fully developed. The babies were so tiny; Skyler only 1lb 7 ounces and Stephen 1lb 6 ounces. The Bowens knew it would be a tough and scary road for their sons. At 24 weeks they were on the brink of viability. Tiffany and Stephen spent the next two weeks at the hospital watching over their sons’ care, changing diapers, and feeding them with breast milk through the IV. The boys remained fragile but Tiffany and Stephen continued to pray that they would develop into healthy little boys.
On the evening of July 7th, the Bowens were told that Skyler had an intestinal infection and would require antibiotics. Only days before baby Stephen had heart surgery so they never expected Skyler to have a problem. Up until this point, Skyler had been holding steady. But by midnight, the doctor called Tiffany and Stephen back to the hospital and explained the sad news; the antibiotics were not working and Skyler was crashing fast. As soon as they rushed to the hospital and saw the look on the doctor’s face, Tiffany collapsed. Tiffany looked to her husband for support. Stephen, a 310 pound NFL player, responded, “I’m sorry Tiff.” While Skyler was their baby, Stephen knew that Tiffany had carried, talked to, prayed for and mothered Sklyer since she had found out about his existence in her womb.
Together Tiffany and Stephen held sweet Skyler until his little heart stopped and he was at peace. Tiffany found leaving her son’s body at the hospital almost too m
uch to bear. She wanted to bring him home and cuddle their son like she had been picturing during her pregnancy. Instead, Tiffany went home and sat in darkness for days. Every time she tried to get out of bed it was like a magnet sucked her back in. Her world had stopped and she felt the rest of the world should stop with her. She didn’t want friends, family or the noise from the television or radio. She slept so much and hoped that the loss of her son wouldn’t be true – just some horrible nightmare that would be over when she opened her eyes. The only thing that kept her going during this sad time was visiting baby Stephen at the hospital. She needed to feed him and give him the love he needed.
The following weeks after the loss of Skyler, Tiffany came to realize that people just didn’t know how to handle the loss of their child. She received comments like – “At least you had two,” and, “I had a miscarriage I know how you feel.” Tiffany had trouble relating and responding to people who although were probably well-meaning were just off target. Tiffany struggled just even hearing the word twin and to know that she had twins but one just wasn’t there anymore was the worst feeling for her.
During the next few months, Tiffany learned just how strong she really was. When Stephen signed a contract with the Washington Redskins and had to leave Texas where they had been living, all the responsibility was on Tiffany. She didn’t have time to drown her sorrows or block out the rest of the world. She had her two year old daughter and baby Stephen still in the NICU to take care of. Tiffany kept on going.
Today, Stephen and Tiffany are raising their two growing children and their experience as parents of both a healthy NICU baby and another NICU baby that did not survive; they have felt the highest highs and the lowest lows of others in the same circumstance. Their experience shows that prematurity and infant mortality can happen to anyone no matter someone’s health, socioeconomic status or race. There is no one immune.
Tiffany and Stephen started Skyler’s Gift Foundation in remembrance of their son Skyler and the gift of awareness that his life brought on this issue. Tiffany and Stephen want to give back and help other families. Skyler’s Gift raises funds to provide direct support to families who have lost an infant to prematurity. The foundation also supports ongoing research to prevent premature births and deaths and raise awareness of this very personal issue.