Oak Grove couple turn their grief into Liam’s Gift
Jamie and William “Andy” Anderson made sure the nursery in their Oak Grove home was fully equipped and decorated.
The parents-to-be were thrilled when they found wallpaper emblazoned with fire trucks and patrol cars, because she’s a paramedic and he’s a police officer.
Jamie’s pregnancy with baby Liam had been perfectly healthy.
But then in the delivery room, a nurse told them that she couldn’t find a heartbeat — that Liam was gone. Jamie and Andy couldn’t believe it. Andy crumpled to the floor. Jamie, lost in the agony of labor pain, felt as if her own heart had stopped.
“It’s so fuzzy right there,” she says, “because I died.”
Leaving St. Mary’s Medical Center in Blue Springs without their first son is the hardest thing that the Andersons have ever done. But they didn’t go home empty-handed.
Nurses at the hospital gave the Andersons a care package that held a card with their baby’s hand and footprints, a lock of his hair, a bead bracelet that spelled out “Liam George” and ceramic casts of his hands and feet that outlined every tiny nail and wrinkle. Also inside were books about loss and Liam’s bonnet, sealed in a zipped plastic bag to preserve the newborn’s precious smell.
Eight years later, those objects are the Andersons’ most prized possessions and a vital part of their healing process.
Now the couple hope to help others coping with stillbirth, which afflicts one out of every 160 pregnancies in the United States, by making their own care packages and giving them to Kansas City area hospitals. With their GoFundMe project, which they named Liam’s Gift, they’ve so far raised $1,690 — enough to pay for about 16 care packages.
They got the idea after finding out that many parents who lose a baby at birth leave the hospital with nothing more than memories.
“I just can’t imagine,” Andy says.
Jamie and Andy are used to helping others through traumatic situations.
Jamie, 35, a self-described tomboy, knew back at Blue Springs High School that she wanted to be a paramedic. She was working in ambulances before she got her driver’s license.
“Jamie’s a natural leader,” says her friend and fellow paramedic Lindsay Williams of Richmond, Mo. “Out of all the paramedics I know, I would want her on my ambulance.”
Jamie says saving lives is the most rewarding part of her job.
“You go to a call and somebody is dead. Then, they come to the fire station the next week and shake your hand,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Andy, 42, is familiar to many residents of Oak Grove, a community of about 8,000.
His former partner Ryan describes Andy as an easygoing guy who likes to joke around but is serious when it comes to his job.
Ryan, who declined to give his last name because he works as a detective, remembers one call where Andy risked his life to recover a drowning victim at a local lake.
“He jumped into freezing cold water,” Ryan says. “For over an hour, he was trying to find the young man … he tried and tried until we made him get out.”
After the tornado hit in March, Andy worked overtime to help Oak Grove residents who’d lost their homes.
Gregg Miller, who was nearly killed by flying debris when the tornado tore off his roof and exploded his windows, says Andy came by with another officer to deliver blankets, gift cards and food. Gregg says that a half-hour later, Andy returned alone to make sure he was OK.
“I talked to him for 45 minutes, and he listened,” Gregg says. “He even hugged me. That type of compassion, you can’t put a dollar amount on.”
A year ago, a dashcam video of Andy went viral, showing him resuscitating a baby delivered in the backseat of a car on an Interstate 70 exit ramp.
When he arrived, a mother and her baby were in the backseat. He picked up the blue, lifeless baby, swept out his mouth and rubbed his chest.
“Is he gonna make it?” asked the mother.
“Yep, we got a baby,” Andy said as the infant started to cry. “Hi, little guy.”
The Andersons married in 2008 and soon after found out Jamie was pregnant. It was one of the happiest times of their lives.
Andy, who once thought he’d never get married and have kids, attended every appointment and felt left out when Jamie started feeling the baby kick. They laughed at how much weight Jamie was gaining and at the sight of Liam’s tiny hands and feet punching and kicking.
When Andy would come home from an overnight shift at 7 a.m., he would snuggle up to Jamie’s belly and talk to his son.
“He’s sleeping,” she’d tell him. “Don’t wake him up.”
But Liam didn’t seem to mind.
“As soon as I started talking, he would kick,” Andy says.
On her due date in October 2009, a Friday, Jamie went in for a routine checkup, and everything was fine. The next day, Jamie went into labor. At some point, Liam’s heart stopped — and after countless tests, doctors still don’t know why.
Jamie’s friend Lindsay was with the couple when they received the devastating news. Lindsay sprang into action: She made heartbreaking calls to friends and family members and, later, removed the car seat and baby decals from the Andersons’ car.
She also took photos of Liam after he was born.
“You may not want them now,” she told her friends, “but you need to take them.”
Lindsay’s photos captured the brilliant turquoise color of Liam’s eyes, his long, dark hair and the loving gaze of family members who held him.
The care packages the Andersons are working on will include a certificate for a free photography session, as well as angel figurines and handmade bracelets and earrings for the parents.
Jamie was never a crafty person. But after losing Liam, she decided she wanted to redecorate his headstone with fresh wreaths and bouquets every season. Now she finds purpose in making beautiful things with her hands.
She hopes the care packages help other parents feel less alone, that there are other parents out there who know exactly what they’re going through.
This weekend, Jamie and Andy plan to deliver their first care package to one of Andy’s co-workers and his wife, who recently suffered a miscarriage. The modified package will contain books about grief, a memorial box and angel wings.
Jamie’s sister, Kelly Rourke of Blue Springs, says working on Liam’s Gift gives the couple a sense of purpose.
“People have tragedies happen to them all the time, and they don’t turn around and worry about other people going through the same thing,” Kelly says.
“They want to make sure that no family that suffers a loss like that goes home with nothing.”
Six years ago, the Andersons welcomed a second son, Aiden.
When he was born, the towheaded boy looked nothing like his brother and everything like his dad. Just like both his parents, he’s outgoing and caring.
“He got an award at school for compassion,” Jamie says.
If Aiden sees a kid sitting alone, he strikes up a conversation. Once, at a T-ball game, when a girl on his team was hit in the throat by a pop-up ball, he ran to help her.
The Andersons talk to their son often about his big brother. A photo on their GoFundMe page shows Aiden leaning on Liam’s headstone with a huge smile on his face. At home, they proudly display photos of both children.
“Just because Liam passed doesn’t mean he’s forgotten,” Kelly says.
The couple know that when memories are all you have, you have to find ways to capture them, make them last forever. That’s the bittersweet beauty of Liam’s Gift.
“This is going to keep his memory alive,” Lindsay says, “and help them continue to heal.”