• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

‘She changed us forever’,Vandegrifts hope to help other parents after loss

KATIE VANDEGRIFT held her stillborn daughter Audrey Grace for the first and last time on May 8. The previous evening, after she and husband Grayson learned their baby’s heart had stopped beating, he presided over the regular meeting of the Midway City Council. (Photo by Grayson Vandegrift)

GRAYSON AND KATIE VANDEGRIFT, with son Jackson, already knew the baby inside her would almost certainly not survive when this April 26 picture was taken, and had gone public with their struggle. Less than two weeks later, Audrey Grace Vandegrift’s heart stopped beating. At her funeral, a train horn sounded just after Pastor Mary Weese finished the Lord’s Prayer. Grayson took it to mean, among other things, “You’ve got to keep going down the track.” (Photo by Brittany Ehrlich)

Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift and his wife, Katie, learned she was pregnant on Super Bowl Sunday.

They were cautiously optimistic. Katie had two previous early-stage miscarriages, one before and one after the birth of their healthy and now 21-month-old son, Jackson.

Still, regular ultrasounds showed the female fetus moving around and kicking up a storm, and in late March, Grayson was so confident he didn’t accompany Katie, as he always did, for her weekly check-up.

“I could see Audrey – she was moving around,” said Katie. “I remember texting Grayson, ‘I heard the heartbeat and everything looks good.’ And the ultrasound technician left and my doctor came and immediately said … the ultrasound looks very abnormal.”

Further tests revealed that Audrey Grace – named a few days after her parents learned of her almost certain fate – suffered from a form of Hydrops Fetalis, which affects a fetus’s ability to manage fluid. Katie asked doctors whether they’d ever seen a baby with that much fluid survive. They said no.

“The doctors, who we trust, are telling us, ‘Be prepared for the worst.’ But you still want to hope that maybe this will be a miracle baby,” Grayson said.

The weekly doctor visits continued. Audrey’s heart still beat. She still moved around. Doctors told Katie she had the option of terminating the pregnancy. She said no.

“I had to at least give her a chance,” Katie said.

The Vandegrifts had another decision to make. Did they want to go public with their struggle? Katie had begun to show, and people were asking how she felt, and about the baby.

Through social media, the couple decided to share their story.

Grayson said they needed to acknowledge they needed help. They’d already learned, in as painful and personal a manner as possible, that miscarriages are more common than many realize.

“There’s like kind of a taboo around it. It feels like you’re not really supposed to talk about it. Usually, people don’t announce pregnancies until 12 weeks, because once you hit 12 weeks, the chances of miscarriage go way down,” Grayson said. “From that moment, the entire community was just incredible. I mean the whole city, but even people outside it. Everybody was just so supportive and hoping for the best and they were praying for us, and … It really gave us, I think, the strength we needed to get through it all.”

“I also just kind of had the thought of, ‘The more people that can pray and send good thoughts, the better,’” Katie said.

“We were going to try anything, that’s for sure,” Grayson said. “We couldn’t do it in silence. We tried that. It was just too hard.”

They continued to hope and pray, as did those who’d learned of their plight. Katie joined a Facebook group for parents of babies with Hydrops. And there were unexpected, if unrealistic, rays of hope. A mid-April visit, during which an ultrasound seemed to reveal less fluid, left them with a bit more hope.

On May 7, the Vandegrifts went in for their 8:15 a.m. Monday checkup.

(The numbers 8 and 15 have great significance to them – they met 8/15/2010 at the 815 Restaurant and Tavern. Grayson was general manager; Katie was applying for a part-time job. He asked her out soon afterwards, but was turned down until he began to pretend he didn’t like her anymore. She fell for the old ploy, and him, and they were married on May 24, 2015.)

That morning, doctors told the Vandegrifts that Audrey Grace’s heart wasn’t beating.

That evening, the Midway City Council was scheduled to meet, and Grayson was determined to preside over it, if not as usual, then as best he could.

Before the meeting, he posted a tribute to their daughter on Facebook.

“This morning we learned that our girl, Audrey, has passed. We named her after we learned of her struggle, and hoped until the very end that perhaps we would get to see her, but it was not meant to be. Her name (Audrey Grace) means ‘noble strength,’ which she certainly had, and we shared her story with you because we were, and are, very proud of her, and because we knew we needed your strength to help us match hers. Your thoughts, well wishes, and prayers were sustaining to us through a remarkably difficult time, and we’ll be forever grateful for every nice thing you said, every hug, and every tear you shared with us. …”

The following morning, the Vandegrifts went to Georgetown Community Hospital to deliver their child. That afternoon, Katie held her for the first and last time.

Audrey Grace Vandegrift was buried the following Friday – but not before something happened during the private burial that profoundly affected her parents.

“Pastor Mary Weese is finishing the Lord’s Prayer and she comes to the end of it and says, ‘Amen.’ Less than a second after she says, ‘Amen,’ all of a sudden we hear a train horn … and this train comes around the corner. It was just a beautiful moment,” he said. “It’s a train town, and this wonderful community had been here for us the whole time and it was like they were there again. It was … kind of like that train was almost taking her away. But it was also symbolic that you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to keep going down the track.”

The track ahead for the three Vandegrifts may one day include a fourth – Katie’s doctor told her Monday that it would be okay for them to try to have another baby.

“We’d like Jackson to have a sibling. We’re always going to remember Audrey. I guess we don’t necessarily want Audrey’s story to end there,” Grayson said.

For now, they’re busy thanking the people who called, emailed, texted, and sent cards and flowers. Katie will return to work soon.

Grayson said the unwavering support they’ve received has helped restore his faith in humanity, and he and Katie agree that the tragedy has strengthened their marriage.

“Sometimes, these things happen and people grow further apart, but we’ve grown closer together,” Grayson said.

“I don’t find your chewing as annoying as I used to,” Katie said.

Doubled over in laughter, Grayson said, “She hates my chewing.”

Moments later, near the end of an often-emotional interview, Grayson explained how the daughter he and Katie loved and lost helped them find something else.

“She changed us forever. She had a profound impact on our lives in a very short amount of time, and without even getting to come out in the world and breathe air. We’re incredibly proud of her,” Grayson said. “This thing’s taught us about love in a lot of ways.”

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