A Green Country family faced a heart-wrenching decision after learning their baby boy wouldn't survive once he was born.
At just 10 weeks, Samantha and Austin Ball learned their son's skull wouldn't fully develop. Doctors offered to terminate the pregnancy, but the couple decided to go through with the delivery, giving them precious hours with their child, and an unexpected gift that will last forever.
For Samantha and Austin Ball, May 7th, 2018, was a day to celebrate a birthday as they grew their family,
“We were praying for a boy,” Samantha said.
But it was also a day faced with so much pain, worry, and heartache as the growing family would love and grieve together.
"We were just so happy. We couldn't stop talking about it, and then I just started having this gut feeling, this horrible gut feeling that just took over me. I just felt sick. I knew something was wrong," Samantha said.
Her mother’s intuition was right, and her reality was rocked.
"When I laid on that table and saw my baby, I saw that there was something wrong. The doctor brought the nurse in and that was it, my life changed," she said.
Their little boy, named Blaine William Myles Ball, had a rare condition called encephalocele, causing his skull to not fully develop - a diagnosis so gut-wrenching it was difficult for Samantha and Austin to comprehend.
"I asked her, ‘Is my baby going to survive?’ And she said most likely no. I lost it. It was the worst day of my life," Samantha said.
Upon delivery, doctors predicted he would die in a couple hours.
Blaine was born May 7th, 2018.
"I was excited to finally have him in my arms. Whether he was going to survive 10 minutes or 10 days, I just wanted to keep him with me forever," Samantha said.
In the delivery room, working alongside the doctors and nurses was photographer Kelli Marone.
"First picture, Dr. Stillman said. ‘Here's a foot,’ and pulled it out and I just started snapping from that point on," she said.
Marone quietly worked to capture the first moments of Blane's life, not knowing if the next picture she took would be his last.
"It's always amazing. As I take pictures, tears coming down my face, but I just keep going," she said.
"They mean everything; that's all I got. I can never get that moment back, ever. If it wasn't for her I wouldn't have it," said Samantha.
There are pictures of Blaine’s first cry, smile, and their first family photo - gifts the Ball family will cherish forever.
Marone volunteers with a national organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. In Oklahoma, there are just five volunteers giving heartbroken families pictures that will last a lifetime.
"Honestly, I never knew that there was an organization out there like this, and I'm so grateful there is," Samantha said.
Samantha, Austin and their kids try to move forward as they know how, with lots of play time in the front yard, with hopes of one day growing their family again but still very much healing from the pain.
"I miss him. I miss the kicks. I miss everything,” Samantha said. “If I could go back I would. I wake up in the middle of the night hoping that I feel him. That I feel a kick."
Blaine lived for eight-and-a-half days and was even able to go home.
He died on May 16th in his mother's arms.
Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep only has five volunteers in the state and are in desperate need of more.
You can find more information on Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and what you need to know if you're in need of a photographer, here.