Shortly after Ashley Well’s husband returned from a nine-month deployment to Korea, she found out she was pregnant with her third child.
But about 12 weeks in, doctors noticed the child, whom she and her husband, Sgt. John Wells, had decided to name Hunter, wasn’t developing correctly.
“He was really small and something was wrong with his spine. As the pregnancy went along, we learned more things were wrong with him — the doctors didn’t actually think stillbirth was going to happen, although it was possible,” Ashley Wells said. “Then one day I didn’t feel him moving, so I went to the doctor and they did an ultrasound immediately. His heart had stopped beating. I delivered him two days later in Austin.”
It was a moment where she hoped the doctors were wrong, that she would hear a baby’s cry, but it didn’t happen, she said.
She and her husband would learn through military support groups that because their baby had gestated for 36 weeks before the stillbirth, they qualified to receive the military life insurance all military children qualify for.
“When Hunter’s money came in, we were devastated by it — this was the final process, this is done after this,” Ashley Wells said. “I was really depressed when it hit. I didn’t like the way I felt, it was the final actualization that my son was really gone.”
She knew she wanted to do something positive with it, so she and her husband — who serves with 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division — decided to give the money they would have spent on their newest child for Christmas to other military families in need.
“I’ve worked in the nonprofit community before, so I know how much a small contribution can mean, even if it’s just paying for somebody’s drink at Starbucks,” she said. “And I say ‘we,’ but it’s more me. My husband just nods his head and says, ‘Sure, whatever you want to do.’
So we decided to do something positive with it.”
The Wells wound up giving $100 gift cards to two families and an additional three gift cards from Ulta Beauty to moms in need of a “pick-me up.”
“It felt good to make other people happy,” Ashley Wells said. “The one thing I want to do in this life is impact people in a positive way.”
The Wells’ two kids, 6-year-old daughter Autumn and 4-year-old son Christian, reacted differently to the stillbirth.
“Christian took it the hardest. We put Hunter’s ashes in a Build-A-Bear, and he carries it around with him all the time. He hugs it, talks to it, plays with it,” Ashley Wells said. “Autumn I think doesn’t know how to feel. (Hunter is) more receptive to emotions, so he took it hard.”
Ashley Wells started a Facebook page called Surviving Stillbirth Hunter Mason’s Story to bring awareness to stillbirth and to remind other families that they can make something good out of a bad situation.
“I’ve never realized how often stillbirth occurred. Maybe because I never really paid attention to it,” she said. “I still can’t believe as often as I see it now, it still happens in just 1 percent of births. That’s a statistic I never thought I’d be a part of.”
The Wells are heading to Fort Wainwright, Alaska, on permanent change of station orders, but Ashley Wells said she hopes her story will help others going through the same pain learn to cope.
“This has brought my husband and I a lot closer together, I think. We’ve learned to value life a lot more,” she said. “Being a military family, we already value life highly because we see friends and loved ones die all the time. But after losing our son, it brought us a lot closer and made us a lot easier on our kids.
“Find a support system. When I first heard it was only 1 percent, I thought it was a small number,” she added. “But I run into so many people who this has happened to, that you realize that it is a big one percent. Reach out to your community, don’t be afraid to ask what other people did. Know that you’re not alone.”