‘Blessed by the Lord’: Family finds healing in daughter’s birth

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 27, 2005

Todd Cooper wasn’t sure he was ready to risk the pain again.

His year-and-a-half old son Clayton had died just months earlier and Todd was scared.

But after talking to her pediatrician, his wife Mary Shannon said it was time to try for another baby.

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“When I found out it she was really wanting to, I was kind of scared. I wanted to have another child but I didn’t want a child to go through (everything that Clayton did). We just kind of talked about it and kept talking about it,” Todd said. “It was weird. As nervous as I was before, once I found out (she was pregnant) I was never nervous again.”

The Coopers welcomed their second daughter into the world two weeks ago.

Mary Clayton Cooper is happy and healthy and already getting to experience the kind of life that Clayton never did.

“Throughout Clayton’s life, we were missing a lot. The first five weeks of his life he was in the hospital,” Mary Shannon said.

Clayton was born with a trio of heart defects and nearly every day of his life he battled to live.

By the time he died, Clayton had endured two open-heart surgeries and double-digit heart catheterizations. Along the way he touched the hearts of family, friends, doctors and nurses and even strangers who poured out their love to the boy and his family.

“In our opinion he touched more lives than most would in a lifetime,” Mary Shannon said. “The doctor in Birmingham, after Clayton died, he thanked us.

He said ‘You don’t understand. this baby lived because of prayer and love.’ We were able to enjoy him and know his real personality. Even though we knew how sick he was, the miracle was just him being alive.”

Still the decision to try for another baby was met with some nerves by their family.

“I think at first everybody felt differently. I know some of the family was just so happy,” Mary Shannon said. “Other people in the family, you could tell they were scared.”

Mary Shannon got advice from her doctors, who said a new baby would most likely be perfectly healthy.

“He told me the chances of the baby being like Clayton were slim to none. He really encouraged me,” she said. “When I got off the phone I was like ‘I know we can try this.'”

Together they made the decision to try for another baby and a month later, Mary Clayton was on the way.

“I’ve never been able to get pregnant real easy but the first month we tried we got pregnant,” she said. “I really knew he or she was a blessing. I knew it was the Lord blessing us.”

The doctors did all they could to keep the Coopers out of suspense.

A 4-D sonogram and heart tests in Birmingham told them that Mary Clayton did not have any of Clayton’s heart problems.

“Once I found out it, it was almost like a peace for me, it helped me,” Todd said. “I’d really not realized the hurt I had. It helped me get over some things. I think that was the best thing for me.”

Despite all the assurances from doctors, doubts still lingered in Mary Clayton’s parents-at least until she was born.

“I knew she was healthy, I knew in my heart. But I was very emotional,” Mary Shannon said. “They handed her to me and I cried and cried and cried.”

“For me it was more than I expected. As soon as she was born, it was just like a perfect scenario. The whole family was there, the preachers and all our good friends. I knew it was meant to be,” Todd said. “I had a whole unreal feeling. I knew she was fine just from seeing her. It was a lot more than I expected, I had this joy. I just turned. Everything I thought about was turned to her.”

Still, the emotions are mixed, almost confused. Both parents talked about the joy and the anguish.

They said again and again that Mary Clayton isn’t taking Clayton’s place.

They aren’t going to forget about their baby boy, but Mary Clayton is a new chapter and a happier one for their family.

For now, Mary Clayton will live in her 5-year-old sister Cameron’s room.

The Coopers aren’t ready to change Clayton’s room filled with the Major League Baseball memorabilia sent by Todd’s buddies from his college days.

The autographed Yankees jersey with Clayton’s name still hangs on the wall, next to pictures and cards and mementos of love.

“We just can’t do anything with it,” Todd said. “There are a lot of memories in his room.”

Cameron has handled the last few years better than her parents expected.

She is excited about her new sister, but protective of her brother’s memory.

“If anybody says something about us having two children, she corrects them right away,” Mary Shannon said.

They take Cameron to the cemetery to see her brother’s grave.

She’ll talk to him and make him little presents.

“You wonder what goes through her little head,” Mary Shannon said. “The other day she said ‘Momma, I sure do hope nothing happens to Mary Clayton.'”

Cameron’s questions tell her parents that she won’t forget about her little brother.

“It kind of puts a joy in my life. With her talking about him all the time I hope she can tell Mary Clayton about him too,” Mary Shannon said.

She won’t be the only one.

As they embark on their life with Cameron, the Coopers are still working to preserve Clayton’s memory.

“I have kept Clayton’s Web site up, people still go on there and sign on. It’s good healing. I’m just so thankful that we were young enough to have another child,” Mary Shannon said. “I just think the Lord knows the right time for everything, even though we would have loved more time. Clayton lived as long as he should have lived.”

Now Clayton’s little sister and namesake is helping to heal the hearts broken by her big brother’s absence.

“I know she’s going to bring a lot of joy to our life,”

Mary Shannon said.