After suffering great loss, family helps another
Melanie Huneycutt and her husband Bradley were looking forward to welcoming a third child into their family last August when, at around 10 weeks pregnant, Melanie received news no mother ever wants to hear: she had suffered a miscarriage.
“We thought that was one of the worst days we would ever have in our life,” said Melanie, 28, a sixth grade math teacher at Albemarle Middle School.
But the couple, who reside in New London, put their trust and faith in God to help lead them through the grief and pain.
“We trusted in God and prayed about it and knew that God would send us a blessing, though we didn’t know what that blessing would be,” she said.
They wouldn’t have to wait long for their prayers to be answered.
Roughly two months after suffering unimaginable heartbreak, the Huneycutts’ tragedy quickly gave way to pure joy when in October, Melanie discovered she was once again pregnant. They referred to the child as their “rainbow baby” — the term often used to describe a child born to a family who had previously lost a child due to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.
Roughly 10 months after suffering the loss of one child, the family exuberantly welcomed the birth of another. On June 18, Kolbie Dawn Huneycutt, who weighed 8 pounds and was 21 inches in length, entered the world.
“We are so thankful God has given us this sweet sweet blessing,” Melanie posted on Facebook at the time, adding the hashtags #ourrainbow, #rainbowbaby and #rainbowafterthestorm.
Unlike most typical newborns, who’s crying often prevents parents from getting much, if any, sleep, Melanie said Kolbie was different.
“She was perfect,” Melanie said, adding that she would sleep all night. “She didn’t do anything but smile and laugh…she was eight weeks of pure joy.”
The couple’s two older children — Callie, who’s almost 8, and Robbie, 6 — were also elated at the birth of their sister, Melanie said. Both kids enjoyed holding their sister “and she loved to be held.” Bradley, who’s 32 and works at Crook Motor Company, also enjoyed holding his daughter and playing her favorite song, “The Blessing” by Kari Jobe and Cody Carnes.
Pictures of Kolbie, often adorned with cute headbands, colorful outfits (especially llama-themed ones, which Melanie loved to dress her in) and a warm smile, quickly dominated Melanie’s Facebook. In one picture, Callie and Robbie, wearing “Big Sis” and “Big Bro” shirts, lovingly smile at their sister, who is asleep and snugly bundled in a wicker bassinet. In another, Kolbie, wrapped tightly in what appears to be a rainbow blanket, is lying on a bed surrounded by a garland.
Melanie said Kolbie was by all accounts a completely healthy baby, which is what makes what occurred two months after birth all the more unexpected.
The first day of school, on Aug. 17, started exactly as planned. Bradley changed Kolbie’s diaper and delivered her to the babysitter while Melanie headed to Albemarle Middle to welcome her new students. She was behind her desk pumping milk at around 8:15 a.m. when she received an urgent call from the babysitter.
Kolbie wasn’t breathing.
Melanie immediately rushed to her car, called Bradley and they both raced to the babysitter’s house. The ambulance was already there when the Huneycutts arrived and first responders were performing CPR. The couple weren’t allowed to see Kolbie, so they stood outside the house and did the only thing they could — they prayed.
After detecting a faint heartbeat, the first responders rushed Kolbie to the hospital with the Huneycutts trailing behind. Once at Atrium Health Stanly, Melanie was in a triage-type room as around 10 to 12 nurses performed CPR on Kolbie.
“I didn’t know if I wanted to see that, but I’m so thankful that I did see that because I could see how hard they were working to save her life,” Melanie said.
Melanie and Bradley were at the hospital for at least an hour when they were informed that despite the nurses and doctor’s best efforts, Kolbie had passed.
Even though that day is a blur and she has forgotten much of the specifics, she does remember sitting with Bradley for a long time, both still in shock, holding their child “because we didn’t want to leave.”
The family has not yet received the autopsy report so they don’t know the specifics behind Kolbie’s death. But there is one thing the Huneycutts know for sure: After going to sleep that morning, Kolbie “woke up in heaven,” Bradley said.
Her funeral was Aug. 21 at the Stanly Funeral and Cremation Care Chapel and she was buried the same day at Matton’s Grove United Methodist Church in Gold Hill, according to her obituary. The Huneycutts decided that for Kolbie’s funeral, in lieu of flowers, they encouraged people to make donations to the Pregnancy Resource Center in Albemarle.
Finding Joy In Helping Another Mother
Even after Kolbie’s death, Melanie, out of simple routine, continued to pump milk for the next week and a half. She had already compiled an oversupply of milk for her daughter over the past two months, which she kept in the freezer. Melanie ultimately had 800 ounces of breastmilk she no longer needed.
Melanie was debating whether she wanted to donate her milk, when she happened upon the Facebook page “Human Milk 4 Human Babies North Carolina,” which is an “informed milk sharing network” where mothers can post specific milk requests.
She read through tons of requests from mothers across the state before quickly zeroing in on a woman named Tessa Davis. Though Davis, who lives in Carthage, was looking for breast milk donation for her daughter Dylann, who was born in July, what initially caught Melanie’s eye was the accompanying photo of a sleeping child wearing a llama outfit, which reminded her of Kolbie.
Though Melanie had gravitated towards Davis and her child, she still didn’t know if she wanted to donate her milk. She prayed to God for discernment while continuing to think about Davis.
Once she got confirmation from God — “when he says move, you move,” she said, Melanie contacted Davis on Facebook and the two began a conversation that culminated in Davis and Dylann coming to New London to meet Melanie and her family.
Davis, who has been on medication due to postpartum depression and therefore could not breastfeed Dylann, said she had tried several formulas, but her baby was upset with each of them.
She was nervous about meeting Melanie, and admits taking anxiety medication before driving to New London, because she wasn’t sure how to act or what to say to a woman who had recently lost her child.
But those thoughts quickly dissipated once she met Melanie and realized how easy and natural it was to talk to her.
The two women talked for about an hour and a half, bonding over how each had ended up on the breastfeeding Facebook page and about their faith similarities. Davis grew up in an Assembly of God church while Melanie and her family are members of The Gathering in Albemarle.
For the first time in weeks, Melanie was able to hold a baby in her arms again, which she acknowledged brought up a mix of emotions.
“It was hard, but it was nice to have that weight in my arms because I had missed that so much,” she said.
Davis, 32, said she was especially touched when Dylann actually reached out and grabbed onto a necklace Melanie was wearing, which featured a picture of Kolbie.
“It was kind of one baby reaching out to another baby that’s not here anymore,” Davis said of the moment.
She was so overcome with emotions due to the encounter with Melanie that she started crying once she got into her car. The 800 ounces of breastmilk, Davis said, have filled up her deep freezer and should last at least two months.
For Davis, the milk means more than merely feeding her child. Melanie’s donation has also helped to alleviate some of her mental health problems.
“I can’t even say thank you enough,” she said.
Even through tragedy, the Huneycutts were thrilled that they were able to glorify God by donating Melanie’s breastmilk to Davis — and by doing so, they were also able to keep Kolbie’s memory alive. The two women have exchanged numbers and plan to continue their friendship.
After the visit, Melanie posted on Facebook: “My arms are still empty as is my heart, but it gave me joy knowing that because of Kolbie I was able to provide something to someone in need.”
“Any time you can help somebody else out, that’s what we’re here for,” Bradley said. “That’s the standard — to help other people in need.”
Uplifted By The Community
Over the past few weeks after losing Kolbie, the Huneycutts have felt the love and support not just from the community, but from people in other cities in the state and beyond who have reached out after hearing their story.
“The support from the community through all this has been overwhelming,” Bradley said, adding that people from other states have sent cards and other gifts to the family. “It has helped out a ton to know how many people care.”
One of Melanie’s good friends, Mary Margaret Wysocki, who owns Make it Personal, a screen print and embroidery shop in Albemarle, has been selling shirts with the word “Mama” on the front of them. Melanie modeled the shirt for her when she was pregnant with Kolbie to post on Wysocki’s website. All proceeds from the shirts have gone to the Pregnancy Resource Center.
‘The community really showed out in purchasing these shirts in memory of Kolbie,” Wysocki said, adding that she has sold 520 shirts and has raised about $9,300 for the Pregnancy Resource Center. “People really have supported them through the fundraiser.”
The Huneycutts’ faith, even in the face of such terrible grief, is what has really stood out to her, Wysocki said.
Even people Melanie has never met have gone to great lengths to comfort the family. A woman from the Sweetest Beginnings gift shop in Concord designed a rainbow and butterfly sticker with Kolbie’s name affixed to it while a woman from Virginia sent books to Melanie and her kids about dealing with loss.
From phone calls, texts and heartfelt Facebook comments to people sending cards, packages, donations and even a colorful weighted bear composed of a variety of burp clothes and blankets with the words “Llama Love You Forever,” the overwhelming love and support the family has received has meant so much to them. And it’s helped them to realize that, even in the midst of such great pain, they have a strong support system and they are not grieving by themselves.
“We felt alone for the first couple of days (after Kolbie’s death),” Bradley said, “but the more you go through it and the more support you receive…you realize that other people’s lives stopped that day, too.”
The family’s pastor told them during the funeral that the death of a child affects people so much because “it’s out of order,” Bradley said, because parents are not supposed to bury their children.
The family has set up a small memorial inside the house with several pictures of Kolbie. They’ve also talked to others who have lost loved ones who’ve told them “you never get past it, you just live through it.”
Melanie has been out of school since Aug. 17 and doesn’t plan to go back for at least another week as she continues to process what has happened and spend time with her family. She said the school system and the faculty at Albemarle Middle have been incredibly supportive of her during this tough time. But she still misses her students and calls teaching in a classroom “her heart” and “her happy place.”
Reflecting on Kolbie, “we know that she knew nothing but love,” Melanie said, “and we’re thankful for that.”
And Kolbie loved many things in her short life, according to Melanie, including her brother and sister, being held, smiling, her silky blanket, her butterfly mobile and spending time on Lake Tillery.
“For some people, it takes 80 years to have an impact on others,” Melanie said, “but for Kolbie, it took her 8 weeks. She had a humongous impact.”