It used to be simpler to answer, but yes, Paul and Amanda Ellerkamp have six kids.
Jacob is on the swim team. Isaac plays the trumpet. Mara is excited to receive her first Communion this year. Asher enjoys kindergarten and video games. Little Molly has “spunk.” And John Paul left too soon.
“We just told them that the baby died in Mom’s tummy and we’re going to have to eventually go back to the hospital and the baby’s going to have to come out.”
Welcoming his life
This past January, Paul and Amanda received an exciting surprise: Amanda was pregnant with the couple’s sixth child.
After being quite sick during the first trimester of the pregnancy, they decided it would be best to tell their children (ranging in ages from 15 to 4 years old) that Mom was sick because they would be getting another sibling, due October 22. Naturally, guesses of boy vs. girl began. Girl was the consensus. Of course, all the kids had name suggestions and began to tell their friends the exciting news.
At Amanda’s routine 15-week checkup, the doctor had a difficult time finding the baby’s heartbeat via Doppler. “All the worst things imaginable are running through your mind,” Amanda said.
Her fears became reality. After ordering an ultrasound to investigate the issue, the Ellerkamps were told that the baby had died.
It was called a case of “fetal demise for unknown reasons” since there was no outward sign of the cause of death. It wasn’t a miscarriage, as Amanda’s body was “still holding onto that baby.”
After a weekend of processing the tragedy and seeking guidance in the moral decisions that now had to be made, the Ellerkamps chose to induce labor the following week. It would be a “normal” induction: report for a long day (or more) at the hospital at 8 a.m., begin the hormones by 9 and wait as your body prepares to give birth. If things went well, there was a chance that the Ellerkamps would be able to know their 15-week-old child’s gender, maybe even get to hold the baby.
Just after 7 p.m. that evening, John Paul Ellerkamp was born. Four and a half inches long. Eight tenths of an ounce. “He was whole and perfect,” Amanda said. The couple immediately knew that it was important for their children to come to the hospital room and meet their brother.
“We all got to hold him and pass him around. You can’t have those moments back,” Amanda said.
Celebrating his life
As the coordinator of the Respect Life and Natural Family Planning activities for the Bismarck Diocese, Amanda was fortunate to know the options available to her and her family after they learned that John Paul’s heart had stopped beating inside her.
“There are things that can be done to help you celebrate that life, to ask for prayers and blessings over the little one and to help you walk through the grief process,” Amanda said, noting that many parishes in western N.D. hold a memorial Mass each year for babies who have died before, during or after birth—including those who have been aborted. “That can be a real source of healing for people.”
Paul and Amanda had decided they would hold a funeral Mass and burial for their child after he was born. Nearly 60 family members and friends came to the funeral to offer their prayers and support, which the Ellerkamps said helped break the silence of the tragedy.
“It wasn’t anything that we could hide or shrug away or run from,” Amanda said. “It gave people that open door to offer their support.”
“We wanted to emphasize that this was life no matter how small,” Paul added.
Sharing his life
At first, the Ellerkamps naturally struggled to understand why such a misfortune happened to them. They asked, “Why us?” There were moments of despair. The pain was heavy—and still is. However, the Ellerkamp family has relied on their Catholic faith to carry them through John Paul’s death.
Paul and Amanda decided this spring to consecrate their family to the Blessed Virgin Mary using the popular “33 Days to Morning Glory” book as a guide. They planned to complete the devotion on their May 31 anniversary.
“We started on a Sunday and found out on Wednesday that we had lost the baby,” Amanda said. “The timing was not coincidental.”
Amanda admitted that it was hard to do the prayers that first night after getting the news. “It became clear that we had to do it now more than ever.”
The Ellerkamps can already see the blessings amid the heartache.
“He was here for a short time, but he made an impact,” Amanda expressed, adding that sharing pictures of John Paul has “opened peoples’ eyes in ways that we probably won’t ever know.”
“We [as a society] don’t want to talk about these things, they’re too sensitive,” Paul said. “I think this is our opportunity to show people that it’s still okay, even through grief and sorrow, to celebrate the life. We won’t know the impact for years to come.”
Sharing John Paul’s story isn’t easy, but they feel it’s something God is asking them to do.
“We wanted to share him with other people just like we share our other children because they’re not
—they’re a gift. God gave him to us for a reason,” Amanda expressed.
“If we didn’t have hope that there is something beyond this life, that there is hope of meeting [John Paul] in heaven, that he can be an intercessor for our family…that hope is what has pulled us through. Without that, I think we would have been in a constant state of despair.”
Yes. Yes, indeed. Paul and Amanda Ellerkamp have six children.
“This was a life, a soul. A mortal soul that was here with us for a short time and we treasure that just like we treasure our five children who we still have with us.”
>>Related article: Dealing with miscarriage