BY CRAIG CRAKER, CLASS 2002
Women’s football coach Mary Trigg Ybarguen found out she was first pregnant just after Christmas.
Her joy at the news was shortlived, as she soon discovered that her baby boy had Down’s syndrome. Eighty-one percent of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome were stillborn, while the majority of the rest. 19 percent die hours or days after birth.
âThe hardest thing to hear is that his illness is incompatible with life,â Ybarguen said of her baby, Rapha. “We’re obviously praying for healing on this side of heaven, but it’s pretty cool to know that with our faith he’s going to be healed at some point.”
While Ybarguen was in shock at the news, she received support from a trio of colleagues who had followed a similar path.
When Danny Bowman heard about Ybarguen’s baby, his mind was flooded with memories of his last moments with his son. Paul Rush said it took his breath away and made his stomach ache. Molly Kling was immediately transported to the darkest days of her life.
The trio are part of a group of individuals from the NNU sports community that Ybarguen may soon join, those who have lost a child.
âWe don’t have an official support group,â Kling said, âbut Paul and Danny have been wonderful supporters for me personally. Nobody wants to be a part of this club, but once you lose a child you are a completely different person.
Bowman’s son, Titus, died of Batten disease CLN2 at the age of 6 in 2016. Rush’s daughter, Annie Grace, was stillborn in 2015. Kling lost twins in 2018 â Phoebe was stillborn and Philip only lived two hours.
âWhen we lost Annie, it was like such a fracture,â said Rush, the NNU’s men’s basketball coach. âIt’s like you don’t know if you’ll pass to the other side because it hurts so emotionally. I think it can be encouraging to have this conversation with people and to talk about it. For Mary, she can see that Molly is on the other side.
The last thing Ybarguen wanted to do was talk about the loss of her baby boy.
Ybarguen’s colleagues made sure to give him space, but showed him the love and care that defines the NNU athletics department.
Those who have been through something similar also made sure to give all the advice possible.
âI’m not too positive. I wanted to bring some reality to the situation. It is dark. It’s horrible, and you will never be the same again, âsaid Kling, a 2006 alumnus, former volleyball player and assistant director of athletic services. âI remember sitting in the funeral home and Doug (English, NNU volleyball coach) emailed and said he didn’t know what to say but he decided to say something was better that nothing – you’d rather have someone recognize it than ignore it. . ”
People who recognize the news are easier said than done. Most people don’t know what to say, so they just don’t say anything at all.
âEveryone feels like getting pregnant and having babies is a simple and smooth process,â Rush said. “It’s like a movie, it happens, you have the baby and everything is fine.” But that’s not real life. And since it’s really hard to talk about things, people don’t want to. Positive things are all about pregnancy and babies.
One of Ybarguen’s most difficult conversations has been with Bowman, a 2005 graduate athletics and cross country coach.
âIt is always difficult to plan for the death of your child,â Bowman said. âIt’s something that someone should never have to do. However, (my wife) Bekah and I were very grateful to those who helped us through this specific process. I explained to Mary that Bekah and I chose cremation because we wanted to keep our child close to us in case we moved. The conversation was not the easiest, but I thought this information might be useful to him.
The conversations were difficult, but Ybarguen enjoyed them all.
âIt was great to see the kindness of the people,â she said. âIt’s an easy thing to say, ‘I pray for you.’ But the folks at NNU really are and it’s pretty special.
About 12 weeks after the start of her pregnancy, Ybarguen underwent an ultrasound after suffering severe bleeding.
Thinking it was routine, she didn’t tell her husband, Chris, to come. It became apparent fairly quickly that this was not a routine date.
âThe doctor said she was finding things of real concern that I should call my husband,â Ybarguen said. âI asked her to tell me and she told me. I called him and he came, and we cried for a long time.
Doctors told the Ybarguen that many things could go wrong for the baby, including holes in his heart, kidney problems, the intestinal tract outside of his stomach, his esophagus not connecting to the stomach, a stunted growth, a small jaw, a small head, with no umbilical cord attachments, and a non-functioning bladder, which would mean his lungs could not develop.
A month later, few of these issues had surfaced, which brought peace to the couple as they scrambled to figure out what to do next.
“If he wants out, then I’ll let him out.” It’s the least I can do, âYbarguen said. âHe’s not in pain. He’s just swimming in there. He can hear noises now, so he hears me praying and I play music for him.
The prayers of the Ybarguen were aimed at getting through the whole ordeal and the baby going through in peace. A few weeks later, Mary was reading her Bible on the sofa. She felt like God told her to name the baby. The first name that came to my mind was Rapha, a Hebrew name which means healer.
âIt was as if God was saying, ‘You haven’t even asked for healing yet,’â said Mary. “So Chris and I changed our prayers to be for healing and it wasn’t over yet.”
A perfect season
The NNU women’s football team were unsure whether they would play meaningful games in the 2020-21 school year.
With the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting sports nationwide, the Nighthawks were finally allowed by the Great Northwest Athletic Conference to play a schedule as a freelance.
What happened next is hard to believe.
A program that had only finished with a winning record once in the 20-year history of an NCAA Division II program went 11-0, even beating NCAA Division I Idaho State University.
“This is my third year at NNU, and it’s great that we were finally able to come out and be consistent every game,” said Chandler Kauffman, a junior from Redondo Beach, Calif. âMary has been so committed to the team, even with everything she’s going through right now. It shows how much of a leader she is. ”
Games have been highlighted for Ybarguen regarding their importance in the grand scheme of life. “It was a good reminder for me that football is not everything,” she said. âThere are a lot of other things that we all go through and go through and football should just be my mental break. It was nice. It was happy. It was a good expression of escape.
Ybarguen first spoke to the football team in early April about her baby’s illness, but did not go into details. On Easter weekend, however, the team hosted a field Easter egg hunt. Afterward, Mary read the Easter story to the group and then opened up.
âI shared more details – the painful part of it all,â Ybarguen said, âand the reason I enjoy this life is because Jesus died for all of us and valued all of our lives.
âNormally, I’m not that personal. It was difficult to be vulnerable, but they gave me so much grace.
And as she navigates this difficult journey of pregnancy and the unknown, this grace has changed her life.
On Wednesday, July 30, 2021, Rapha Christopher Ybarguen was born at 9:11 p.m. weighing 2 pounds 12 ounces. He lived one hour and twenty-seven minutes before returning to Jesus’ arms. Mary and Chris were able to spend this time with baby Rapha singing to him and kissing him. Please pray for the Ybarguen family as they go through this new grief. As Mary said, “Life is truly so precious and God is so comforting and merciful.”