When DeAnna Cochran was pregnant with her first child, she was thrilled and ready for the life change that parenting brings. Having sailed through pregnancy without complications, there was no reason to expect a tragic end to her maternal bliss. Then, the worst happened and just 3 weeks after her son Jackson was born, he died and DeAnna’s life veered into an unforeseen new direction.
Deanna grew up the youngest and only girl in family of 2 brothers in a small town called Bryan, Texas. Her mom had long been involved in prison ministry and spent a lot of her time doing charity work. As a child, DeAnna frequently helped her mom clean rooms at the local women’s shelter and feed hungry members of their community. DeAnna’s father was a politician for most of DeAnna’s childhood before becoming a lobbyist. She remembers a happy childhood, and maintains very close ties with her family. DeAnna’s parents have been married for 55 years and her brothers all live in Bryan with families of their own. Every summer, the whole family spends one week together under the same roof enjoying their annual beach vacation.
After high school, DeAnna went off to college where she pursued art and graduated with a degree in metalworking. At the time DeAnna finished college, the country was in recession and she could not make a living on art. The IT world was just starting to take off and DeAnna took what she expected to be a temporary job at an IT company doing sales to wait out the economic downturn before returning to more creative pursuits. That “temporary” job lasted 15 years and took DeAnna all over the world. While she was single, she loved it; but once she met her husband, DeAnna was ready for less traveling and a bit more home time. Then DeAnna got pregnant and decided to cut way back on the traveling, and began to nest.
Then, 24 weeks into her thus far easy pregnancy, DeAnna started bleeding internally due to complications from an unrelated surgery she’d had prior to ever getting pregnant. In order to save the baby’s life as well as DeAnna’s, doctors performed an emergency cesarean to deliver her 1 pound 12 ounce son Jackson. Tiny and struggling, Jackson had to stay in intensive care and went thru several surgeries those first couple of weeks. Had he been born just two weeks later, his little body would have had a much better chance at survival but instead, he died less than a month after his birth.
There was a funeral for Jackson. DeAnna and her close friend had been pregnant together and were been just three weeks apart with their due dates. DeAnna remembers everyone making an effort to be sensitive to her loss and wondering if she still wanted to participate in baby showers soon after burying her own newborn. Those experiences were painful but DeAnna still did them. “That first year was really tough….it was hard to go to birthday parties and hard when friends were pregnant,” she says.
“DeAnna dedicated a line of jewelry her first-born entitled “Jackson’s Leaf,” based on a maple tree that was planted in memory of him. Proceeds benefit MEND, which supports parents who’ve experienced the death of a child.”
When Jackson was in the hospital, DeAnna and her husband set up a website to update family and friends about his condition. Hundreds of people visited and said they were moved by his story. DeAnna thought, “If hundreds of people’s lives were changed by this little boy who’d never left the NICU, never spoken... if he can change people’s lives in three short weeks, gosh, what can we do over the course of a lifetime?” Her life did what she calls a “360.” DeAnna looked at what she’d been doing with her life and felt “I need to change it to give back while I’m here.”
DeAnna went back to her IT job but began making jewelry after hours. She started with a bracelet for herself to help her remember Jackson. Six weeks after his death, DeAnna made one for her dear friend’s baby shower. She continued making mother’s bracelets with beads since she didn’t have a studio or equipment to do the metalwork she’d loved in the past. People wanted to buy her bracelets, so DeAnna sold them and used the money to help families in need. She worked closely with the social worker at the hospital where Jackson was born to find out who needed what. The more bracelets she sold, the more car seats, clothing, toys, etc she could buy for struggling families.
Meanwhile, DeAnna’s doctor recommended she wait a year to get pregnant again to give her time to get through what would have been Jackson’s first birthday. Looking back, DeAnna is grateful for this sage advice, “I let Jackson’s time pass and let that be his time.”
The next year, DeAnna was delighted to be pregnant again. Despite the tragedy she’d been through with the previous pregnancy, DeAnna didn’t feel anxious the second time around. Reminded by her doctor that this pregnancy was a completely different situation from the first and that worrying would only increase her stress level, DeAnna experienced her second pregnancy as a “joyful time.” She was aware, however, that her friends and family were doing some worrying.
All went well and DeAnna gave birth to a healthy baby boy named Christian. She decided it was time to leave her 15-year “temporary” job to pursue art and giving back on a more full-time basis.
She gathered metalworking equipment and set up a studio. DeAnna dedicated a line of jewelry her first-born entitled, “Jackson’s Leaf.” The designs are based on a maple tree that was planted in memory of him. Proceeds from the sale of this line benefit MEND, an organization that supports parents who’ve experienced the death of a child. DeAnna started making pieces that were dedicated to other children’s stories as well. “Anthony’s Wish” is a collection in honor of Anthony, a little boy who wished to be adopted. The pieces in this line reflect starfish designs that symbolize Anthony’s love of the sea. His wish was granted and he was adopted by loving family thanks to Koinonia, a foster and adoption agency to which proceeds benefit from this collection.
DeAnna is also identified as a green jeweler, a practice she started long before it was popular. Not wanting to expose herself, her family, other people, or the environment to the toxins involved in traditional metalworking, DeAnna has always used reclaimed metals, green packaging, non-toxic jewelry cleaning processes, and sustainable business practices. She is hoping to start a line of jewelry utilizing vintage chains to further pursue her quest as a green artist.
Now, five years since the death of Jackson, DeAnna is doing what she feels he would have wanted her to do: making a difference. Through her work, Jackson “continues to touch people positively rather than being a sad story... that defines my life,” reflects DeAnna. “I couldn’t imagine living my life being sad about it.. I don’t think a child would want a parent to be in that state of mind… I felt I owed it to him,” she says. DeAnna now uses profits from her jewelry sales to help non-profit organizations.
DeAnna loves the work that she is doing and feels it helped her heal. This was partly by design, she says, “I knew if I had a company I’d have to talk about it [the experience of losing Jackson].” Just a few months after Jackson passed away, DeAnna did an interview on national television. Experiences like that and her continuing work push her to tell his story. As a result, DeAnna talks with lots of women who have experienced the death of a child. She recently told a woman whose baby died shortly after birth, “if you don’t talk about it, 3 years from now you aren’t going to be able to utter her name.”
Christian is now three, and “an absolute joy.” DeAnna still gets teary and a little choked up when she talks about losing Jackson, but she is also very grateful for the experience because “it woke me up and made me realize that I had been coasting along in a pretty easy life...it made me realize that there is more to life than what revolves around me.”
You can see more designs from the Jackson's Leaf, Anthony's Wish collection and more at www.deannacochranjewelry.com
Thank you DeAnna, for sharing your Story with us!
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© 2009 by Jenoa Briar-Bonpane and Story of My Life