Real Life

Canyon tragedy mum: Our baby miracle

By Andrew McNulty

Grieving mum Jennifer Fernandes believed that the next time she would see her son Floyd would be when they were reunited in heaven. She was heartbroken when the happy-go-lucky 16-year-old was one of seven students from Elim Christian College in Auckland who were swept to their deaths while canyoning at oangatepopo Gorge in the Central North Island. Now, two years after the terrible event, Jennifer just has to gaze at her baby boy Judah to see so much of the son she lost in the terrible tragedy.

"Judah has the same ears and dark eyes as Floyd," Jennifer (42) says, as the cute four-month-old curls a chubby fist around her finger. "When the tragedy happened we really clung onto our faith because there were times when I was very low. Judah is a blessing for our family, a special gift."

Jennifer and her husband Francis (44) thought their family was complete with Floyd and his sister Janis (now 12). Even after losing Floyd, they had no plans for a baby. Then, on the day that Floyd would have turned 18 in April last year, Janis had an incredibly vivid dream that her mum was going to have another baby.

Jennifer, a real estate agent, didn't think she could get pregnant at 41 and smiled at the idea. But she couldn't shake off a strange feeling of nausea and finally went to her doctor for a check-up. When the GP suggested a pregnancy test, Jennifer said, "No way, I'm not pregnant" but later took the test - just in case. When it came back positive, she says she remembers being strangely calm, despite the shock. "I think, deep down, I was prepared for the news."

Francis, a photocopier technician, was delighted when told a baby was on the way and the couple agreed that this new arrival would bring the healing they all needed to come to terms with Floyd's death. They decided not to tell anyone their good news until after the risky 12-week period was up but, at 10 weeks, Jennifer had another spooky encounter.

"I wasn't feeling good at church and I prayed to God, saying that if this baby is really meant to be, I needed to know it was going to be okay," she says. After the service, Jennifer was leaving the church when she was approached by a woman in the congregation.

"This woman said, 'please don't be offended but I have to tell you something that I've had in my heart for weeks - God is going to bless you with a baby. I can see you will have a lovely boy in your arms'." Stunned by the woman's words, Jennifer thanked her but didn't tell her how accurate the prediction was until a few weeks later. When she revealed her secret, the woman was amazed.

The family decided not to find out what gender the baby was and hadn't even been thinking about names until Francis woke up one morning saying he had a strong feeling that they should name the new baby Judah. "I said 'no, I don't like that name'," says Jennifer. But they decided to put six girls' names and six boys' names into a hat and pick out one for each gender.

Francis insisted they put Judah into the mix and Janis was asked to pick one out. When she pulled out the name Judah, Jennifer insisted she chose again but Judah came out again. After Janis picked Judah the third time, the family was left in no doubt that the baby was a boy and had to have that name. And they all agreed that he would carry the middle name Floyd in honour of the big brother he would never know.

Little Judah Floyd made his arrival in December via Caesarean and was greeted with his mother's tears of joy. As soon as the couple set eyes on their new baby they were stunned by his amazing resemblance to Floyd but they say Judah has a more serious nature than fun-loving Floyd.

The Fernandes' say they will still send Janis and Judah to school camps but not without careful scrutiny of any outdoor activities. They agree that losing a child has made them over-cautious about their new baby. "We always get nervous when Judah cries. When we don't know what's upsetting him, it's hard for us," Francis explains.

"Francis was always the more relaxed parent but now I can see him panic straight away," tells Jennifer."Losing Floyd and having Judah has changed our lives so much. I used to be working constantly. Now I've learned that my priority is family first."

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