Terrible, Thanks for Asking

Kari (Part 1): Aaron - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Kari & Aaron.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


Kari Harbath: This is good because that will lead into the next trauma thing too. So okay, good. 

Nora McInerny: Okay, there we go. Good, good. Let's keep this trauma train moving. Bee-

Kari Harbath: Let's keep the trauma train moving, because we're on it now. 

Nora McInerny: No, trains don't beep, just kidding. Choo, choo, beep, beep. Here comes the train. 

Kari Harbath:  That should be a meme, oh my gosh, that should be a meme. 

If you haven’t been traumatized yet … wait, it’s coming! And if you have, you know that sometimes, this is how you get through it. You get kinda weird, you make weird jokes. And when you’re with someone who kinda gets it … it energizes you. 

And today’s guest has a really happy voice and a good vibe and also … a rough story. 

And like a lot of people, Kari’s story starts before she and her sister Kassi even exist, when their parents have their first daughter, Haley. 

Kari Harbath: When Haley was born, my mom had a lot of health issues and she was life-flighted to the Denver hospital. Haley was born. She died the next day. She died in my dad's arms. It was really traumatic for them. And one of those like life-altering experiences. 

Haley’s short life had a long-term impact on Kari’s parents and the children they hadn’t even had yet. 

It’s a stunning and staggering loss that propels them into realizing that they want to give their future kids the kind of childhood they didn’t have. They want to escape their judgmental, patriarchal small town life in Colorado. 

They want a life without limits for their kids -- less scrutiny and disapproval, more possibility and praise. 

Kari Harbath: When I look at Haley and the experience with Haley and how that shaped Mom and Dad, when I think about it now, it was almost a sense of empowerment because mom and dad grew up in a world where they really, you know, were kind of in their own way ... I don't want to say oppressed by any means, but they- they had this experience where there was a set expectation. For example, my mom was raised in a very, you know, sexist world where it was, her expectation was to just become a mom, become a housewife, cook the meals and kind of settle down. And she wanted more for her life. She wanted an education. She wanted, you know, to make change in the world. And I think that- seeing how they reacted to Haley's birth and changed through that experience and then how that was sort of, you know, like how that influenced our upbringing, and the way that they decided to take on raising us, was really empowering for me and Kassie and shaped who we were. And I think that, you know, that says a lot to them as parents and speaks a lot to their- their sense of self and their confidence, because it was hard, it was hard leaving a community that they grew up in, that was very, very rural and small town and and pretty judgmental community, still is. And- and they decided to do something different, and it's hard to do something different. 

It’s hard to do something different, but Kari’s parents do it. They’re a really interesting pair. Her dad is science-y, and her mom is deep into New Age stuff. She’s is the perfect combination of funny and loving, edgy and unexpected. The kind of mom who leads a guided meditation for her little girls at naptime...

Kari Harbath: We lay down in bed, and mom's like talking us through this meditation, and it's just, you know, beautiful. And it goes on for a long time. I mean, a long time, like we're talking probably 15 minutes, starting to push 20 minutes. And she's talking about an ocean and how, you know, the ocean waves are- are crashing against the rocks and the- the you see the whales jump up out of the ocean. And she's just describing in great detail. And Kassie and I at this point are so into it, like we have our eyes closed, we're quiet, silent. 

There's a pelican that goes flying above our heads, and then she screams, at the top of her lungs, that the pelican took a big dump on Kassie and I, and she just yells it. And Kassie- and she just- I mean, it was like seamless. It was seamless. And both- I can like remember laying there, and we were so into this meditation and Kassie and I just jolted, like our eyes, just like flew open. And we just started like, scream laughing. And Mom was laughing. 

That's like mom in a nutshell, like just such a good example of like- she just like had- she was so like New Age and like- and loving and kind and embraced everyone. And yet she always had this edge that you just- she would do something when you least expected it. And I loved that about her. I loved that about her. 

So… Everybody was telling my mom, “Hey, send Kari to school. It's time to send her to school.” And so mom sent me to school, and she watched. Mom was always- mom was one of those moms that was always there. But she was like, not- not a helicopter mom. She was like always in the background watching, and she'd be there if something turn south. But she was never like helicopter-y, you know? 

And she was watching when she sent me to preschool or daycare or whatever it was the first time. And she watched as I went in and I just cried and cried and cried and she watched- she talked about watching some- whoever it was, like the instructor or the teacher or the daycare person, basically... like disciplining me in a way that mom didn't agree with. And so mom got out of the car and she stormed in and she pulled me out and she said, “We're not doing this shit.” And that started our homeschool journey. And... and then she- I never went back to school, until I was 13. 

Our homeschooling wasn't like fanatical, extremist, you know, religious homeschooling. It was like performing arts. And out at the nature center, we would go to the bird refuge. We would go to... you know, visit friends. We would volunteer all the time, like it was, our homeschooling experience was just one giant party. And then mom would go home, and to get her nap in, she would let Kassie and I play Barbies together five hours a day. And honestly, that- if that isn't like the best version of school, I don't know what is, because it was wonderful. 

At 13, Kari leaves home school...for charter school. 

Kari Harbath: It was kind of like the School of Wonderful Misfits. And so, I fit right in in a lot of ways at the time. And Kassie did the same thing. She also went to a charter school. And both schools that we went to, you know who was the lunch lady? My mom. I don't remember seeing her. I don't remember. But she was always there. And if something went wrong, boom, she would be there in five seconds, and she would pick me up and we would leave school and we would have, you know, an ice cream in our hands and be talking about it. Like- like she was always within reach, but never like- like, you know I don't know what the word is, like aggressively dominating the situation or in our space when we were trying to grow. 

Charter school life is a comfortable fit. Here, Kari feels good about herself. Accepted.

Kari Harbath: I was on a cheer team at our charter school. But the cheer team, there were no sports. So we just kind of like we just, like, performed at assemblies. And then sometimes like- like maybe we would, you know, like perform at an event. And we didn't really have outfits. And we just kind of- it was just kind of like 

Nora McInerny: Kari I love this. You're like we're literally just a team of cheer. 

Kari Harbath: Yeah! It was like, no, it was really just for our own probably self validation as 13-year-olds, like, yeah, we're cheerleaders, so. 

Nora McInerny: Yeah, yeah. And we know this is cool.

After two years at that charter school, it’s time to move up to the big leagues … public high school.

Kari Harbath: I remember though walking in, being like I was a cheerleader. So just FYI, like as- that was like my mentality. And then I walked in and saw the real cheerleaders and I was just internally like shit. LIke- 

Nora McInerny:  Oh, man. 

Kari Harbath: Oh, shit. Yep. And the football players. 

There were so many cool people. And I just remember walking in thinking I was cool. And then I walked in and I was like, I am invisible in this- these people. 

I quickly, very quickly realized, you know, I think I'm going to, I think that's not my crowd anymore. I don't think that's where I fit. 

This is where Kari’s happy hippie childhood takes a brief detour. And it’s also where we give a quick warning that we’re about to talk about some serious mental health stuff. 

Because Kari’s first year in public school is … rough. It’s rough. She’s teased a lot. She experiences a ton of bullying.

At one point she goes out with a guy for a day. They go on one date. She breaks up with him via text message because … that’s what you do in high school. And when she does that, this guy and all of his friends make it their mission to make Kari’s life a living nightmare, just because they can. It’s a classic bullying scenario.

And when you’re a teenager, this kind of thing is crushing and it is consuming. And all of this completely destroys Kari’s mental health. Eventually, she begins engaging in self-harm and suicidal ideation. And at one point, she attempts suicide.

And Kari’s new-age-but-no-nonsense mom responds in exactly the way you’d hope a mom would in that situation. 

Kari Harbath: She was on it. And I- she took me out of school because she was like, you know what, basically like fuck the system man, per usual. And so she took me out of school for the last few months, as I worked on basically my own recovery. And basically she took some time off. I took time off. I was taking medication, and we were really working hard on that. And that was kind of like how I spent the end of junior year and my summer was just recovering from that and trying to figure out who I was. 

Nora McInerny: I'm very impressed with your mother because it's just so difficult as a parent not to be like, what?! Like, I remember, like, telling my dad that I was depressed. He was like, “What the fuck do you have to be depressed about? Are you fucking kidding? Just like what? What? When I was 17 I went to Vietnam!” And I was like, yeah, you know what? You're right. That's a good point. I'm not depressed. I'm an idiot, I'm dumb. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. 

Kari Harbath: Oh, my gosh. I know. Yeah. Yeah. Well, when I look back, especially now, after the things that I've experienced recently, I'm so impressed with my mom too. 

Eventually, Kari is ready to go back to school. And now that she knows that the cheer team is not for her, she decides to try choir instead. 

Kari Harbath: I would go into choir every day and there was this guy that was just hot as hell, like just the hottest, again, high school, right. But like, imagine your high school self and you walk into choir every day. And there's this guy sitting there and he has, like solid hair of just great, like, curls. I mean, it was just wonderful. And he was pretty lanky, but he also had an Aeropostale shirt on. So that's a good sign. And I would walk in and he would wave at me every day. And he was the smiley-est, happiest human. And I just loved that. I was like, I love this person. He exudes great energy. 

Nora McInerny: Human sunshine when you had just come out of the darkness. 

Kari Harbath: Yes! 

Nora McInerny: There's nothing like it. And a person who's shining at you and you're like, oh, yeah, yeah. 

Kari Harbath: And when you're like, I just came out of darkness and now I'm- somebody shining at me and I'm on a new vibe, you know, I'm on a new wavelength here. So I would walk into acappella every day and he'd wave at me, but I had no clue who he was and I'd wave back. And of course, it's high school, drums, you know, like it was it was very cutesy. And then I started walking into a cappella and he would be in the corner playing John Mayer, like Daughters, which I actually hated at the time. The feminist in me really hated that song. But when he played it, it was OK. So I walked in the room and he'd be playing Daughters in the corner and he'd be like mysteriously looking at me and like smiling. And just again, like senior year of high school. That was everything to me. I was like, this is my- this is my dream. Like, this is it. And so I- 

Nora McInerny: I can't think of an of something that would have thrilled me more. 

Kari Harbath: Right. Right. I know. 

Nora McInerny: That's good enough for me. Even maybe today. 

When homecoming rolls around, Kari’s friends tell her they’re going to set her up with a date. And Kari wonders … is this … could it be… the Daughters Guy from choir class?! (Whose real name is actually Aaron, by the way.)

The answer is …

no. It’s not Aaron.

Kari Harbath: He's standing on one spot. His best friend at the time is standing next to him. And then there's another guy standing next to him and they're lined up. And I'm being introduced to one of these people as my date and they take me up to introduce me. And I just know I'm like smiling at Aaron the whole time. I'm like, yes, this is it, this is it. This is the moment. And they introduce me to his best friend, who was like, nothing like Aaron. It was the biggest disappointment I... And I tried not to show it. I tried to be really nice, but I cannot tell you. 

Nora McInerny: Oh, it's hard.

Kari Harbath: Oh, my gosh, I wanted to cry. It was like, it was torture. So- so I go to homecoming with this, his best friend at the time. And because they're best friends, we're still in the same homecoming date. Aaron, who's been still singing Daughters to me from the corner of the choir room and waving at me and smiling every day I walk in, is sitting across from me at a booth. We went to like a local like Mexican food place, and he drank ten Dr. Peppers while we were sitting there. And I remember his best friend at the time was like, dude, calm down, man. Like, why are you drinking so many Dr. Peppers? 

Aaron’s going to be peeing for the rest of the night, but Kari doesn’t care. She’s still smitten. 

Kari Harbath: We leave the Mexican food restaurant and we go to a gas station and I'm in one car with his best friend at the time and he's in another car with his date for homecoming and his best friend at the time gets out and goes into the gas station. And then Aaron and Aaron's date, Aaron's date gets in and goes to the gas station. So I'm in one car and Aaron is in another car, but we're parked pretty close to each other. I must pause here because I at the time was obsessed with Moulin Rouge. I would listen to the soundtrack all the time. Of course, Aaron didn't know this. So, I'm sitting in the car and I'm waiting for my date to come back out of the gas station. So is Aaron. And I suddenly hear Your Song from Moulin Rouge, the Moulin Rouge version being sung to me, from- I mean, this is like major cringe, but also like again high school stuff. 

Nora McInerny: Oh, no, I am- I am dying for this. This is wonderful. There's nothing, hmmm. 

Kari Harbath: Yeah, I know. I know. He had the most amazing voice and he was in like our star choir. He always had the leads in musicals, like he was a drama kid, choir kid, too. 

I hear the singing and I like- I mean it sounds so dramatic but I- I can remember slowly turning my head like what the actual fuck like this can't be happening. And I roll down my window and I look over and he has his window rolled down and he's leaning out of it smiling, singing Your Song to me. And I just like smiled and I was speechless. I was just like, this is my dream come true. He also doesn't give a fuck. I'm like, dude, yeah, your date man. And what about your best friend who's taking me to homecoming, like we did not care. We were kind of assholes in that moment. So he's singing to me, then Aaron's best friend walks out of the gas station, gets in the car, and I hear him say, is, fucking Aaron. And he rolls up my window and we take off. And that was that. That was my introduction to Aaron. 

And that was Kari’s introduction to Aaron! The boy who would become the man that Kari would one day marry.

Time for a break.

Kari and Aaron just had a moment at their senior homecoming, despite the fact they were technically on dates with other people. That Monday at school, Aaron asks Kari if she likes his friend -- the one she sorta went to homecoming with?

Kari Harbath: And I was like, “No.” And then he was like, great. And then he just walked away. And I was like, man, I love this guy. 

That’s it -- that’s all the information he needed. She didn’t like his friend, so he had a shot. And after that, it’s typical high school stuff. They exchange phone numbers. They talk on the phone every night for hours on end. Aaron plays guitar and sings for Kari over the phone until she falls asleep. It’s basically the stuff of every late-90s, early aughts teenage rom-com, minus all of the misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism. Those late 90s early aughts teenage rom coms, they do not stand the test of time. Do not watch them with your children. It is very jarring. And Kari is head over heels, the way any high school senior would be. 

Kari Harbath: I was never raised ever, ever, ever with the idea that, like, I needed to get married as part of my identity or that I needed to like, have a partner or a man or, you know, if anything, I was like probably not even realizing at the time, this budding feminist, like, I don't need a man. I- I had this great plan of becoming a paleontologist and traveling the world with my dogs. Like, that's kind of what my plan was. And then Aaron came along. And... so I remember telling my mom, my mom always joked about this, one day that I met a boy and my mom was like, you met a boy? Like you? Because I was just so like not in the realm of like- 

Nora McInerny:  Like you personally? Or did you meet him for someone else? Like you met him in real life, or like you watched him from a distance, which- which one. 

Kari Harbath: Yeah, no, exactly. And I think just mom knowing me and like just me being me, she was like, you- are we sure? Are we sure of this? 

Aaron’s upbringing was very, very different from Kari’s. Kari’s was filled with adventures and love and laughter and silliness. Aaron grew up in a complicated and tangled religious household with close to a dozen siblings (when we talk with Kari, she can barely even remember how many siblings Aaron had off the top of her head).

And because of his childhood, Aaron relates a LOT to Kari’s parents.

Kari Harbath: He grew up in a rural kind of small town area and ... had honestly, you know, I've looked back on like why Aaron just became enmeshed with my mom and dad. He was my dad's best friend. And my mom loved Aaron more than Kassie and I. Like Kassie and I joke about it. But truly, my mom gave a presentation one time and she introduced Aaron and then skipped over me and Kassie. Like, that's how much mom loved Aaron. And so when it comes to like, our family differences, Aaron related to my parents and their life experience in a way that I think like I don't even know if Kassie and I quite understand, and I think that he and my mom shared a lot of experiences and stories together that they just related to on a deeper level. 

He got really close to my family and close to my mom and dad, he spent a lot of time at our house and really became really close with us. And his family dynamics for him became very complicated, simply because, you know, and this is something where I kind of just speak from his experience and knowing how he felt and what I was seeing from my end. But simply because, like, one he was spending a lot of time with us, but also because Aaron was experiencing a growth and a path that I think was something that his- his family and his upbringing didn't expect of him. Aaron, for a long time had felt like his religious upbringing wasn't true for him anymore. And he was seeing a lot of discrepancies and problematic things within like the culture and the religion itself. And he was having a hard time sort of like crossing that bridge and like sticking with that for him. 

So Aaron quickly became very enmeshed in my family and very close to my mom and very close to my dad. My dad and Aaron would play music together all the time. They would talk astronomy and science, and they just shared a lot. And really, as Aaron grew as an adult, in a lot of ways, my parents became almost like his emotional adult parents, especially as he sort of started to grow apart from his family that he was close to as a child. 

There was one day in particular, Nora. I came home from work and I walked in and mom was at her computer. She didn't even look at me. And she was like, you can sleep in the chair tonight. And I was like, Why? And she said, Aaron had a hard day at home. He's in your bed. You can sleep in the chair. And that just kind of speaks to, like, I think Mom and Aaron's relationship, how much my family loved Aaron. And then on top of that, the- the experiences Aaron was having in his own home, that it's sort of like, you know, impacted him in a way that he felt like he needed to escape. He needed to be somewhere else. 

Things with Kari and Aaron get serious very quickly. 

People love to shit on young love -- I do it sometimes! I get it! -- but sometimes, you meet someone when you’re a kid and you’re lucky enough that it really is your person. A person you can grow up with, grow alongside of. Sometimes you’re just that lucky. 

And anyone who dated ME when I was under age … oh, I don’t know, 27 ... is lucky they didn’t end up with me. Seriously.

But Aaron and Kari are different. Aaron and Kari make sense. And so they do something that would seem not … sensible … to a lot of us.

Kari Harbath: I just remember saying to Aaron one day, like, hey, I'm going to go to college. Do you think we should probably just get married if you want to go with me? And then he was like, yeah, probably that's a good idea. I'd like to go. And I was like, cool. And then we were just like, let's just get married then. OK. It was just kind of like that, zero romance. It went from like, you know, dreamy Aaron was the romantic one. So it went from like dreamy romance city to like maybe like, hey, do you want to get married? Yeah, that'd be good. OK, great. 

Okay, great! The wedding is on!

Kari’s family is supportive. Aaron’s family? Not so much.

Kari Harbath: To give you an idea of like the wedding itself, as Aaron was walking down the aisle, his grandma basically yelled, “It's not too late to turn back now.” So that was kind of the general sentiment. 

And Aaron was mortified. Aaron was mortified. And I can remember I wasn't paying attention to my phone, but I had a text from him later that basically said, like, “We need to wrap up the wedding as soon as possible and get out.” 

And so that night we were just like, just wrap up the wedding kind of be done and we got to our hotel, which again, we're 19. So it was like this local like, small hotel. 

Nora McInerny: Oh 19, oh my god. 

Kari Harbath:  Yes. Yeah. 

Nora McInerny: You're like, how many Dr. Peppers do you want, babe? 

Kari Harbath: I- no, that's. No, that was exactly it. We didn't have some wild, sexy like, you know, wedding night. 

Nora McInerny: You just had prom.

Kari Harbath: Yeah. We just had prom, just had homecoming. And I'm not kidding you when I say our wedding night was spent crying, sitting on our bed eating the snacks from our wedding because we were so overwhelmed. Like that was our wedding night and, major cringe, but also like it sucked. It sucked, it sucked. And I just remember Aaron saying, like, I just want to I just want to be different than them. I don't want to treat people like this. I want to grow beyond this. And he wanted so badly, he wanted so badly to be something different and to be- to- to create a world in which he felt like he was giving back and doing something, you know, that- that had meaningful impact on the world. And and yeah, I mean, that sounds existential. But like I think just he wanted to be a good human was like his goal. 

Kari Harbath: Aaron and I had the best relationship. We became the same person. Really, there was nothing- there was nothing beyond that. I like- I could go on forever about Aaron. I could go on forever about our relationship. I kicked his ass at Halo, but thanks to him, because he taught me. We were your average couple, we watched The Office on repeat every single day and you know called it a personality trait, just like everybody else on the face of this earth. We... eventually he got me onto John Mayer, but I still refused to listen to Daughters. We were married for 13 years. We had sort of a bucket list of things we wanted to do. We both graduated college. We worked at the same companies for like almost the entirety of our marriage. 

We were having a great time. We were just, you know, beyond like these weird pockets of our life that are kind of dark. And we- we really had the brightest, most magical life and relationship. I mean, we- we traveled, we were- lived a pretty mundane, privileged, typical life. We would go to Starbucks every morning. We had our basic Starbucks orders. And, you know, that was it. And- 

Nora McInerny: I think, like, when you think about, like, what a good life is that I just -I don't know. There's- there's so much emphasis on, like, what's going to be- like what's the biggest thing like. Blah, blah, blah. And truly like the- the beauty of life, the joy of life. All the best stuff in life is in- is in just the absolute mundane. 

Kari Harbath: Oh my gosh. Yeah. 

Nora McInerny: Nothing more glorious. Nothing. Nothing glorious than a- a nice quiet life. Than knowing someone's Starbucks order. Than- than- than being, you know, in a routine so predictable you could set a watch to it. 

Kari Harbath: Yes. Yes. Yes. 

Nora McInerny: That is to me what a good life is, what a good marriage is. 

We’ll be right back.

Kari and Aaron have been happily married for nine years now. They’ve crossed items off their bucket lists. 

They just got back from an amazing trip to Italy. And they’re ready to start trying for a baby. It’s August 2018, and Kari is … feeling like crap. When she pees on a stick, she sees two lines. She’s pregnant. And she knows exactly how to tell Aaron.

Kari Harbath: I had grand plans and I had ordered a Bill Nye onesie and a matching Bill Nye shirt for Aaron. And I was too excited and I couldn't wait, even though it was like they would be there in two days. I couldn't wait. So I ended up going to Target and I just got a bunch of baby shit, I don't even know what I got. And then I came back and I was like, and he- poor Aaron, he was like sick with the flu. But I was just too excited. I just couldn't. wait And I was like, Aaron! And I handed him all this stuff and a card that said he was going to be a dad. And I remember he had the flu and he just started bawling, but like he had the flu. So it was like a double whammy of like he couldn't breathe and he had just like snot running down his face. 

When it comes time to tell Kari’s parents, her mom is, once again, ON IT.

Kari Harbath: My mom sobbed and then she was like, I knew it. And she goes out to the car and brings in a bunch of baby stuff up. So that just again speaks to my mom. And like her level of awareness and next level mommery. 

Everyone is so excited about the baby that when Kari’s 20-week ultrasound rolls around, the whole dang family goes to the appointment. Kari, Aaron, Kari’s parents. Kari’s sisters.

Kari Harbath: We all show up full force. My dad loves photography. So we had like this full photography camera set up. Aaron's there, I am there, mom's there. We took the day off of work. Mom had her tea with her. She had her phone camera ready to go. We were all amped, excited. And funny enough, and my mom always talked about this. We were sitting out there and I remember my mom before we went in saying, I wonder what they do when they have bad news to give to somebody, like what it's like to sit in the office, and if they, you know, if they direct somebody to a different room or like, it's just got to be really hard, like, she was just kind of thinking out loud about, like, what that would be like. 

We're all excited. We're like, oh, it's a girl and yay, Sloan. And we knew it was going to be Sloan. And so we're like, it's Sloan. It's Sloan. And then the tech was wonderful, but her energy shifted a little bit. And she said, oh, it looks like Sloan might have a cleft lip. And we're like, OK. 

Kari Harbath: And then I- I remember Aaron kind of looked at me and I mean Aaron and I could just tell, you know, the energy shifts and she got quieter, the tech got quieter. And she's like, you know, it looks like Sloan has club feet. And we're like, ok, ok, ok. 

Kari Harbath: And then she got quieter and she's like, you know, it looks like there could be brain abnormalities. And I remember my mom and my dad like kind of slowly put down the camera and I was- and my mom and dad were really quiet. Everybody's watching me, of course, the pregnant lady, which I hated, that was just like can somebody look somewhere else. 

Nora McInerny: Please disappear now. 

Kari Harbath: Yeah, exactly. I was like, I just would like to sink into the floor 

There are some moments in your life that give you a clear before and after. Moments that represent a shift in your reality. And this is one of those moments. Before this appointment, this series of announcements … Kari’s pregnancy was typical. Her married life, her family life … was shaping up to meet her expectations. And now, in front of everyone they love … those expectations need to shift dramatically, and forever.  

Kari Harbath: Aaron was great. He was just kind of holding my hand, standing there. He was like, OK, OK. And- and so then, the timing, they decided to take my blood pressure. So I was holding it all together. But they decided to take my blood pressure. They take my blood pressure and it has skyrocketed. And she says something like, oh, honey, your blood pressure. And then, of course, I lose my shit. I break down and then everybody comes rolling out and I'm just sobbing and Aaron steps out. Mom and Dad stayed in the room, Aaron stepped out, he hugs me. And then our doctor, who- the OB was wonderful. He was just the most intense, weird guy. And I love him for it. He came by, he slaps me on the back. This is honestly what I needed. I needed to be treated like I wasn't some, like gentle human that was going to break. I needed somebody to come slap me on the back and tell me we're going to do this. And so he came. He slapped me, slapped me on the back. And he says- he said, I've seen a lot of shitheads and you two aren't shitheads. You've got this. And he walks off and I was- I looked at him and I was like, yeah, we're not shitheads. 

They’re not shitheads! They CAN do this! 

From the day of that 20-week ultrasound until the day Sloan is born, Kari sees her maternal fetal medicine specialists twice a week. They have decisions to make, like WHERE to deliver Sloan. Do they do it at their local hospital? Or do they do it at the big university hospital, which has a children’s hospital nearby that specializes in medically complex kids? 

And there’s so much more.

Kari Harbath: We're just thrown into this whole new world. Genetic testing, genetic planning, people talking about different syndromes, you know, all the things. And then the rest of my pregnancy is like that. It's just kind of surreal. I never- you know, people talk about a lot of anxiety. At that point I just kind of- I don't know if I- I was disconnected or desensitized, but I was like, we're just in this and we're doing this. And I kind of just went with it. I don't -I never had a ton of anxiety. I was just like, Sloan's coming, Sloan's coming and we're going to do it.

Nora McInerny: And also, like, I don't know, there's just something to like crisis mode where it's like, it's like... 

Kari Harbath: Yes, yes. 

Nora McInerny: OK, well. Here we are. 

Kari Harbath: Exactly, and I- I think that, like, yeah, if you've never been in that level of crisis mode, it's hard to understand that because it's like, yeah, you just do it. You're like, here we are. We have to do this and we have no choice. And this is it. And it's a human we're talking about a human that's going to come out on the other side like we can't let this human down. So, Aaron and I go for it. 

Through it all, Aaron is a dream partner. A DREAM.

Kari Harbath: He's there every step of the way. He's at every appointment. He's planning everything. He's doing everything. He's there for me every single day. I was on bed rest the last two weeks. Sloan's heart rate was starting to look odd, but it wasn't enough to deliver her. But I was getting monitored almost every day at that point and Aaron was just with me all the time. and I was like, I hate this. I just remember Aaron walked in and I was like, this is the literal worst. I hate every minute of it. I never want to be pregnant again. And I just went on forever. And I was like, I feel ugly. I feel terrible. And, this just speaks to Aaron. But he... it makes me cry. But he was like... being Aaron. He like screamed, he's like Kari. And he like jumped behind me in bed because I was like on bed rest. And he squeezed me so tight. And he was like, look. And he pulls out his phone and he started taking selfies of us. And he was like, you look great. And he's like, just think you have another human inside of you that's going to pop out in a week. Like, give yourself a break, dude. And he was again treating me like a human, not like I was some gentle creature that was going to, you know, die at any moment. And I just appreciated it so much. 

After two weeks of bedrest, Kari realizes one day that she … can’t feel Sloan anymore. She’s just not moving around in there. This is scary. Kari rushes to see her doctor and learns Sloan’s heart rate is tanking. They need to do an emergency C-section. Right now. 

Kari calls her mom, her dad. Just like at that 20-week ultrasound, the whole family starts rolling in to help.

Kari doesn’t remember the actual birth. Doctors weren’t able to get her numb enough to do the C-section while she was lucid, so they had to put her under general anesthesia. But Aaron was there, and afterward he catches Kari up on what’s happening with Sloan.

Kari Harbath:  they pulled Sloan out and she wasn't breathing. And they had to intubate her. So they called the NICU team down. They were unsuccessful the first five times. And Aaron was watching all of this go down. And then on the fifth time, they were able to intubate Sloan. And it was very apparent when Sloan was born, there was a lot more going on than we ever imagined or knew from like ultrasounds 

And the funny part is I told Aaron, we made an agreement that if something happens with Sloan, he goes with Sloan no matter what, and not to worry about me. And I told him, no matter what happens, that he needs to take pictures. And so poor Aaron, love him dearly. He is standing there crying as they're trying to intubate Sloan, taking pictures with my camera because- and when somebody asked him what he's doing, he's like, I promised Kari I would take pictures. 

Kari laughs about it now, because when traumatic, awful things happen, laughing about it -- even morbidly -- can be healing. It can be the only way you tell a story. 

Back to the serious stuff. The medical team gets Sloan intubated, so she’s breathing with help. They decide her chances at survival will be better if she gets life-flighted to that specialized children’s hospital. 

And Kari is about to experience a surreal moment most moms will never have. Meeting her little girl, saying hello and saying goodbye … without knowing if it’s a see-you-soon farewell or a goodbye-for-good. 

Kari Harbath:  This is so hard to talk about. But, a lot of people get to deliver their babies and they get like, you know, childbirth no matter what is not like we see the influencers on Instagram portray it to be. So there's that. But, with that said, people still get the chance after they go through all of it to hold their baby as a human in a bed without anything. And for me, she looked like this alien, but like, love you Sloan, if you're ever listening to this by the way, but she looked like this alien that just like rolled in, covered, covered in lights and cords and stuff. And it wasn't even- you know, we were told she may not survive the life flight. So that might be the only time I ever touch her or see her. And it was just kind of like, bye, like there she was, this alien baby child that came out in the most traumatic way that I... am saying goodbye to and nothing is happy, like nothing's happy. It's not like, oh, wow, everybody's crying tears of joy because baby Sloan is here. Everybody is crying tears of terror because Sloan is barely alive and they're about to take her to a hospital where she's going to- ho knows what's going to happen next 

I know this is super graphic, but I was touching Sloan's hand and throwing up into a bag as I was coming out of the sedation, like it was like- like none of it was pretty, my mom's crying because she's terrified. My doctor is talking to Aaron about next plans. Aaron was told, don't get on the helicopter because if Sloan dies, you shouldn't be there to see that. It's going to be hard. Like I mean, we're having these conversations not like what's her name? She's 7 pounds, 11 ounces. It was like if she dies, we need to be prepared for this. Are you ready? OK. 

Instead of riding in the helicopter with Sloan, Aaron goes with Kari’s dad to meet his new daughter at the children’s hospital. Kari’s mom stays with her.

Kari Harbath: she would get me up every day. She- she would- I would be in my bed asleep. And all of a sudden I would hear Kari, Kari. And she would wait till doctors left because doctors are wonderful but may not push you as hard as you can be pushed, in my mom's opinion. And so my mom would wait until the doctors left and then she would be towering over me and she'd be like Kari, Kari, Kari, Kari. Just get up and walk. Just walk two feet, walk two feet. You can do it. Just walk two feet. And so I'd be like, OK, OK. So I would get up and I would walk two feet and then I would sit down and she'd be like, good job, you did a good job. And she would push me, push me, push me. And I swear that's the reason I got out of there, because I remember the doctor saying, like, wow, you got out so fast. I'm like, yeah, because my mom was in here and she wouldn't give me a freaking break. She kept making me walk. 

Sloan is in the NICU -- the neonatal intensive care unit --  for three months. She is a medically complex little human. She undergoes surgery for a tracheostomy. She has a G tube put in, so food can go straight to her stomach. She has clubbed feet, a cleft palate, and a cleft lip. 

She’s eventually diagnosed with a rare syndrome called CHARGE. Every letter -- the C, the H, the A, the R, G and E -- stands for another health problem, another birth defect. They’re big, hard-to-understand terms, so we’re not going to list them all.  

There’s something else you need to know about CHARGE syndrome. It’s one of the leading causes of deaf-blindness in infants. Which is another pair of complexities for Sloan: She is deaf and she is blind.

Kari and Aaron knew Sloan would have some brain abnormalities. But they weren’t prepared for alllllllll of the things. And even though many of us recognize people who are blind and deaf and have cognitive disabilities can live wonderful lives, it’s also really natural for this news to hit a new parent HARD. Because it’s a lot for two new young parents to take in, not just what is happening with Sloan now, but the anxiety of what COULD happen, what she COULD endure, what life COULD be like for her.

Kari Harbath: the way that you're presented with information, whether you're in the NICU or when you meet with medical professionals, sometimes it can be seen as like... as bad news. I don't really know how else to put it, like it's just like this is the end, your daughter's blind. And then, that's how you receive it. And being a seeing, hearing person, I can't imagine a life- I don't know what that looks like. So for me, I'm like blind! She's going to live a life of dark, petulant misery. You know, like that's- that's like immediately where my mind goes. And that is just like ableism manifested right there, you know, like- because if you meet Sloan, honestly, Sloan's quality of life after all the shit we've been through is the best out of all of us. Like, there is no question. 

Just as Kari and Aaron are adjusting to life both as new parents and as new parents to a medically complex child…

Kari Harbath: Sloan ends up in the hospital with RSV. And it's really life threatening at the time for her because her airway is so complicated, there's so much going on. She's still so like high risk in general. 

RSV is a pretty common virus. The symptoms are like a cold--your nose runs, you get a cough and you lose your appetite. Almost every child will have an RSV infection by the time they’re two. 

The thing is, RSV can be VERY dangerous for newborns. And for medically complex, immunocompromised babies like Sloan, the danger is even higher. 

So, for the second time in her very short life, Sloan is life-flighted to the children’s hospital. Right back where she started. A few days into Sloan’s stay in the PICU -- that’s the pediatric intensive care unit --  Kari and Aaron also get sick, so they’re not able to visit their daughter. 

And just like the last time they were all in this situation, Kari’s mom and dad step in to help. They take time off work. They do all of the meetings with the doctors. 

Once Kari gets better, she’s able to visit Sloan. And thank her parents -- again! -- for their help during this latest crisis.

Kari Harbath: I met my mom and dad for lunch that day, at a local bakery down in Salt Lake before they came back home from seeing Sloan. And I kind of took over the shift. And my mom, I remember crying and I like held my mom's hand and I was like, I'm just so lucky to have you as a mom. And, it was like I wouldn't trade you for anything in the world, you're my best bud, and I just went on forever and ever and ever. And I thanked her and my dad for being there, and then my mom cried and she was like, this was the best two days I got to spend with Sloan.

(Kari’s mom gets it. You gotta treasure the good times, for as long as they last.)

I’m not sure if you remember, but decades before her granddaughter arrived, Kari’s mom held another baby. Haley. Kari’s older sister, the one who died just one day after being born. Having Haley -- and losing her -- prompted Kari’s parents to make the biggest moves of their lives … out of a small-minded small town and into a world where they could be their true selves, where they could raise the children who would become their true selves, and have children who could become their true selves. Her life was short, and powerful, and not at all what they were expecting … or wanting. Without Haley, there is no Kari, and there is no Sloan.

And here, 34 years after her birth and death, Haley’s niece, Sloan, is a small and powerful force for change in her own family of origin. There’s no way of knowing how long Sloan will live -- or what her life will be like, but her presence is absolutely transforming the lives of the people who love her, sending out ripples of change far bigger than anyone can possibly know just yet.