Everything I Do

Patrick Gilbreath for The Players' Tribune
Presented by
Kay Jewelers

It was around five o’clock on a Sunday morning. My wife, Morgan, was sitting up in her hospital bed, holding our son in her arms. He had been born a few hours before. He was wrapped up in a little blue blanket. Even now, if I close my eyes, I can still see him.

I wanted that moment to last forever. Because I knew that as soon as Morgan and I walked out of that hospital, it would be just the two of us again.

We wouldn’t be bringing our baby home.

Our son had been born prematurely. So early that his lungs hadn’t had time to fully develop.

He never got to take his first breath.

He died before he even left the womb.

The sun had just come up. I was sitting at the edge of the bed while Morgan cradled our son. We were hypnotized. We’d never seen a baby so small. Then, without looking up at me, Morgan broke the silence.

“You should go play.”

It was November 12, 2017. My team at the time, the 49ers, was playing the Giants that afternoon. I had left the team the evening before to be with Morgan. 

I had no intention of playing. I hadn’t. I hadn’t eaten. But in my mind, what it really came down to was: How am I supposed to play with a broken heart?

“I can’t,” I said. “There’s no way.”

I tried to plead my case. I wasn’t physically ready. I didn’t want to leave Morgan. I didn’t want to leave my baby boy.

“Your son wants to see you play,” she said, still looking down at him.

Then she looked up at me.

“Go play for your son.”

My dad was not a part of my life growing up. My mom always says that I wanted to be a father more than winning a Super Bowl or an Olympic gold medal. And she’s right. I have always wanted to be a father. More than anything.

The kind mine had never been for me.

But it was watching my mother struggle as a single mom that made me want to be a great husband.

My mom raised me and my three sisters by herself — including my sister Deja, who has cerebral palsy. Deja didn’t learn how to speak until she was seven years old, and she still struggles to communicate. Today, she’s 29, and my mother still takes care of her. She can’t use the bathroom, so my mom changes her diapers. She feeds her. Bathes her. Sits her up straight on the couch when she slides down. She does everything for Deja. Always has.

And she still made sure I never missed a football practice. Or a track meet. And that my sisters always got their schoolwork done.

My mom always says that I wanted to be a father more than winning a Super Bowl or an Olympic gold medal. And she’s right.

Marquise Goodwin

But it was hard. I can remember nights when we didn’t have anything to eat. Living in Section 8 housing. Having to move basically every year all through high school and college because we couldn’t find a steady place to live.

As I got older, I realized that our family was missing more than just a father. A second income would have changed our lives. He wouldn’t have even had to have been a dad. If only he had just been there. To help out with the bills every now and then.

Or to just give my mother a break.

She handled her business, though. She was amazing. 

And everything she did, she did for us. 

She never got to live her own life. 

So I promised myself that when I got married one day, I would never put my wife in that position. Whatever her dream was — whatever her purpose was — I was going to make sure she was able to live it.

Morgan surprised me with the pregnancy test. I didn’t even know what I was looking at, or what I was supposed to be looking for. Then I saw it.

The two little lines.

She was all giggly. So happy.

I was jumping around, screaming, “Whooooooo! We havin’ a baaaaay-beeeeeeee!

We’d never been so excited. 

I met Morgan at the University of Texas. We both ran track. She pursued track and field after college while I tried to make a name for myself with the Bills. By the time she got pregnant, she wasn’t running anymore and I was five years into my career and had moved on to San Francisco.

One night, not long after that pregnancy test, we had a conversation about finding our purpose in life. It was something that had been weighing on me a lot because I had this growing feeling that I was on this earth for something more than just being an athlete. After a lot of prayer, I realized that my purpose was to be a presence in young kids’ lives. I told Morgan this, and I asked her what she believed her purpose to be. She put her hands on her belly and smiled.

“To be a mother.”

Courtesy of Marquise Goodwin

A few months later, Morgan was at home and I was on my way to the team hotel for some meetings. We were playing the Giants the following day. Morgan was 19 weeks pregnant. We had kept up with all our doctor’s visits, doing everything by the book. 

But at one recent visit, the doctor had told us that there was a potential complication.

Morgan had something called an incompetent cervix, meaning that her cervix — which is basically what holds the baby inside the womb and keeps it from coming out — was weak. This can lead to premature birth because once the baby reaches a weight that the cervix can’t support, it basically gives way and the baby comes out, regardless of how far along it is in its development.

Morgan called me while I was on my way to the hotel and said something wasn’t right. She didn’t know what. “Just come home,” she said. So I told my coaches, they excused me from everything, and I went home to be with my wife.

We were just sitting at home, relaxing on the couch, when she asked me if I could come to the bathroom with her. 

I was like, “What for?” 

She had this confused look on her face.

“I feel like … I’m … I don’t know, it’s like….”

“What is it? What are you trying to say?”

“I have to use the bathroom,” she said. “But I feel like if I go, this baby’s gonna come out of me.”

I went with her to the bathroom, and she was right. 

Her water broke.

The baby was coming.

Twenty-one weeks early.

I called 911 and the ambulance was there in like five minutes. At the hospital, the doctors told us it didn’t look good. The baby was coming, but he was so premature that he didn’t have much of a chance to survive. His lungs were underdeveloped. They also told us that a birth at such an early stage is very dangerous — for both the baby and the mother.

The baby was coming, but he was so premature that he didn’t have much of a chance to survive.

Marquise Goodwin

So now, Morgan was at risk, too. 

The doctor recommended that we “terminate” the pregnancy.

To this day, my heart still jumps every time I hear that word.

Terminate.

I didn’t know what was going to happen the rest of that night and into the morning. So I called my team chaplain and let him know what was going on. He suggested I not play the following day. I agreed.

The doctors induced Morgan. She gave birth to our baby boy at 3:52 a.m. 

He didn’t cry.

He didn’t fuss.

He couldn’t.

He was already gone.

“Go play for your son.”

I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave them. But when she said that, I felt like … what else could I do?

Playing for him was at least something.

I reached for Morgan to pass my boy to me so I could hold him one last time. I remember his hands the most. How when I laid them on mine his fingers barely covered my fingernail. From his shoulders to his butt, he was as big as the palm of my hand. I never knew a baby could be so small. 

But there he was. My son. The baby boy who had made me a father, even if it was only for a couple of hours. 

When I kissed him on the forehead and passed him back to Morgan, it felt like I was giving away a piece of myself — something that I had deep inside me that would now be gone forever. But I gave him to her.

Then I gathered my things and left.

Walking through the hospital hallway — and in the elevator, on the drive home, in the shower, on my way to the stadium — I don’t think I have ever felt so alone in my life. In my head, I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing. I didn’t know anything for certain anymore. All I knew was that my wife had told me to go play. For my son.

So that’s what I was going to do.

Ben Liebenberg via AP

I sleepwalked through the whole first quarter. I was there, but I wasn’t there. My mind and my heart were still back at the hospital with Morgan and my baby.

Then, in the second quarter, I lined up and saw that the defense was in Cover 4. I was supposed to run a post route. And any time you get a Cover 4, and you run a post, it’s basically a guaranteed touchdown.

As long as the quarterback makes the right read.

So I summoned up energy I didn’t even know I had, and I ran my butt off. 

I blew by the corner, and at the top of my route, I turned and saw the ball was already in the air. There was no way I was dropping it. No way anybody was catching me. I knew, as soon as I saw the ball, that I was going to score.

Normally, when I get to the end zone, I’m dancing. Doing the long jump. I’m celebrating.

This time, when I crossed the goal line, I just fell to my knees. I blew a kiss up to the sky for my baby boy, buried my head in the turf and just started praying out loud.

My teammates rushed up to congratulate me. But when they heard me praying, I think they understood what was happening and gave me my space. If anyone was in my ear, I didn’t hear them. I was just talking to God.

Then I popped my head up, and Eric Reid was there. He had run all the way from the sideline. 

He just put his hands on my helmet, looked into my eyes and said, “I love you, brother.”

I hadn’t scored a touchdown all season. We hadn’t won a game all season — we were 0–9. We went on to beat the Giants that day. I should have been happy. Ecstatic. Relieved. Something.

But all I felt was exhaustion.

And guilt.

For leaving Morgan.

To this day — even though I scored a touchdown and had that incredible moment — when I think about the fact that I played that day, I get sick to my stomach. And after that game, I promised myself that — even if Morgan asked me to — I would never put the game of football above my wife or my family again.

Morgan and I never had one conversation about not trying for another child.

Not one.

We started trying again as soon as possible. And by the summer of the following year, she was pregnant again. She had had a procedure done where they basically put in a band to help support her cervix so it wouldn’t give out. They call it a TAC, which is an abbreviation for some medical term I can’t pronounce. But she got one to help prevent what had happened the first time. 

We had already lost one baby. I didn’t know how we would handle losing another.

Besides, this time, we were twice as excited as the first.

Because Morgan was pregnant with twins.

With the TAC in place, we basically did everything the same way we had done it the first time. By the book. We stayed up on our doctor’s visits. We were on point.

Then, right around the 19-week mark, I was with the 49ers on the road in Tampa when Morgan called me. 

She was already at the hospital.

Her water had broken.

It was happening again.

This time, I was panicking because I wasn’t at home like I had been the first time. I was 3,000 miles away. On the other side of the country. I couldn’t be there for my wife. I couldn’t be there for my boys. I was helpless.

We had already lost one baby. I didn’t know how we would handle losing another.

Marquise Goodwin

The only thing that calmed me down was the calm in Morgan’s voice.

One of the boys was already gone, she said. That was the water that had broken. He didn’t survive.

The second baby was still O.K.

The doctors were going to remove the first baby and leave the second. If everything went as planned, there was a chance we could save him.

I told my coaches what was happening and took the next flight home. I made it in time for the surgery. When they removed the TAC, the second water broke. So both babies had to come out right then and there.

Two more tiny babies. One gone before taking his first breath, and the other alive, but struggling to breathe.

I held both of them in my hands.

I saw the one’s little chest rising up and down. I could feel it against my palm. I couldn’t believe how fast it was going. His lungs were so tiny. And his skin was so pink it was see-through. I could literally see his little heart struggling. 

Until he just didn’t have anything left.

And it all stopped.

Going through the trauma of losing a child is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. 

Going through it twice — and losing three boys?

It shattered our entire world.

And for a while, it really changed me. I went to a pretty dark place. I had dealt with death before. I had lost people in my family and other people in my life over the years. But never anybody like a child.

I started talking to God even more, just asking, “Why? Why me? Why us?”

And I got no answers. I had no words. 

So when it came to Morgan, all I had was ears. She hadn’t dealt with death in her life before. She needed me. And that was probably the most difficult part for me: being there for her while I was still trying to figure it all out myself.

But we leaned on each other. And at the end of the day, Morgan and I … we’re very determined people. We’re competitors. We’re companions.

And more than anything, we’re believers.

So that’s what we did.

We believed.

And on February 9, 2020, Morgan gave birth — again. 

This time, to a little girl. 

A full-term, healthy, beautiful little girl.

Her name is Marae.

Courtesy of Marquise Goodwin

We call her our Rainbow Baby because after the storm we had been through — and the clouds that had hung over us and the darkness we had endured — on the other side, there was light. There was sunshine. 

There was a rainbow.

I didn’t play that week in Tampa after we lost our twins. I’d never shaken the guilt of playing after we lost our first son, and I had promised myself I would never put the game above my wife or my family again.

That’s why I opted out of the 2020 season.

Because of everything Morgan and I have been through, I decided to put my family first. I took this pandemic seriously from the beginning because … I know death. I know darkness. And anything I can do to protect my family from them, I’m going to do.

My new team, the Eagles, understood that, and they fully supported my decision. I appreciated that. Because I do want to play football. I love this game. I feel like I could play five more years in the NFL, at least.

Just not at the expense of my wife and daughter.

At the end of the day, everybody’s got a story, man. Everyone’s circumstances are different. Since I was a kid, all I wanted to be was a great father and the best husband I could possibly be.

By staying home this season, I believe I’m doing that.

Everything Morgan and I have been through has brought us closer together. The love I have for her and my daughter will always guide me. Because I believe that as long as we have each other, nothing can stop us. That’s why everything I do, I do for my family.

For the ones who are with us — and the ones who aren’t.