In June, country star Walker Hayes, who is known for his songs "Young Broke Up With Me" and "Craig," suffered a terrible loss. Now the singer is ready to open about the tragedy in his family.
The rising country star revealed that Hayes, 38, and his wife Laney, 39, were over the moon last fall when they discovered they would be adding baby number 7 to their brood. The couple and their six children, who range in age from 3 to 12, couldn't wait to welcome the baby.
Early on the morning of June 6, Laney’s labor began and it quickly became clear that something was wrong. Within the hour, she was in emergency surgery.
A nurse broke the terrible news to Hayes: his wife had delivered a girl, and the baby had died.
He told PEOPLE that all he could think about was Laney: "What do I do? When Laney wakes up, how do I tell her? How am I the one to explain, 'it’s a girl, but you know, she died?’ I knew that was just going to crush Laney.”
But their sorrow wasn't to end there. The nurse explained that Laney's life was also in danger. Laney's uterus had ruptured depriving the infant of blood flow, and the baby died from lack of oxygen.
“I just waited,” said Hayes. “I really just hoped that this wasn’t going to be the worst day of my life, even though it kind of already was.”
He continued, “Surgery just seemed to never end, and someone would continue to come to me and say things that I didn’t really understand like, ‘We may have to use this much to replace this blood,’ ” he recalls. “That is when I began to worry for my wife’s life, and of course I’m freaking out.”
The surgical team saved Laney's life in a two hour surgery and through massive transfusions. She's physically recovered, but the couple is frank that they are still in the early stages of grief for their daughter, who they named Oakleigh Klover.
“Laney and I have cried a lot,” Hayes says, his voice breaking, “but one thing that makes me the happiest is how much love there has been around us. We’ve had the most remarkable questions answered and advice given from people around our neighborhood and in meet-and-greet lines. People walk up to me and tell me their life, and it’s like, geez, thank you for sharing. I don’t even know these people.”
After Laney came out of surgery, the couple decided to spend the rest of the day with their daughter's body. The couple was joined by their 12-year-old daughter Lela, close friend Craig Cooper (the pastor who is the subject of Hayes’ current single, “Craig”), and the Craig's wife Laura.
“Watching Walker hold her,” Laney recalls, “you felt like she’s just going to wake up. You think, oh, please, just let her start breathing. … She was swaddled and she just looked like a newborn baby.”
That night, Hayes broke the news to the couple’s other five children. “They all just handled it differently,” he says. “Some were really sad. Some were like, ‘Can I go back outside and play?’ It was tough to tell them.”
Laney, a stay-at-home mom who homeschools the couple's children, is finding her healing just “being with the kids and Walker.”
Hayes, who had his first top 10 hit this year with “You Broke Up with Me,” went back out on tour at the end of June. He told PEOPLE that performing has become his therapy.
“Being on stage is a different experience now,” he says. “It’s almost spiritual.”
Both Walker and Laney are dealing with the grief and pain, but they are focused on different things. Walker told PEOPLE he's still traumatized by how close he came to losing Laney, who has been married to for 14 years.
Laney, on the other hand, doesn't focus on her own mortality. Instead, he's still struggling with the fact that she can longer carry a pregnancy.
“I lost my last baby and now I’m done?” Laney says. “That’s hard.”
However, she adds that her six children “are more than enough to me. I do want them to know they’re wonderful and enough.”
“But,” she adds, “I can also be sad about missing Oakleigh, just like they are. It’s a process, and it will be forever.”