On the MTV reality show Run’s House, rapper-turned-minister Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and his wife of 12 years, Justine, go through perhaps the most difficult event parents can face: the loss of a child.
Last year, the 42-year-old former Run-DMC member and Justine, 43, decided to expand their family. (They are already parents to Vanessa, 23; Angela, 19; Jojo, 17; Daniel “Diggy,” 12; and Russell, 10.) But halfway through Justine’s pregnancy, doctors discovered that their developing baby girl had an omphalocele, a birth defect that caused her organs to grow outside her body.
The devoutly religious couple decided to go ahead with the pregnancy, and on Sept. 26, Justine gave birth via C-section to a 4-lb., 5-oz. girl whom the couple named Victoria Anne. The infant died less than two hours after her birth at a hospital near the family’s Saddle River, N.J., home.
The couple – who documented their ordeal on the third season of Run’s House, premiering April 9 – spoke to PEOPLE about how their faith, along with a surprising openness to MTV’s cameras, has helped them heal.
Justine: For me to get pregnant that late in my life was a miracle. The pregnancy was not easy. I didn’t eat at all. I didn’t even gain a lot of weight. For a long time the doctors couldn’t even tell [the baby’s sex], and we said we know it’s a girl. I bought everything in pink for the nursery. Everything is pink; it still is. The nursery is still upstairs.
Rev. Run: We found out that there could be a problem mid-pregnancy. The doctors told us that the baby’s organs were growing outside of the body. I’m a preacher; I’m not going to get an abortion. Our strength came from, ‘God can create miracles. This baby can be fine.’ We stopped looking at the sonogram and walked in faith.
Justine: Just me, my husband, our bishop and our pastor knew. We didn’t tell anybody else because we didn t know how it would turn out.
Despite the fact that Rev. Run calls the baby’s death “the biggest tragedy anyone could imagine,” he insisted that MTV’s cameras capture everything.
Rev. Run: God, in my mind, gave us something to go through in front of America, so we documented it on-camera – not so much to show you sadness, but to show you how we, as ministers, would handle this tragedy. [The kids] found out on-camera. Diggy was waiting to see, ‘How’s Mommy?’ And the first words we said were, ‘The baby didn’t make it.’ “
Justine: [After Victoria Anne’s death] my bishop recommended that I have a minute with the baby in the hospital. I looked at her and saw how pretty and peaceful she was. It didn’t feel like a goodbye to me. [Today] I can talk about it, but if I stop to literally revisit, I start crying so fast because I can go right there. Women need to know you only need to mourn quickly. Don’t try to think of [the baby’s] eyes. It doesn’t sound nice, but it will help them in the long run. I wouldn t have been able to help my kids get to school in the morning if my husband didn’t say, ‘We have to keep moving.’ I did a lot of journaling – writing to God telling him to give me strength.
Rev. Run: Diggy might have taken it the hardest, but I didn’t let him. I had him out on the skateboard the first day. Basically we teach our kids thankfulness. We all cry, but not a long period of it. We don’t have pictures [of Victoria Anne]. We don’t look back. We don’t want the walls of our house to start crying, and everything to just crumble around us.
Justine: I’ve always wanted to adopt, and now my husband is with me. We’re doing the paperwork now and praying that God gives us the right baby girl. We celebrate life. We know Victoria is with God in a wonderful place looking down on us, and that’s probably why we have a lot of blessings going on now.