‘Hours after saying goodbye, I tattooed her handprint on my thigh. Hand in my pocket, I can forever holds hers.’: Mom shares emotional birth and loss of daughter

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A Beautiful Surprise

“I was 25 years old and single when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I was scared, but not of being a single mom; I was mostly afraid of how those around me would react. I was the only one in my family to ever raise a baby out of wedlock, never mind single without a significant other. To me though, it was perfect. It was exactly how I always imagined it. I wouldn’t have to share her with anyone. This baby would be mine and mine alone. I would make the decisions and I would be in charge.

pregnant woman by the water
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

The second I found out I was pregnant, it changed who I was. I didn’t know where I was going or what I wanted in life, but I knew I would be the best mom I could possibly be. I joined a centering group for pregnant moms. This group was led by the most amazing midwife, who probably doesn’t know how much she changed my life. Each week we would meet for our weekly appointments, but we would also meet as a group to discuss all of the things that pregnancy entails.

We covered all of the possible scenarios that you may experience while giving birth; we learned about c-sections, forceps, vacuums, and water births. We learned about breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and how to make the best choice for our baby and ourselves. We also learned about each other. There were 6 of us in the centering group, all due within days or weeks of each other. We were all having girls. Some of us were excited about a girl, and some of us didn’t know what we’d do with a girl. I was one of the ones that didn’t know what I’d do with a girl. I was a tomboy, through and through. I played ice hockey and hung out with boys, I was never girly and wondered if my daughter would look for that in her mom. I wondered about a lot of things. Would she look like me? Would she know how much I loved her? Would she be upset that it was just her and I? But none of that would matter.

My Wild Birth

Three days before my due date, I felt like I was slowly leaking something. I checked with my midwife who sent me straight to the hospital where they confirmed I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid. The leak was slow and not very alarming so they made me comfortable for the night and we would begin the induction in the morning. The next morning I remember being so hungry. All I wanted was a cheeseburger and I wasn’t even a big fan of cheeseburgers. I begged for something to eat but the nurses insisted that it wasn’t allowed, which I already knew from weeks of centering classes. At one point the nurses realized it was my birthday, brought me a piece of cake, and sang happy birthday. I asked if I could trade the cake in for a cheeseburger but they still weren’t having it.

pregnant woman on a mountian
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

After hours of painful contractions and numerous attempts at an epidural, the nurses told me I was ready to push. I think it was somewhere around 3 or 4 in the afternoon that I began pushing (for what felt like an eternity). My body didn’t seem to be doing what it was supposed to, every time I felt like I was getting close, I wasn’t able to push her out. I tried and tried but I was losing strength and didn’t think I could take it much longer. I heard the doctor talking about getting a vacuum, and regardless of how much we went over this in centering class, nothing could have prepared me for what came next.

Again, I know we had gone over this, but learning about something in a workbook versus actually experiencing it are two totally different things. The doctor began to explain how he was going to attach one end to the baby’s head and they would use the other end to help guide the baby out. I was relieved at this point thinking how perfect this would be. I could barely push anymore and they were just going to suck the baby out with a vacuum! Not so much.

Looking back, my aunt was by my side during the delivery, and I often laugh at how barbaric it seemed. The doctor had his hand on one end, while the nurse pumped this machine that looked like she was pumping up a blowup mattress. All the while, I’m still pushing at each contraction and the doctor is trying to guide the baby out. It was craziness! And then, just like that, it was over and they laid this perfect little human upon my chest.

The moment our eyes met, my life changed forever. Nothing mattered anymore. It didn’t matter if I was a tomboy or she was a girly girl. It didn’t matter that I was single and wouldn’t share this moment with a significant other. The only thing that mattered was that she was here, and we loved each other. She was my whole world, and I was hers. I remember our first few days of being home together seemed so foreign. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Who let me just take a baby home from the hospital, all alone, not knowing what to do?’ I remember trying to do all the things everyone around me so kindly suggested. But mostly, I remember figuring out what worked best for us.

I had pack n plays, boppy pillows, and even the bassinet that I first slept in when I was an infant. None of them seemed to comfort her. I laid her down in her crib one night after changing her so I could use the bathroom and when I returned just moments later, she was sound asleep as comfortable as could be right in her beautiful bed. I slowly backed away to shut the light off and sat in the rocking chair in the corner of the room just staring at her in awe. She was the most beautiful perfect little baby. That summer was the greatest summer of my life. The two of us quickly fell into our own routine and always knew what the other wanted.

mom holding baby after birth
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

Early Days Of Bliss

We’d spend days by the pool at my aunt’s house, or with some of my best friends and their families. We met with the other moms and babies from the centering group. She was the best baby ever. She was often passed around at family functions, with barely a peep ever heard from her. She hardly ever cried, she was easy in so many ways. She was easy because I always knew what she wanted, our hearts were one. She was never sick, I never heard her sneeze. She never even had a diaper rash, just perfect in every way possible. I made her promises about our life together. I promised her that she would want for nothing. I promised her that I would make us a life that would make her proud. She motivated me in a way I never knew was possible and I promised her the world.

Those summer days by the pool quickly came to an end, and I would return to work before I knew it. I had looked at what felt like a million different daycares before I decided on a lovely little home daycare, just minutes away from where we lived. Everything still seemed perfect. I was living the life of a single working mom, and loving every second I got to spend with my beautiful baby. We would get ready in the morning and I’d drop her off before my long commute and think about her every second of the day until I returned to pick her up.

woman holding her daughter
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

The Call That Changed It All

One day at the office the phone rang, and before I had time to look at the caller ID, I knew something wasn’t right. The daycare provider was on the other end of the telephone, andI could hear someone instructing her on what to say: ‘She stopped breathing and is being rushed to the hospital.’ My commute was almost an hour-long, but my parents were close by.

I’m almost positive I called them to tell them, but I don’t actually remember the initial phone call to them. I do remember the moment I knew she was gone. My dad, who was a retired member of the local fire department, would always be in control in a situation like this. He knew what to say to keep everyone calm, especially considering I needed to make that hour-long drive by myself. He told me not to rush, he told me they were doing everything they could.

As I got closer, I asked him to tell me the truth, I asked if she was going to be okay. I remember him saying, ‘It doesn’t look good’ and I knew, without a doubt, that my baby didn’t make it. No one ever said those words to me, not then, not ever actually. But I knew at that moment, that I would never see her alive again. As I ran into the hospital, people tried to stop me, I’m assuming to tell me what to expect, or to break the news, but I already knew, and as I turned the corner into the ER room, all of the life drained out of me as I saw my mom holding my lifeless daughter in her arms.

baby girl in a basket
Courtesy of Sears Portrait Lab

My Grief

I held her for hours. As long as they let me. One of the labor and delivery nurses that were part of her birth came down with the ink kit for the footprints and did her footprints and handprints for me that day. Through the next days, weeks, and months plenty of people rallied around me, but it was the little things that most didn’t even think of that kept me going. A good friend I had known for years tattooed that very handprint onto my thigh just hours after saying goodbye to my baby. That tattoo means more to me than I could ever explain. When I put my hand in my pocket, my hand always holds hers.

The wake and funeral were a blur. I was barely existing. I remember there being an outpouring of local firefighters, as my dad was one of them for so many years, and the rescue team that responded to the call at the daycare was part of that same fire department. I remember there being family and friends stretched out for what seemed like miles. I remember my cousin singing the most beautiful version of Amazing Grace. I don’t remember much honestly from those first few days of grief, but I remember kneeling next to her casket, telling her that her life would always mean something.

I could have easily given up at that moment. I could have quit, right there and then. But I knew, that if her life ever meant anything, I would need to keep all my promises to her. So, I reached out everywhere I could. I found connections online through a support group. I found support through mental health counseling. I found support from others that I knew had gone through similar experiences. But I also found ignorance and negativity. Talking about losing a baby was quite a ‘taboo’ subject. No one wants to talk about or hear about a dead baby until that baby is your child.

baby girl getting a professional photo
Courtesy of Sears Portrait Lab

Even now, almost 12 years later, I’ve heard people say things like, ‘Will you ever get over it?’ And the answer is simply no. There is no getting over this. I have learned to live with it as a part of who I am, but you never get over ‘it,’ because ‘it’ is not just your child’s death. When a baby dies, so many of your hopes and dreams die too. You don’t just lose that one instant, you lose the rest of your life with that child. When you go on to have other children, you realize every single one of their ‘firsts’ should have been someone else’s. You live with guilt about not enjoying one child’s first because it should have been another’s. You live with guilt when you do celebrate another child’s first, because how could you?

As I learned to fight the guilt, I remembered all those promises I made to Tegan Rae. My little Rae of Sunshine as I called her. I remembered the things I told her I would do and feared that if I didn’t make good on those promises, then her life really would have meant nothing. I re-enrolled in a degree program at a local community college. I found a love for a career that I never knew existed. I excelled in my newfound passion and was being recognized for all the right reasons. I was honored to be chosen as President of my class, and the head of the program wrote an article about me.

Moving Forward

I continued to excel in my career and made leaps and bounds in a field that I love. I strive to do all the things I promised her in order to simply keep her memory alive within me. If she was still here I’d show her that I did it, I kept my promises, I did what I said I would do. Tegan has two younger siblings that know all about her love, her life, and even her death. They know what she means to me, and they know everything they have is because of who she made me. Her memory lives on in all of us, through special traditions and moments we share.

woman working in the lab
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

If there is one piece of advice I could give to any grieving parent, it would be to make this journey your own. Grieving the loss of a child is different for everyone and what may help some may not help others.  Many people will try to say or do things to help, but no one could ever possibly know what would help, except you. It’s okay to tell people how you feel. Your story will often make others uncomfortable, don’t apologize. Do what you need to do for yourself, but don’t forget to continue your journey. Move forward, and learn what it will take to make your baby’s memory move forward with you.”

woman taking a bike ride with her kids
Courtesy of Catie Laroche

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Catie Laroche of Woonsocket, RI. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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