October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. It is a time to remember those sweet babies lost to miscarriage, stillbirth or early infant death. I fit into that last category, early infant death. Three weeks to be exact.
In 2016, after my son Joey died, a close friend asked me, “Do you know anyone who has lost a child?” I thought for a moment then replied, “Just one.” My neighbor Lauren Turley had lost her daughter Catherine to trisomy-18 the year before. I remember the first time I learned of Catherine. I was sitting in my living room and Lauren’s sister Molly was visiting. She shared that her sister was pregnant, but the baby was not expected to live. It wasn’t long before Lauren moved to the neighborhood and we became friends. After Joey died, she and her husband Wayne started to show up for me. They were there at the funeral. She invited my husband and I over for dinner. She asked me if we could meet for a walk, which turned into a walk every Wednesday morning. When I would have been waking up to nurse, instead I put my sneakers on and opened the door to see Lauren standing in my driveway.
It was a kind of initiation in to the club that no one wants to join. She walked me through questions people would ask like, “How many children do you have?” and “How was your summer?” (My child died, how was yours?”) Death is undeniably awkward and sadly, part of the job of the griever is to help others know how to talk to you and to set them at ease. Isn’t that weird? We are trying to figure out death and grief and loss and at the same time, shepherd our community along to help them know how to respond to us and help us. This is why it is so crucial for someone facing infant loss to find a community of others who have been there to walk them through it, because most of your friends are probably going to look at you like they’ve just seen a ghost. They want to help, but they just don’t know how.
Well, Lauren knew all of this and she cares about it a lot. In fact, she cares so much that she and her husband started a non profit called “Catherine Cares” with the mission of uplifting families facing a devastating diagnosis. When families are given a devastating diagnosis at the 20 week ultrasound, they also receive a gift bag from Catherine Cares. It includes a gift card for a meal and gas and a heart beat bear. This bear contains a recordable device for parents to record the baby’s heartbeat to keep inside the bear. It is a sweet keepsake and a blessing in an impossibly difficult time.
Lauren and I walked through that year together and to our delight, we both became pregnant with our rainbow babies. In the loss community, when a baby is born after the storm of loss, that baby is called a rainbow baby. Mine was born in September and hers in November. We got together for a walk that week and watched our little ones play together at the park. The “double rainbow” sighting was not lost on us. As she filled me in on all of the hospitals that they are partnering with and the hope that they are spreading to families going through the darkest of times it struck me again – it’s not just Catherine who cares. Lauren cares. Wayne cares. They care a lot. They cared enough to turn their misery into a ministry and their pain into purpose and to give their daughter Catherine a legacy. In the loss community, they are a bright light of comfort, and that comfort found my family as well.
To all of you sweet loss mamas, big hugs this October. We remember your baby with you. We recognize your grief and loss, and we wish for you to find the hope and strength you need to keep walking.