By: Lauren Turley
It was December 30, 2014. I was 33 weeks pregnant with a little girl, Catherine, who 14 weeks earlier received a diagnosis of Trisomy – 18. This meant she had an extra chromosome 18 which, for our Catherine, affected too many of her organs. We knew our time with Catherine would be unfairly short. Our prayer was she would be live-born and that she could meet her older sister.
I unexpectedly started contracting in the early morning hours of December 30th. At 6:45am, less than 2 hours after arriving at the hospital, Catherine Marie was born. She was 2 lbs. 5 oz. She was 15 inches long.
She spent her entire life in her parents’ arms. Catherine knew nothing but love.
Catherine lived for an hour and then 12 short hours later I was discharged. Physically, I was free to go. Emotionally, I didn’t want to ever leave. Since learning about Catherine’s diagnosis weeks earlier, I knew the time would come when I would leave the hospital after giving birth without a healthy baby in my arms. This part of Catherine’s story was much too painful for me to prepare for, so I didn’t. My mind just kind of skipped over this part because it caused my heart to hurt in a way I cannot properly explain. But now I couldn’t skip over it. It was actually happening. And it was even more physically and emotionally painful than I could have ever prepared for.
My husband, Wayne, helped me out of the wheelchair and into the car. As Wayne and I drove away, alone, I let out a wail I had never heard before. All of the sadness, fears, worries, heartache, and pain over the past 14 weeks were physically released in my sobs. And now the real struggle was officially beginning: How to continue living life for Wayne and our 22-month- old daughter waiting for us at home while I was grieving the loss of Catherine and all we would miss experiencing with her and knowing about her. It was a very lonely feeling.
Wayne felt this loneliness as well. We did not want to go home to an empty house, so we asked our immediate family members to be there when we arrived. They had pizza and drinks waiting for us.
There were hugs and tears when we walked into the house. But we were not alone that night.
Everyone stayed until we were so exhausted, we wouldn’t have any trouble actually falling asleep. We took great comfort that night being surrounded by so much love… and pizza.
It became our mission to share the lessons we learned during our short time with Catherine. We wanted people who encounter a prenatal or newborn life-threatening diagnosis to know they are absolutely not alone with their pain and heartache. And it is because of our Catherine, we were empowered to do this for others.
Just 10 days before Catherine was born, we launched a nonprofit, Catherine Cares. Catherine Cares provides Heartbeat Bears as well as restaurant and fuel gift cards to families of babies who receive a life-threatening prenatal or newborn diagnosis. Our mission is to uplift families.
Our Heartbeat Bears come with a recording device within a pocket in the bear. When a baby receives a life-threatening diagnosis, our hospital partners record the baby’s heartbeat on the device, place the device into the pocket and give the cuddly, soft bear to the family. Our Heartbeat Bears provide comfort to families.
Our restaurant gift cards provide meals when families need to eat but are overwhelmed by meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation because their hearts are broken.
Our fuel cards provide financial assistance when needed so families can attend all of the necessary doctor appointments that come with a life-threatening diagnosis.
All of our services are a reminder to families that they are never alone. We never assume we understand what another family is experiencing. But what we do understand is their heartache.
As the parents of Catherine, it is easy to get consumed with our own grief and heartache especially right after Christmas as her birthday approaches on the 30th. But we are absolutely not alone in our grief. In addition to being our daughter, Catherine is also a sister, a granddaughter, a niece, and a cousin. Our extended family, the same group of people who graciously waited for us upon our return home from the hospital back in 2014, also miss their Catherine. So, every December 30th we celebrate Catherine. The celebration looks different than a typical child’s birthday party. There are no balloons, no Disney character portrayals, no presents and no cake and ice cream. But our little family invites that same group of people – Catherine’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins – over for…what else… pizza. It’s a standing invite every December 30th. We gather to reflect. To hug. To shed a tear. And we celebrate Catherine’s life and her legacy TOGETHER (even if “together” means over Zoom this year) because we are most certainly NOT ALONE.
To learn more about Catherine Cares, visit catherinecares.org
Lauren Turley is the President and co-Founder of Catherine Cares, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose mission is to uplift families of babies who receive a life-threatening prenatal or newborn diagnosis. Catherine Cares has been in existence since December 2014 and provides its services throughout the country. In her previous life, Lauren was a middle school history and math teacher for 10 years. Lauren is now a full-time mom while running Catherine Cares. Lauren is married to her husband, Wayne, since 2011. They have three daughters- Madeline, Catherine in heaven, and Hannah. Nine months after losing Catherine, Lauren suffered a miscarriage. Lauren, Wayne and their daughters live in Kirkwood, MO, and together they enjoy cooking, coffee (for mom and dad), family walks, card and board games and photography. To learn more about Catherine Cares, visit catherinecares.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.