I was to be 28 years old when I would give birth to my first child. I felt that I was far enough into my 20s to know myself and feel secure in my womanhood, but young enough to be that cool, hip mom.
On November 16, 2010, five pregnancy tests confirmed that the cramping I was feeling was not the start of my friend, but the beginning of my journey into motherhood. My husband, Michael, and I were elated. We had only been married for three months, but we both wanted children and were so ready for this adventure. We set out to ditch our two-bedroom apartment and move into a house fit for our expanding family.
My first trimester was standard. I was nauseous, and read What to Expect When You’re Expecting like it was my personal Bible. All of my checkups went great and I knew I was on cruise control until July. During my second trimester I found out that I was pregnant with a healthy baby girl. We chose to name her Callie Elizabeth to honor my mother’s nickname and my mother-in-law’s middle name. I daydreamed about sitting on our back deck watching my husband rock our daughter to sleep. My third trimester ran smoothly. Baby had a strong heartbeat and was very active. Kicking up a storm day and night, she was measuring right on schedule. At 30 weeks, we moved into our new home. We were in the final stretch. I enjoyed a beautiful baby shower where my friends and family spoiled Callie and me. Excitement was an understatement for how I was feeling.
May 30, 2011 was a beautiful Memorial Day that we spent with family. My nieces and nephews were overjoyed every time they saw Aunt Katie with her big belly. The excitement was no different that night but I noticed my baby had been fairly quiet. As I left my brother-in-law’s, I decided I would have a glass of orange juice because typically the acidity would make her move around. One glass turned into three and I still didn’t feel any kicks or hiccups. I wasn’t panicked but I decided to call my OBGYN’s office to be on the safe side. They told me to go to the hospital to get checked out. It was 1:00 am and I was 32 weeks pregnant.
Crystal, my nurse, hooked me up to a heart monitor. I was in a full hospital gown and strapped to a bed in labor and delivery, my heart pounding out of my chest. Crystal brought me oxygen and told me I was about to pass out. They couldn’t hear the baby’s heartbeat because mine was racing out of control. I used breathing techniques and brought my heart rate down, but she was not picking Callie’s heartbeat up on the monitor. The doctor on call came in with a sonogram machine that looked like it was from 1956. She lifted up my gown and did a sonogram of my belly. No heartbeat.
We had to wait for an ultrasound technician to come down with a more advanced machine to confirm what everyone in the room already knew. I begged them to strap me back up to the heart monitor. I promised I would control my own heartbeat; I just wanted them to check one more time. My husband sat in the corner with a stoic look on his face as Crystal sat on the bed and held my trembling hands. I told her I was in hell and she did not talk me out of it; she agreed.
The technician wished us good luck and left the room after five minutes of searching and taking photos. I didn’t even need the doctor to confirm the news. I knew my child was gone. I could see through the crack in the door that people were racing to the nurses’ station, huddled around, calling for an open room immediately.
The on-call doctor delivered the news that Callie was dead. My child, my first-born, my beautiful baby who carried every dream I ever had, was gone before she even got to start.
I grabbed my husband and started to scream. Doctors and nurses tried to calm us. My screams were primal, animal like. Shrills that shook my own body to the core. I knew every mother on that labor and delivery floor knew this was not the scream of a woman in labor pain, but of a mother whose heart was just ripped out.
As our sobs poured out uncontrollably, I screamed for them to call my mother.
I was rolled into delivery room number six. If you lose a baby past 20 weeks, it’s called a stillbirth and you must deliver that baby. I noticed on the door a picture of a leaf with a dewdrop falling from it. This must be the staff’s way of knowing they were entering into someone’s living nightmare.
Nurses took my blood for testing, draining me of whatever life I still had in me. The on-call doctor informed us that I had three options: induction and vaginal delivery; going home, pulling myself together and returning in a few days for delivery; or a C-section. Going home and prolonging was not an option. My baby was gone, she needed to come out, and I needed to know what happened. A C-section was not widely supported by my doctors or nurses, so what’s left? Induction and delivery. I looked at my husband — his face was one of confusion, devastation and terror. I pinched myself at this moment, but not the cliché “pinch me, I’m dreaming” pinch. I dug my nails into the skin on my wrist and twisted my skin every which way it would go. I was clinging to my own skin and begging God to wake me up.
Our beautiful, perfect daughter, Callie Elizabeth Catalino, was born at 8:03 p.m. on May 31, 2011. She was 4 pounds, 1 ounce. Callie had beautiful strawberry blonde hair, long legs like her daddy and long fingers like me. I stared at her for hours. I didn’t know how these legs and hands were kicking me 48 hours ago and now they were still. We asked if we could keep her in our room overnight. The nurses obliged and we spent that night with our daughter. My little family that was never going to be. My dreams were dead with my child — my sweet child who was so wanted, so loved. We held her throughout the night and told her how excited we were to be her parents. I whispered to her that I loved her and that I would miss her every day of my life. I asked her to give us strength to continue on, to make it through each minute of our “new normal.”
Callie was born four hours before my 28th birthday; this was not a coincidence. Our families had informed hospital staff that my birthday was June 1st and the staff did everything in their power for Callie to arrive before midnight. The association of my child’s death with my birthday is painful but I am thankful to this day that she was able to be delivered and have her own day.
As the sun rose on June 1st, the nurses came to take our Callie. They put my daughter’s lifeless body into a crib and wheeled her away. It was my birthday and the last day I ever saw my first child. As they wheeled me down the hall on that beautiful June morning, I could hear the fetal heart monitors in all of the delivery rooms. These beautiful heartbeats, beating so loud and strong, were like a chorus of gunshots to my weak heart. I would have given anything to hear Callie’s heart on those monitors. Every heartbeat I heard was like taking a bullet. Goodbye labor and delivery. Goodbye my sweet child. I was wheeled to my car. My daughter was wheeled to the coroner for an autopsy — where they found no reason other than she was “incompatible with life.” In this moment, life sucked.
Three days after Callie’s passing, we buried her in a small, private service with our immediate family and a few close friends. Being in a room filled with people who truly knew me and my husband was so comforting. My father and father-in-law provided so many cathartic laughs, refusing to allow for uncomfortable silence and instead filling our home with laughter. It was their simple way of honoring Callie.
There is a saying: “Love is about going down with the ship.” I disagree.
I often wonder, Why did my child die? Why did I put my husband through all of this pain? He could have easily married a woman who could have carried a healthy child to term. As we learned through therapy, these were all painful but normal feelings. Other women had what we so desperately wanted, a healthy baby growing inside of them. I wasn’t my best self during these times. I was jealous and bitter at points, going through the holiday season with no child. I had to give myself and my husband a break. We were human and it was unbelievably hard. We clung to each other and our hope and faith that our situation would get better. We were meant to have children. We had a nursery for Christ’s sake! We did not want to be bitter, so we put all our eggs (haha) in one basket and tried again. And that made all of the difference.
Sienna Hope Catalino was born on November 6, 2012 at 7:39 p.m. She was 8 pounds, 14 ounces and came out with one small cry. Holding her in my arms for the first time, she felt familiar. Not because I had delivered a child before, but because for nine months, she and I were a team. Every waking hour of my 39 weeks and two days of pregnancy revolved around our strong bond. Sienna was my daughter, but also my teammate. I was so in tuned with her movements, her hiccups, her kicks. I knew all about her before I even met her and I am sure her calmness upon being born was because she knew me too. We went through 11 weeks of hospital visits to ensure our health, countless non-stress tests, ultrasounds and blood work. I woke up every night at 1:00 a.m. and went to the kitchen, poured an orange juice and spent my nights poking at my daughter and feeling her kick back. It was our bonding time together. The middle of the night was always my most anxious because that’s when I realized something was very wrong with Callie. But, my sweet Sienna calmed my fears. She kicked me like she was punting a football. If I had been alone on this journey, I would have fallen apart, but my daughter kept me grounded. If I started to feel like I had not felt her in a while, she would immediately kick. She comforted me, my in-utero child comforted me! She allowed me to be calm and peaceful for nine months. My husband and I endured a pregnancy where the end felt like a question mark. Would this happen again? Would our child be healthy? The answers were no and yes. And I thank God every day.
I chose to write this article for two reasons: Callie and Sienna. To my Callie, who made Mike and me parents. You are so much more to us than a stillbirth. You are our child, our firstborn. We made a vow early on to live for you and I hope that in writing this article, a piece of you continues to live on. And for my Sienna, you made us a mommy and daddy. You are our greatest achievement. You are the reason we are sleep deprived, up all night and covered in spit up, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. You were the chance we were willing to take and I will spend the rest of my life being in awe of the wonderful creature that you are. Our hearts are in heaven and on earth. They are constantly in two places at once, never still, always beating for our girls.
Today, October 15th, is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness Day. I wanted to share my story not only for my own personal healing, but to help spread awareness. There are so many women out there who have experienced heartache like I have from an infant or pregnancy loss. Often times it’s hard to talk about this kind of loss because it makes people uncomfortable, but it deserves to be a conversation.
Photo credit: Mary Kelly Photography