A Story of Two Sisters | A Rainbow Baby Newborn Session | Jacksonville Newborn Photographer
This is the story of a wonderful little family that I had the great privilege to meet in 2016. Their sweet daughter Madeline was born at just under 23 weeks gestation. This strong, feisty little girl survived for two days before she passed away. Thomas and Kaitlin contacted the charitable organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and as part of our team of volunteer photographers, I took the call and came to the hospital shortly after Madeline passed to create some very special images of her and her family.
In 2017, they found out they were expecting Madeline’s sister, baby Catherine. After a long and difficult pregnancy, Catherine was born healthy, and I came to their home to photograph her newborn session.
This is the story of two sisters, one in heaven and one on earth, and the love that their parents share for them.
“Thomas and I met in Louisville, KY, where he’s from and I went to college. We came to Jacksonville in 2015, because Thomas started orthopaedic surgery residency at UF-Jacksonville. We met in 2014, were engaged in 2015, got married and had Madeline in 2016, and then got our dog Rupp and got pregnant with Catherine in 2017… so we’ve had a whirlwind of a time since meeting! We’re both big University of Kentucky Wildcat fans, hence our dog’s name is Rupp. Our families are really important to us, as is our Catholic faith (which are the two things that helped us most after Madeline passed away). Thomas’s residency is 5 years, and then he has 1 year of fellowship somewhere, then we hope to make it back to KY to be close to our families, so about 3 yrs away now! I’m a nurse, not currently working, but ironically spent my career as a Neonatal Intensive Care nurse. I loved every second of it and truly believe it’s where I was meant to be, but after Madeline passed away I had to walk away.”
“We were so excited to find out we were pregnant and told our family immediately. I took weekly pictures and was so into it. I couldn’t wait to meet this little girl. I was working PRN (as needed), and hadn't worked in a while. I’d finally started to pick up shifts again a little into my second trimester. Like any NICU nurse will tell you, I kept telling myself I’d breathe a sigh of relief after my anatomy scan (around 20 weeks), and then I’d be even better once I hit “viability” which was 24 weeks. Hurricane Matthew was coming, and being as we’re from KY and know nothing about hurricanes we went to stay with some friends in Tampa. We had to stick close by because I would have to work once the hurricane passed, which ended up being a Sunday. I was on my feet for pretty much all 12 hours and didn’t have time to sit down to eat and barely had any water. I came back in Monday night and it was even crazier.
It was Tuesday, October 11 and I was 22 weeks and 6 days pregnant. A few people had asked me the night before, “I bet you can’t wait to hit viability!” and I laughed and was like “Oh yeah, only one more week!” I remember I couldn’t wait to crawl in my bed at 8 am, my legs were killing me and my back was stiff and I was exhausted, which is totally normal after two back-to-back shifts with an intense patient. I woke up around 2 pm and felt like I was cramping, but kind of ignored it, rolled over and went back to sleep. I woke up around 5 and just felt off. I was a little nauseous and kind of cramping, but figured I needed to eat something. I ate and nothing got better, so I laid on the couch, called my mom for advice, and tried to watch TV. Thomas walked in around 7 and I was in fetal position on the couch. I told him what was going on and was like, “I’m pretty sure it’s just round ligament pain,” (I’d had it before and it just felt like an exaggerated pain). I kept saying labor has to be more painful than this. I threw up and then couldn’t move because I was in so much pain, so Thomas said we were going to the hospital. My pain had escalated so quickly that I thought I was having a placental abruption, so he called 911.
We get to UF, and I had a fever and the nurse had a hard time finding Madeline’s heart rate. She finally did and it was pretty high. Then the sweetest resident ever came in, and did an exam, and her face said it all. Basically Madeline was coming, footling breech at that, and there was nothing they could do to stop the delivery. From that moment on it was an out of body experience. It was an all around traumatizing labor, but those residents and my nurse were the best people. They had so much compassion and I truly believe God put them there that night. They did everything they could to make it seem normal. But I knew the reality of delivering a 23 week baby…in my 3 years as a NICU nurse I had only seen one baby survive that. The odds of being able to intubate (put a breathing tub down) a baby that small are so slim. Madeline Grace was born at 1:56 am on October 12, 2016 at 23 weeks exactly. She weighed 1 lb 0.5 oz and was 11 inches long and that little girl kicked her way out. She was feisty from moment one and by the grace of God that neonatologist intubated “the smallest cords he’s ever seen.” The sweetest words ever spoken to me were, “Mama, do you want to see your baby?” And she was pink and tiny and perfect. I never expected to see her intubated!
Those two days were long and exhausting but I have never been more thankful for two days. She did decent the first day, which in the NICU we call the “honeymoon period.” But we got to take her temperature, change her diaper, watch her move and make faces when the nurses did things. We got to be parents and were treated like it, which was so important when you only get two days with your child this side of heaven. We realized she was going downhill on day two, so we had our priest come and baptize her. It was the sweetest moment! Seeing Madeline go downhill was so hard, Thomas and I didn’t want her to suffer or be in pain and we had agreed that if we were going that route we would stop. There is NO harder decision than to stop intervening in your child’s life and deciding that it’s time for them to go to heaven. I am SO grateful for the neonatologists and the nurses; compassion isn’t easy and giving a family time is hard.
Madeline was the strongest girl I know. She has made our family and our faith so strong. She is such a gift from God. We got to hold her for hours and I remember not wanting to ever give her back. She was perfect and peaceful. I remember when we decided to stop that I had never felt more peace. I felt like God was standing right beside me, holding my hand, and saying He’d take care of her until we could see her again.
When my mom asked if we wanted to take pictures, we thought it was weird and morbid. Who does that? Why would anyone want to remember this moment? But I thought, “Well, we don’t have to look at them, we’ll just see how it goes.” And Thomas and I are so grateful for my sister-in-law (an L&D nurse who told my mom about Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep and found Dallas), and Dallas for coming in the middle of the night to give us one of the greatest blessings we didn’t know we’d need, and those pictures. Those pictures help us remember her perfect little self and all the things you would forget.
We had a wonderful visitation, funeral, and burial for her back home, in Kentucky. She is buried in my baptism gown and is next to my grandfather.”
“I had SO many emotions when I found out I was pregnant again. I had been back in KY with family, and one of my sister-in-laws asked me if I was pregnant. I said no, because I didn’t think I was. Well fast forward about a week, I realized I was late, but was in denial and honestly didn’t know what I would think so kind of just ignored it. After a few days I took a test, and it was immediately positive… no 3 minutes needed. And I broke down in tears. I sat on the floor and lost it for about 15 minutes, because I didn’t know how I’d do it again. I didn’t want to give up another baby. 15 minutes later I got up, felt happy, excited, anxious, terrified, and about every emotion one could feel, and went and cuddled our dog on the couch. Thomas was at work. When he got home I had put a sign on Rupp, our dog, that he was going to be a “big brother,” but Rupp chewed half of it as Thomas was trying to read it! And I just hear him go, “Is this a joke?!” He was so excited.”
“Due to Madeline’s premature birth, I am a high risk patient, so I saw a Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) doctor. We had talked with her after Madeline was born about what we would have to do in another pregnancy, so we had a general idea of how it would go. Waiting until that first appointment at 10 weeks was rough. When we finally saw that little baby and heard that heartbeat I hoped all would be okay. That started our 38 week journey with Catherine.”
“We found out she was a girl about a week and a half later but didn’t tell anyone till around Thanksgiving, because I was too anxious. I had MFM appointments every three weeks, then every two weeks, then weekly. I had to have weekly progesterone shots from weeks 16-36. I got two steroid shots when I hit 23 weeks, to help with lung development, just in case she decided to be come early. I also had to have ultrasounds every two weeks starting at 16 weeks to watch my cervical length.”
“At 19 weeks we went in for my anatomy scan and cervical length check. Anatomically she was perfect, however my cervix had shortened dramatically in two weeks and we could see my cervix opening and closing on the ultrasound. She texted my doctor and we were immediately sent to the hospital. I was freaking out at that point, hoping they could still keep her in. I was admitted for a cerclage [a surgical procedure where the cervix is stitched to help keep it closed]. Luckily hadn’t eaten that day, and so we could do it that afternoon. The rest of my pregnancy I was on modified bed rest, in hopes that my water wouldn’t break. All was pretty normal after that. I had bad sciatic pain. I had Braxton-Hicks contractions starting around 25 weeks. I was nauseous and had to eat small frequent meals. I basically laid around the house for 18 weeks and went to church every week. Around 32 weeks I started to venture out and go to stores and try to do a little more.”
“Emotionally my pregnancy was rough. I was anxious the whole time, freaked out something would happen, overthought every feeling I had. Thank goodness for Dr. Burnett, my MFM. She answered every question and never acted like I was crazy. At 37 weeks, she removed my cerclage and it was a waiting game after that. A week after my cerclage was removed, I was contracting pretty continuously. On February 13, we went to the hospital. Thomas said he wanted her to be born on Valentines day…so she listened and made us wait! It was a rough labor and delivery but February 14, at 10:06 AM Catherine Elise Rogers made her perfect entrance into the world. I couldn’t believe she was real! Everything we went through and had to do was so worth it.”
“Having Catherine in our life has been totally life changing and wonderful! My amazing mom stayed for almost a month and helped with everything. I had a rough delivery, so I really had to rely on her and Thomas for a lot. And since Thomas is a resident, he only got a week off. Catherine took to nursing easily, thankfully. She was a good sleeper. She woke up initially in the middle of the night to eat, but that didn’t last long. She was fussy in the evenings with gas and that was rough, but thankfully my mom helped us figure out how to calm her down and get her to sleep.”
“We were really worried about Rupp, our dog. He’s super hyper and gets all the attention so we were worried about how he’d react. He instantly loved her. He’d lay beside her and sniff her. He calms down when she’s around. He’s SO smart with her. But of course we had a lot of growing pains, especially when my mom left. How was I going to do it on my own all day. But we figured it out and it has been a gradual process the whole time. She’s pretty easy going, but likes her routine. She doesn’t like to nap, but loves to sleep at night. She loves to party and be around people. She’s an all around riot.”
“Honestly, we had prayed and wanted all these things, the good times and the tough times. Every time she cried, I was SO thankful she was here and ours. I just tried to bottle every moment, whether it was good or bad. I realize a lot of parents don’t have that perspective. I wish no one ever had to lose a child, but it does make you so grateful for everything.”
“We love being Catherine’s parents. It’s hard to not have any time to yourself anymore. It’s draining and exhausting. Those nights when she just wouldn’t go to sleep because who knows why, were exhausting. But she is such a gift from God. We are so blessed to be her parents. We’re a little more easy going with her, although I’m overprotective because of Madeline, and trying to work on that with her. Every first is bittersweet, because you wonder when Madeline would have done it or how she would react to having a little sister. We have to learn how to do everything, but generally we just enjoy time with Catherine and watching her grow and change and come into her personality more and more.”
“We have Madeline’s things throughout our home. We have what we call, “Madeline’s corner.” It’s in Catherine's room, and its a couple pictures and then a shadow box with all of her birth things: her baptismal gown, blanket from her pictures, take measure, blood pressure cuff, her information lamb from the NICU, etc.. We also have her box of things and a photo album of all of her pictures sitting out. We have two songs that were played at her funeral, made into art by my sister-in-law, hanging in our bedroom. We have her bear, that’s weighted to her birth weight in our room. We have a baby laying in angel wings sitting in our front flower bed. And then we have two of the plants that were sent to her visitation. So Madeline’s presence is all around our home!”
“We’ve talked to Catherine about Madeline since she was born. We tell Catherine that her big sister is always watching over her. We pray for her every night at bedtime. We talk about her and what we think she’s doing when we’re all together. Madeline is always included and talked about in our house; and I hope that Catherine, and any potential future child, do the same. She’s the big sister, that we hope our kids know is always there for them and watching over them.”
“Whenever we see butterflies fly by, I tell Catherine, “Say hey to Madeline!” When she gets old enough, we will tell her what happened and share Madeline’s story with her. We celebrate her birthday, and we include Madeline’s name on everything that comes from our family. If people ask if Catherine is our first, I always respond no she’s our second, and I imagine one day Catherine will ask questions and we’ll answer them as age appropriately as possible. We also hope to give back to parents in the same situation one day. We think it’s so important and it’ll be a family thing!”
“If I’ve learned anything with all the reading I’ve done from other parents who have lost kids, it is that grief and remembrance is entirely personal. It’s different for everyone. And the way you do it is NOT wrong, if it works for you and your family. Thomas and I have chosen to honor Madeline’s life and teach Catherine, and any future children about her. We’ve chosen to hang pictures and give our families pictures and talk about her, because that helps us. If people ask, we tell people Catherine has an older sister and the awkwardness and panic in people’s faces is easier to handle these days. However, I’ve read plenty of articles on parents who say they don’t tell other people and I understand, that just didn’t work for my grief. I definitely recommend having pictures taken with NILMDTS. It seemed weird at the time, but I treasure those pictures so much. I hope no one has to ever remember that, but just in case.”
“Parenting a newborn is HARD. They turn your world upside down and life is now completely about someone else, which is hard to get use to. However, I wish more people could take a step back and appreciate what is in front of them. Catherine cried and some days are so hard and I just want a vacation, but then she smiles or snuggles into me and I remember her little life is the ultimate blessing. I know it’s hard to do and so cliche, but I really do recommend in taking a deep breath and living in the moment with your child. Snuggle them a little longer, get on the floor and play, read to them, do what they love, because that could be the last time you get to do it. They grow up quickly and bad things can happen. Don’t live in fear, just try so hard to appreciate all those little moments.”
Kaitlin, thank you so much for sharing your heart and the amazing stories of how your two sweet girls came into the world. I know their stories will bring healing and hope to other families, too!