A young woman has shared heartbreaking images of her premature babies on social media, taken not long after they had passed away just hours after they born.
Natalie Gehrke-Buhrow was stillborn at 20 weeks in May, while her brother Mason gave his parents Desiree Buhrow-Olson and Tom Gehrke just enough time to say hello.
Desiree Buhrow-Olson and partner Tom Gehrke know the images may upset some people, but wanted to share them so their loved ones could see their young family.
‘I loved my babies – including our other triplet, their sister Madeline, who died in the womb in February – and there are so many other people that cared for them,’ says 21-year-old
Desiree, from Blair, Wisconsin, USA. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted them not being able to see their grand-babies, nieces, nephews, so I posted the pictures.
‘I wrote on Facebook I was going to do it, and said, “If you don’t want to see them, message me”, but everyone wants to.
It’s closure for them. ‘I know that the pictures are a little much for some people, but I think they’re still very pretty. I don’t know what I would do without them, and the posts I write too, help me cope.’
Desiree and Tom, 25, had been together 18 months when Desiree fell pregnant. The pregnancy test they did in mid-January read positive, and they were overjoyed.
‘It was our first pregnancy and I was one month pregnant,’ Desiree recalled. ‘We were excited.’
They were given a due date of 27 September, but soon after, Desiree had stomach cramps and was sent to get an emergency scan to check for ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilised egg implants itself outside of the womb, usually in one of the Fallopian tubes.
Thankfully, there were no signs of ectopic pregnancy, but the couple were told they were expecting triplets – and that Desiree had a grapefruit-sized cyst growing on her left ovary.
‘It was scary being told we were having triplets,’ says Desiree. ‘We had to think about three babies, not one, I’m only 21, not married, and there are no triplets in our families. It was a shock.
‘Then they said I had a cyst. It wasn’t cancerous but they had to remove it or I’d lose my babies.’
An operation to remove the cyst was scheduled for March, and doctors monitored her closely, completing a scan every fortnight.
Sadly, it was during one of these scans in February that they noticed she’d lost one of the triplets. ‘I had some spotting before but I thought there would have been more blood, losing a baby,’ Desiree explains.
‘We called her Madeline and it was hard to take in that she’d died. It was sad to hear, but we were still grateful that the other two were still alive.
‘However, I was nervous about the operation. I didn’t want to lose any more babies.’ Fortunately, the operation went smoothly, taking place on 21 March, at Gundersen Health, in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
Desiree and Tom found out the gender of the remaining triplets at a special gender reveal party on 12 May, organised by Desiree’s sister, Christine.
‘We had wanted it to be a surprise so the results of an ultrasound days earlier had been posted in an envelope that Christine kept hidden until the party,’ Desiree recalls.
‘We were really excited.’ They were having a boy and a girl. The couple’s family and friends had already begun donating baby clothes, and Desiree took pictures of her bump with her best friend Maria, who was also pregnant.
However, three days earlier Desiree had noticed a wet patch on her bed. She and Tom dismissed it as urine until she had cramps days later and suspected it was amniotic fluid.
A scan at at Gundersen Health, in Whitehall, Wisconsin, revealed one of the babies’ sacs had punctured and was leaking fluid.
‘Doctors said this baby could make it, but they didn’t know,’ she said. ‘I was heartbroken. I cried so hard. I was in denial.’
Desiree was admitted to hospital on 13 May, and she and Tom prayed for their babies’ safe arrival. The next day, Christine and Tom’s mother Tina stayed with Desiree through her contractions, giving birth to the baby whose sac was punctured.
Then, the following afternoon, 14 May, Christine and Tom’s mum, Tina, encouraged Desiree as she cried through contractions and the baby whose sac was punctured, emerged.
She was stillborn. Natalie weighed just 9.1oz and was 9.25in long. ‘I started screaming as I just knew she hadn’t made it,’ Desiree recalled. ‘I felt her slip out and I knew, the doctor came in and confirmed her death.’
Just minutes later Mason was born, at 9oz and 9.5in long.
Tom wasn’t at the hospital for the births as he had started a new job that day, and was an hour away – he wasn’t told about the death of Natalie as his family wanted him to drive safely.
Doctors had warned Desiree that Mason may not make it either, but thankfully, Tom made it in time to see his son while he was still breathing. Understandably, he was in pieces.
Spanish name ‘He walked in then stormed out crying and punched a wall,’ recalls Desiree. ‘He came back in to hold them, Mason first because he was the one still alive, then Natalie and held them and we cried.
‘When I held them I kept hoping it was a bad dream. I hoped I’d wake up and they’d still be in my belly. I wondered how this could happen.
‘I don’t know if there are words to describe the pain I felt when I held them. ‘Tom said he felt torn like they had been ripped away for no reason.
He was heartbroken, I’ve never seen such hurt in his eyes or voice.’ Sadly, Mason passed away just a few hours later.
A volunteer photographer visited the family to take pictures of the babies, which Desiree chose to post on social media as a coping mechanism for her grief.
‘It has been really hard for Tom and I,’ she explains. ‘I have to be strong and try not to show how hard it is. But we talk about how we are feeling and it has brought us closer.
We get angry but it won’t change what happened. ‘Posting about the babies helps me, looking at their photos and their footprints we had taken, and plaster casts that were made hours after they passed away.
‘For ten days I carried around Natalie and Mason’s blankets until Tina gave me a ring with our three babies’ names on, which helped me feel like they were still with me.
’ Unfortunately, doctors don’t know why the triplets died, and while the couple would like to try again in the future, they’re unsure of how long to wait.
‘I want to be pregnant again and some people cannot wait for that, but some say I should wait and grieve – partly so that I don’t have another preterm birth too,’ says Desiree.
‘Whatever happens we will never forget Madeline, Natalie and Mason, and for now, I’m happy seeing my best friend’s baby and sharing in her joy.’