The hardest part of any OB/GYN’s job is breaking bad news to expectant mothers.
Talia Gates, 31, of Jasper, Alabama, knows that only too well. But she never dreamed that she would be on the other side of the table one day.
Talia married her college sweetheart, a young veteran named Josh Gates, in 2007. The young couple soon found themselves in New Orleans, where Gates completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology.
Late in her residency, Talia discovered that she was pregnant herself. While they hadn’t exactly planned for it, she and Josh were overjoyed to start their own little family.
Their son, Kye Gates, arrived early in 2013. That first year was hectic, but full of love. Both Josh and Talia had incredibly demanding jobs, and if it weren’t for Talia’s mom helping out, they don’t know how they would have done it. But when Kye was 1, everything started to fall into place.
Soon, the Gates family was living the life of their dreams.
Talia secured the perfect job in Jasper, close to Josh’s family. They bought a 40-acre farm. She made fast friends with all of her coworkers, and she loved the job. The family felt settled. It was time to put down roots.
For Talia and Josh, that meant completing their family with another child. A month after making the decision, Talia was pregnant again. This time, they were having a girl.
“I was over the moon,” Talia told “The Advertiser.” “When we found out, we were like, ‘We’re done. I have my perfect little family.'”
One of the perks of being an OB/GYN is that you can check in on your own pregnancy whenever you want.
Talia gave herself ultrasounds all the time. Everything was great until about 18 weeks into her pregnancy. The baby’s legs were stuck at a stage of development more typical for 14 weeks.
Talia wouldn’t let herself panic. She assumed that her ultrasounds were catching the baby at a strange angle. She told herself that her whole family has short legs, anyway. But 19 weeks into her pregnancy, her baby’s legs still hadn’t grown. Something was wrong.
“My medical brain was saying, ‘This isn’t right. What makes short legs?’ But my personal brain was saying, ‘This can’t be right. Nothing can be wrong with my baby,'” Talia said.
Despite their fear, Talia and Josh made an appointment with the Maternal Fetal Medicine department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Doctors and technicians ran a series of tests. Then the head of the department himself walked into Talia’s room to deliver his diagnosis.
“The pictures I am seeing are consistent with a skeletal dysplasia that is lethal,” he said.
“I never saw it coming,” Talia later recalled. “Never. We were not prepared for those words. They hit us both in the chest like a ton of bricks.”
A few weeks later, the diagnosis was verified.
Doctors gave Talia and Josh the whole range of options, one of which was terminating the pregnancy. They rejected that choice.
Talia didn’t know if she would ever look her baby in the eye. But she didn’t need to. They had a relationship already. Talia wanted to soak up every precious instant of her daughter’s life that she could.
“That was their special bond,” Talia said.
Josh made a mix tape for his growing daughter. Jazz. They would play it close to Talia’s stomach and the infant would dance within the womb.
They named their baby Aubrey.
Despite the grief and fear, there was boundless joy in those last few weeks. The family was together. That was all that mattered.
To protect her own health, Talia agreed to induce pregnancy at around 36 weeks. The date was set: June 12, 2015. No one knew exactly what would happen, but all of Talia’s medical training told her that she wouldn’t have long with her daughter.
Aubrey emerged with a cry that sounded like song. She opened her eyes and her parents gazed into them. Big-brother Kye sang “Happy Birthday.”
Less than an hour later, Aubrey was gone.
She only shared the open air with her parents for 49 minutes, but Aubrey made a profound difference in their lives. That difference reverberates throughout Talia’s practice.
“I tell my patients, ‘You are a mom or dad the moment you get that positive test,'” Talia said. “My daughter made me a better doctor and mom.”
Some relationships last a lifetime. Others only last for a moment. But love is measured by quality, not quantity, and every passing second offers a chance to welcome the healing power of love. Today, Talia treasures the lessons her daughter taught her.
“Women wish pregnancy away, want to meet their babies, and I get that,” she said, nearly a year after losing Aubrey. “But I want to tell them, ‘Just cherish it.’ Only God is the author of life and death, and without faith, really all is lost. Be still. Be content. Be grateful.”
Talia has Aubrey to thank for this wisdom. And so do we.