Talia Gates is one of those women.
The 31-year-old mother has it all: beauty, brains, a thriving career, her dream home and a gorgeous family.
Before pursuing a career in medicine and moving to a 40-acre farm in Jasper, Alabama, she had a picture-perfect childhood in Lafayette.
“It’s a great little place to grow up,” Talia says. “I was always very close to my family. The unique thing about Lafayette is that people really take care of each other. I’ve always been proud to be from south Louisiana.”
She points out the multi-faceted culture that’s unique to the area.
“I always say Lafayette is southern in hospitality and European in that we know how to have a really good time,” she explains with a laugh. “And we’ll also tell you where to get off – people in Alabama don’t do that!”
Talia comes from your typical "nuclear family," with a father in the oil industry, stay-at-home mom and younger brother named Beau.
While attending Lafayette High School, she was in the gifted program, which provided her with several opportunities later in life.
After graduation, Talia headed to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, to pursue a degree in sports medicine.
It was the beginning of a wild ride with more incredible highs and horrific lows than most people face in a lifetime.
Falling into place
'BETWEEN THE MONEY AND THE WOMEN I WAS WORKING WITH, IT WAS PERFECT,' SHE SAYS. AND SO WAS EVERYTHING ELSE.
While in college, Talia met her future husband, Josh, a special operations veteran. The couple got together after his return, when he decided to attend college as a way of reconnecting with society. Despite hitting it off, Josh wound up going back overseas to the Middle East with the Department of Defense, and Talia moved to Mobile, Alabama, for medical school.
They maintained a long-distance relationship, got married in 2007 moved to New Orleans in 2010 for Talia’s residency in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN).
Why the switch from sports medicine?
“I realized I loved the operating room,” she explains. “It’s the perfect blend – I get to do procedures and be part of a big event in people’s lives. I liked the relationship side.”
Talia loved every minute of her residency, and being in New Orleans was wonderful.
“It’s a fantastic city with its own personality,” she says. “I loved living there and felt like I was home again.”
During her residency, Talia got a big surprise - she was expecting her first child.
Kye Gates was born in January 2013, and balancing everything wasn’t always easy, especially with her husband working a demanding job as well.
“It was insane,” she says. “My mom saved my life. She moved to New Orleans and took care of him.”
When Kye was 1, Talia found her dream job in Jasper, Alabama. She fell in love with the practice, and it was close to Josh’s family.
Life was falling into place.
“Between the money and the women I was working with, it was perfect,” she says.
And so was everything else.
Josh had an amazing job, the family settled into a beautiful home, and Talia was in love with her new career.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I am super lucky. My life is perfect, and I am super blessed.’ ”
Around that time, Talia and Josh decided to have another baby. They wanted their children to be close in age so they “stop preventing” and started trying.
The missing piece
'WHEN WE FOUND OUT IT WAS A GIRL, I WAS OVER THE MOON.'
One month later, in October 2014, Talia found out she was pregnant.
“We were thrilled,” she says. “I always thought the ideal spacing was two-and-a-half years apart. My son’s birthday is Jan. 6, and my due date was July 8.”
At 14 weeks into the pregnancy, they learned the baby was a girl. Her name would be Aubrey.
“I was over the moon,” Talia recalls. “When we found out, we were like, ‘We’re done. I have my perfect little family.’ ”
Things couldn’t get any better.
And, unfortunately, they didn’t.
As an OB/GYN, Talia had the privilege of unlimited ultrasounds, so she quite frequently checked on her baby girl. About 16 weeks into the pregnancy, her legs started measuring a little short. But no alarms went off in Talia's head.
“We joked because Josh, Kye and I all have really long torsos and short legs, so we thought she would be just like us,” Talia says. “At 18 weeks, I saw that her legs were still measuring at 14 weeks, but I sort of blew it off and thought we weren’t getting a good angle, or that she was sitting funny."
Talia recalls a Wednesday afternoon, at 19 weeks pregnant, when she was scanned again. The baby’s legs hadn’t changed, and no matter which way they measured, they couldn’t get past 14 weeks.
“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.’”
Something's really wrong
'IT NEVER ENTERED MY BRAIN THAT IT WAS SOMETHING THAT COULD BE LETHAL.'
Talia called her mentor for advice. She told him all measurements were perfect besides the baby's arms and legs, and like everyone else, he said she must be getting bad pictures. But he acted fast and got her an appointment two days later with the Maternal Fetal Medicine specialist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The day before her appointment, Talia began to think something might really be wrong. She was on call at the hospital with a laboring patient when she started researching and scanning herself for hours.
“I started taking all crazy measurements, and I convinced myself that she must have some sort of chondrodysplasia (dwarfism). But it never entered my brain that it was something that could be lethal. I don’t know if it was God protecting me or what. I stayed up all night.”
The next morning, Talia’s laboring patient gave birth to a still-born baby.
She calls it ironic.
On Friday, Talia and Josh headed to the appointment, where the technician took a special interest in her case.
“I told her she has to talk to me,” Talia says. “Tell me what you’re seeing. Dr. Biggio, the head of the department, came in, and I will never forget how incredibly compassionate and straight-forward he was. He looked right at me and said, ‘The pictures I am seeing are consistent with a skeletal dysplasia that is lethal.’
“I never saw it coming. Never. We were not prepared for those words. They hit us both in the chest like a ton of bricks.”
The doctor was quite sure of the baby’s prognosis, but he said interval growth would be the defining factor. He told them to come back for a check-up in four weeks.
Confirming their worst fears
'I NEVER THOUGHT SHE WOULDN'T BE WITH US UNTIL THE DOCTOR SAID THAT.'
“I don’t even know how I got out of that hospital,” Talia recalls. “I never saw my husband cry like that. I knew something was wrong, but not that. I was sad my daughter would have struggles, but I never thought she wouldn’t be with us until the doctor said that. I guess it was my body protecting me.”
Talia spiraled into a deep depression. Terminating the pregnancy was an option, but the couple immediately said no.
“And that was it,” she recalls. “The doctor never pushed it.”
Four weeks later, Talia and Josh went back, and it was confirmed that the baby’s condition was lethal. Doctors weren’t sure when she would pass – during pregnancy, birth or shortly thereafter – but chances of her survival were almost nonexistent.
“I had already resigned myself to the fact that Aubrey wasn’t going to live,” Talia recalls. “I would talk about the future and refer to only Kye. Josh would tell me, ‘No, say ‘them,’ not just Kye.' It wasn’t until that appointment that he finally lost all hope.”
How does a mother move forward knowing that the life inside her is going to die? Talia didn’t know – but she refused to miss a single moment with her daughter.
Embracing every moment
TALIA DID EVERYTHING IN HER POWER TO GET TO KNOW THE DAUGHTER SHE MAY NEVER MEET.
Talia tried to cherish every second. Josh made them a jazz tape, and Aubrey loved it.
“She would move for him,” she says. “That was their special bond.”
Talia did everything in her power to get to know the daughter she may never meet.
Her partners made sure she continued to have regular check-ups and scans, with “ultrasound pictures that are now so special.”
Although the future was unfathomable, Aubrey was perfectly content in her mother’s womb, and for Talia, that was more important than anything.
“I was still hopeful because she was still alive,” Talia says. “I was 99 percent sure of what was going to happen, but she was still alive.”
Talia developed a new appreciation for the beginning of life.
“I tell my patients, ‘You are a mom or dad the moment you get that positive test.’ My daughter made me a better doctor and mom.”
In a world where miscarriage and infant loss are still somewhat taboo, Talia’s experience allows her to relate with patients on a deeper level.
“You have to acknowledge that life and the loss,” she says. “You have to celebrate it no matter what form it takes.”
As the pregnancy progressed, reality set in, and life became a ticking time bomb.
Talia had lots of excess fluid, which can lead to preterm labor. Her doctor told her that, at some point, she had to start thinking about her own life and what’s best for her body. With Aubrey’s condition, the head gets very big – at just 36 weeks, Aubrey’s head was measuring at 42. Her doctor said she needed to start considering induction.
“But I felt like I was picking her death date,” Talia explains. “My partner – Bridget Brunner – stepped up and said, ‘You have to do this. You’re being induced Friday.’ ”
On June 12, 2015, everyone gathered at the hospital for Aubrey’s arrival.
Meeting baby Aubrey, finding peace
'SHE OPENED HER EYES, AND WE GOT TO HEAR HER VOICE.'
“I listened to her heartbeat all day, so I knew she was alive,” Talia says. “We didn’t know if she would make it through the delivery, though.”
Then, at 6:51 p.m., Aubrey was born crying.
For Talia and Josh, it was love at first sight.
“She opened her eyes, and we got to hear her voice,” Talia says. “Josh synced with her right away. My best friend Jen heard me and said, ‘You’re finally back. You’re peaceful for the first time in a long time.’ ”
But Aubrey lived for just 49 beautiful minutes before taking her last breath.
“The death was peaceful,” Talia says. “Kye sang her ‘Happy Birthday,’ and everyone got to see her.
“Her breathing slowed, and then stopped. It was everything I wanted it to be, considering the circumstances.”
What did Talia and Josh think when they saw their daughter?
“She was beautiful,” Talia says. “She looked like her daddy. She had his nose. Aubrey was just 15 inches long, and her chubby little arms and legs were cute.”
Through an organization called HALO (Hope After Loss Organization), Talia and Josh were able to keep Aubrey in their hospital room overnight on something called a cuddle cot, a pad that uses water to keep the baby cold.
“I held her, I memorized the weight of her, and what it felt like to have her on my chest and in my arms,” Talia recalls. “I can still close my eyes and remember the weight of her.”
The next day, baby Aubrey was carried out in a blanket and laid to rest on June 15.
For Talia, leaving the hospital was rough. Her friends came to visit and cooked her a huge Louisiana meal.
“It felt like the first time that I ate in years,” Talia recalls. “And Josh was amazing. He took care of all the arrangements. It’s bizarre to pick out a grave site for a daughter who is still alive, and he took care of everything while I was still pregnant.”
The tragedy did take a toll on the couple’s marriage, but their strength carried them through the storm.
“We both needed each other so much and didn’t have a lot to give,” Talia says. “We almost took turns falling apart. I know marriages crumble through these things, but he is the only person in the universe who knew how I felt.”
It’s been roughly nine months since Talia and Josh welcomed Aubrey into this world and said their goodbyes.
How is life today?
“I was better when I was pregnant, then numb, then bitter around the holidays,” Talia explains. “About a month ago, it got better. I give a lot of credit to God. Our marriage came out the other side. We weren’t on the rocks, per se, but it was just hard. When we are good, I am good, and vice versa.”
Talia was happy to close the book on 2015 and is looking toward the future.
What did she learn from this bittersweet, yet beautiful, tragedy?
“Life truly begins at conception, and just how precious those moments in the womb really are,” she says. “Women wish pregnancy away, want to meet their babies, and I get that. 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. Even with my kid, I am appreciating the moments with my son. Cherish every stage. Life can change in an instant.”
Talia points out that the death of a baby is unlike anything else.
“Miscarriage and infant loss are different because you lose potential – not the person they were, but the person they could have been.”
She’s grateful for the past and hopeful for the future.
“Tomorrow will come,” she says. “Put one foot in front of the other, lean on the Lord. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t go on, this is where life stops.’ But it doesn’t. You will feel joy again.”
Read more about Talia's story on our Lafayette news partner's website: theadvertiser.com