I wanted to share some photos from her service as well as the eulogy I read. I am not up for writing anything else right now but thought those who could not attend might appreciate knowing what was said.
Also, thank you so very much to everyone who has been taking the time to send "I Know Natalie" postcards and notes of condolences. We have been reading them together each night and it gives us more comfort than you know.
Natalie Evelyn Teegarden left us a few days shy of her 6 month birthday. That may not seem like a life long enough for a eulogy, but there is more to say about this wonderful child than I can ever get out at once.
September 24th of last year I was filled with anticipation and despite Annie being cranky for lunch took a pregnancy test. I carried Annie and the test downstairs. It was in the stairwell that I saw a very pink line develop and knew that we had a baby on the way. A very wanted baby.
From that moment, we have been Natalie’s parents and every day since have based our decisions on her best interest. I was as cautious as I knew how to be. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a body can fail. Mine did and Natalie lost the amniotic fluid she needed to grow healthy lungs.
Sitting in the doctor’s office, leaning against Steve I could not accept this. I knew it was serious but somehow trusted our baby could make it. If it was at all possible for our child to survive we would fight on.
Natters was always a tenacious child. In her ultrasounds we saw a powerful heartbeat, strong growing limbs and adorable mannerisms. It is impossible to not fall in love with your growing baby, even when everyone around you warns that she may not stay. As terrifying as the pregnancy was, we did our best to treasure that time with Natalie. We knew it may be all we had.
She accompanied us on wheelchair rides, was there when we decorated Easter eggs and her sister snuggled up against the bump of Natalie for movies and stories. I read to both my girls and loved having them close. Those are memories I will always treasure.
While on bed rest, Natters was my constant companion. My buddy. My belly was not the big round one I had with Annie, but I could not keep my hands off her. I focused on every movement, took in each heartbeat check. We developed certain habits-her foot pressed out against my right side and we had a game of pushing against one another. While I was sleeping, she would relax and spread her limbs out, then startle when I first spoke or moved in the morning and curl herself back up in an instant. When I showered, one of the few bits of time I was out of bed, I would rock back and forth, trying to mimic the rhythm I would one day rock her in a chair with.
If I could, I would have kept her inside until she was ready for kindergarten. As difficult as bed rest was, I would never be ready to send her out to this world where I could no longer breathe for her. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done, going into that operating room not knowing. Yet Natalie was born squeaking, if not crying. She rallied quickly and far exceeded everyone’s expectations. The exuberance of that day is one I can never forget, yet is painful to look back on. It was so full of promise that has since been stripped away. Despite all predictions, Natalie was born with lungs to live on. I believe that with all my heart regardless of the fact we ultimately lost her.
I am not going to detail the many obstacles she fought her way through. Natalie is not a medical case, she is a daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin and her own person. We did not get a lifetime to know her, but we will never forget all the things we learned while she was with us.
Natalie knew what she liked and what she did not. She was rarely up for compromise and mostly got her way.
Natalie loved being on her belly. She loved having hands placed firmly on her back, and as she grew older she would relax as we rubbed her back or patted her with face masks. She also loved having a hand cupping her head and eventually liked having her hair stroked.
Natalie absolutely hated being wet. I think the words “Natalie loves her Lasix” must have been uttered hundreds of times in her room as she was relieved of soaked diapers. This always amused me, as her big sister was the opposite and could have sat in a wet diaper for a week without complaining.
Natters had comic timing with her diaper changes and many times surprised her father and nurses mid-change. I have never seen one baby go through so many blankets. This secretly pleased me as doing her laundry was one way I felt a bit of normal parenting. I never had the pleasure of handling one of her explosions, but I do have a great memory of her peeing all over me while we did kangaroo time.
Natalie loved being snuggled in by “Freddy Frog” positioners and sometimes had as many as eight surrounding her. For a baby who rarely had the freedom to be held, she was a snuggle bug and enjoyed the feeling of being wrapped up. She did settle down when swaddled, but since she tended to be a hot baby did not get to enjoy the sensation nearly enough. I loved wrapping her up into a little burrito and seeing the relaxation on her face whenever we did get a chance.
Natalie loved holding fingers. She would grab on, sometimes holding still and sometimes waving her arms and taking your fingers on a ride. We have wonderful memories of each of us holding one of her hands, standing on opposite sides of her and soaking up the sight of our beautiful daughter. I may not have mentioned it, but Natty was an exceptionally gorgeous child. Sometimes we had to ease our hands away when it was time to go. This could take several attempts, as when she realized your finger was gone she would search it out again and become agitated. We would sometimes have to do quick changes of hand to relieve one another for breaks.
Natalie loved music. She mostly listened to classical, and would move her fingers as if playing a piano. I always saw her as becoming a musician and fantasized about far off recitals. Natters even enjoyed my singing, which we did not get to do often enough for lack of privacy. “You are My Sunshine” and “The Rainbow Connection” were two of her favorites.
She loved having her hands as playthings. Sometimes she would keep herself awake for the sheer joy of stroking her cheek. Those same hands would sometimes jab her in the ear and make her cry, but like all babies her age she never realized she had done it herself. Natalie loved exploring the different textures of her special pink booties and security blanket. I remember the first time her nurse placed her naked legs on the silkiness of the blanket and how she kicked with vigor I had never seen before.
Any of these new sensations and experiences were wonderful to observe. She was sometimes given just a taste of milk on her tongue or lips and we loved watching her respond and investigate.
Natters was starting to work on a real social smile. I saw many, many smirks after her trach, but only one small smile she flashed at her grandfather. She did have brilliant smiles while sleeping….smiles so radiant I felt once she unleashed them while awake we would all be at her mercy.
She did not care much for the equipment that was attached to her face. Natalie had quick hands and could do a sneak attack on her ET tube faster than you could respond. Sometimes she liked to just rest her hands around the tube, but that was too risky. One nurse had the ingenious idea of giving her a bit of IV tubing to hold onto instead. Nat would grasp the tubing, relax in her presumed victory and fall asleep. After her ET tube was removed she set her sights on the ND tube in her nose. At every opportunity she would hook her finger in behind the tube and yank. We marveled at how she knew to get at it.
Natalie had such bright dark eyes. When she opened them my heart skipped a beat. She was there. Despite everything she had endured, when you looked into Natalie’s eyes you saw her. And she saw you. Some of the last times I spent with her awake she stared at me as if memorizing my face. I remembered a story from another mama who thought their baby was remembering her face so she would recognize her in heaven. Natalie’s gaze was so intent and I hope that she did have us memorized as much as we have her engraved in our minds.
Natalie loved being read to and responded well to her “books on tape.” She also loved to look at the pages, especially The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Once when she was having trouble falling asleep I held the book up for her to see. She would finally drift off and I would lower the book, only to have her open her eyes again searching for the pictures. Our plan for Halloween was to dress Natalie as the caterpillar and Annie as the butterfly.
Natalie has a very proud and sweet big sister. Annie had been anxiously awaiting Natalie’s arrival before her birth. All along she has had big plans for Natalie-taking her to the zoo, teaching her to walk, letting her sleep in her room. Annie was able to visit Natalie several times in the NICU and always remarked on how sweet and cute “little Matawee” is. The last time we visited as a family I rocked Annie and we read Click Clack Moo Moo, Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. Annie then sang “I see the moon and the moon sees me. God Bless the moon and God Bless me” to Natalie several times. Annie is 3 years old, so understanding this loss must be so difficult….even as adults it is impossible to comprehend. She speaks of her baby sister throughout the day and we have had long talk about what has happened. The other night she told me “My brain send me messages and I send the messages to heaven so Matawee can read them.” I know she will continue to be a loving and devoted sister to Natalie in death just as she was in life.
I must also mention Natalie’s faithful companion Sophie the giraffe. A gift from her Aunt and Uncle, Sophie was always by her side. Natty was drawn to her dark eyes and spots which earned Sophie a permanent spot near Nat’s head. She made a wonderful mascot and
She left the NICU twice, once on the incredible day she was freed from the oscillator, and once for the incredible day she was freed from the ET tube. Both times she was alert and taking in the sights. Despite normally liking her world quiet and dim, when out in the hallways she wanted to see everything going on. She always knew when there was a change in viewpoint and we loved watching her face respond to new sights.
Natalie never grew up and away from us as children are supposed to do. In that way, we still had the mother/infant closeness where it is hard for me to know where I ended and she began. When I held her in my arms it was always like being put back together again. My missing piece was returned.
We had always known we were up against incredible odds, but Natalie had a way of rallying and fighting through obstacles few people thought she would manage. I think this gave us a sense that while the road would be hard, she would persevere. The day we lost her I did not walk into the NICU with any more fear than usual. Even as I saw her as sick as she was, I thought we would find a way through. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a body can fail. Hers did. The body failed, but Natalie did not. She was more than her respiratory status, more than the nearly perfect baby that held her soul.
From pregnancy until the end I gave Natalie the same pep talk during our private time. The words never really changed, and when we had these heart to hearts after she was born it was clear she remembered and relaxed to the cadence of my speech.
“Natalie is a good girl. A strong girl. A fighter. Mommy and Daddy are not giving up, don’t you give up. People will tell you you can’t do things. They are wrong, don’t listen to them. This is the hardest thing you will ever do in your life, the hardest thing I have ever asked of anyone. It will be worse before it is better. But I promise you, I promise that we are right beside you. You are not ever alone. When I am not here, you are in my heart and always always on my mind. If you can get through this, I promise you that there is a wonderful life waiting on the other side. You are so loved and wanted. We will make this up to you. We will make this fight worthwhile.”
We will not have that chance. We did not get to shower Natalie with all the pleasures life has to offer. I had told her of chocolate chip cookies and ice cream, of riding on swings and playing with her sister. Snuggles without wires and the feeling of being outside on a warm day. All the simple things I wanted her to know. That is lost now and is a void that can never be filled.
The pain of losing our daughter is searing. It can bring me to my knees. It is impossible to understand. While there is no sense to this loss we want her memory and her name to go on. We want the spirit of Natalie to bring good things to this world. It was a place she deserved to live in, a place we will strive to make better because she no longer can.
When you think of Natalie, think of the baby whose eyes lit up the room. Think of the sweet soul who made so many people fall in love with her. She is more than what she went through, more than what she endured. Natalie Evelyn was a warrior and a charmer all at once. She is the strongest person we have ever known and I hope we can take strength from her example as we move forward.
We must continue on, but not past Natalie, not ever leaving her behind. She is coming with us, not in the way she should have, but in the best way we know how.