Tanielle Childers’ choice of colors in most of her paintings derives from treasured adventures – snorkeling the reefs of Hawaii with her best friend – at the age of 17.
The ocean life burst with the brightest colors she had ever seen and is reflected in her art, including pieces that use a kaleidoscope of color to convey a mother’s love for an unborn child that was lost.
Those pieces hang in the halls of UCHealth’s women and family units in northern Colorado.
Finding life’s beauty among sorrow
Her piece at Poudre Valley Hospital is a tribute to Dason, who died in utero at the age of 19 weeks, and the beauty that can be discovered through grieving, then healing.
At the time, Childers had two other children, and she knew she could not allow pain to paralyze her. She worked through it by running, writing poetry and painting.
“You have to make time to process and deal with the sadness,” Childers said. “Running allowed me that time to grieve so it didn’t consume my entire day. It was a way of releasing the physical pain of a broken heart and rebuilding myself from the ground up. Writing poetry gave a voice and validation to my emotions, and when I finally found and felt the beauty within my healing, that’s where my art came in.
“I wanted to create the beauty found in life through that sorrow, rather than just the sorrow.”
Losing an unborn child
In April 2012, Childers, her husband, Toby, and their children, Kaia, 8, and Korbin, 4, were delighted to learn of their newest family member. At 36 years old, Childers had not planned to have another child, but the prospect of an addition to the family was celebrated.
At 12 weeks pregnant, Childers, much like her grandmother before her, showed signs of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure. The day after her 16-week appointment, a doctor prescribed high blood pressure medication. The pregnancy had already been difficult and unpleasant and the medication made Childers feel even worse. The family however, was excited for the 19-week mark, when an ultrasound would help reveal the baby’s gender.
More light: UCHealth’s Loving Care Program
Through philanthropic support, the PVH and MCR Foundation is raising funds so that families can have a bereavement doula by their side when the loss of a child at delivery is expected.
Doulas are trained to provide compassionate support with labor and delivery, and bereavement doulas specialize in emotional support specific to the family’s situation. But insurance doesn’t pay for this service, which averages about $1,200, and in most cases, families aren’t prepared for the extra expense.
In response, the PVH and MCR Foundation started the Loving Care Program in January 2018 and began to raise $200,000 to cover the cost of bereavement doulas for patients and their families for the next three years, after which they hope it will become a service line-funded program, said Anna Smoot, development officer for the foundation. The program works in tandem with 3Hopeful Hearts.
For more information on supporting the Loving Care Program, visit supportinghealth.org. Donations can be made by selecting “loving care program,” or contact Annette Geiselman or Anna Smoot at 970.237.7400 or via email: [email protected].
The day the family gathered to learn whether the child was a boy or girl, they got heartbreaking news. The baby showed no signs of life.
Childers delivered her stillborn child naturally and without pain medications on the following day at UCHealth Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins.
“I wanted and needed to feel everything for my own healing; I would honor my baby by laboring and delivering my baby like normal,” she said. “That night I tried to prepare for the battle of a delivery that was all too familiar, but it was more like a nightmare unfolding, and there was nothing I could do to stop any of it from happening.”
Dason was born Aug. 10, 2012. Childers spent that night with their son in the room. He was taken away the next morning.
At her one week post-delivery check-up, Childers’ blood pressure was still high, bringing her more anxiety and frustration.
“I didn’t want these issues, and I felt like my emotions were making it all worse. I think I was so angry because I felt like I had no control,” she said.
Taking back control
The loss of her baby and a sense of control brought Childers to a healthy choice: She laser-focused on her health. Once cleared by her doctors, she started a strength training boot-camp with friends which ultimately led to running — an activity she had loathed up to this point.
“I started out jogging and then walking when I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “Continuing this slowly conditioned my lungs and muscles over time, and I began to jog for longer and longer distances. I’d run around the track — and I’d cry and pray. But I’d feel my son’s spirit. That was my time with him and my way to release the pain.”
Childers also wrote poetry as a way to digest and process her feelings, and after time, she finally made it back to painting and she expressing gratitude for her life’s moments on canvas.
The ‘Tree of Life’
Shortly after she delivered Dason, Childers and her family were on a much needed mini vacation. They happened to stop at a gas station in Castle Rock. Childers remembers staring off into the distance at the mountains and the sky and being moved by the rays of light coming down through the clouds.
“We call them ‘God rays,’ and it was that same light I felt when I ran,” Childers said. “Those rays are symbolic of God’s grace.”
After she began painting again, Childers had the vision of a tree — the leaves blowing in the wind — in her head. She knew that those God rays needed to shine through her tree, and she sketched her next painting.
“The tree is symbolic of family – your family roots and foundation,” she explained. “And the leaves are the colorful memories you collect that make your life beautiful. But trees go through seasons just as we do in our own life and nothing can ever stay the same. And though the leaves may be carried away with the winds of time, the memories impress upon our hearts forever – and that is one of life’s great treasures.”
Childers wanted to share that treasure with others dealing with sorrow, so with help from a GoFundMe account, she donated a 30-by-60-inch print of her painting to PVH, and it now hangs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
The ‘Rainbow baby’
Over the next several years, Childers continued to run and improve her health. In May 2017, she again learned she was pregnant. This could be her “rainbow baby,” the one that she had been quietly hoping and praying for since 2012.
This time, given the memory of delivery of a stillborn child at PVH, she decided to deliver closer to her Loveland home, at UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies. An ultrasound was scheduled at seven weeks gestation.
The ultrasound was cause for concern, and showed an egg sack but no baby. A second ultrasound a week later showed a baby measuring 6 weeks and 3 days, but the baby had no heartbeat. Bloodwork confirmed her worst fears: this pregnancy would also end in miscarriage.
“It was total devastation all over again,” she said. “You hope that it’s that rainbow after the storm, but it’s just another storm.”
She miscarried Talin naturally while visiting her parents’ home. It was her 41st birthday, the same birthday she shares with her mother — a bittersweet day for her now.
“I knew what I had to do to get through my grief because I had done it before, I just didn’t want to have to be doing any of it,” she said. “It was harder to want to run because of a new resentment toward running. I was healthier this pregnancy and my blood pressure was good, but my body had somehow failed me again. Postpartum depression and not having a child there is already so difficult to navigate — and as a woman, you somehow feel like it’s your fault when your body can’t carry to term.”
While driving home after leaving her parents’ home, she and Toby saw a shooting star. Childers said it instantly gave them peace. They took it as a sign that all was well in heaven and baby Talin had made it home.
Childers again turned to running and poetry to begin working through her second loss, but this time she needed more guidance than she or her family could provide.
Since her first loss in 2012, Childers had been receiving emails from 3Hopeful Hearts, a support network for parents and families who have lost a child. She decided to attend the support group.
“It’s heartbreaking how many women go through this,” Childers said. “But these women help lift you up when you feel there is no way through it. That’s huge because your family doesn’t always know how to help and you don’t always know what kind of support you may need. There is something so healing and comforting in knowing others are going through it or have gone through it, and that there is light on the other side of the heartbreak.”
‘What a Wonderful World’
To commemorate Talin, Childers donated another print to UCHealth. “What a Wonderful World” now hangs in the hallway of the Women and Family Unit at MCR.
In this painting, she illustrates the peace and comfort of being nestled into the hillside, protected by the spirit of the land. It is a celebration of the carefree spirit of a child’s imagination, and it has a shooting star like the one that gave Childers and Toby comfort.
“The happiness my children brought me even for that short time — I wouldn’t trade that for anything,” Childers said. “I wanted to capture that.”