TRAVERSE CITY — Two infant girls' small headstones at Oakwood Cemetery brought together their families in more ways than they could ever imagine.
“This whole story is absolutely bizarre when you look at how we met through a cemetery and now we live a quarter-mile from each other,” said Dru O’Connor, of Traverse City. “We’re just together all the time. It’s weird. It’s a very strange connection, but it was meant to be because our girls brought us together, no doubt about it.”
The story began in 2001, when two families separately grieved over their stillborn daughters. The latest chapter opens on Saturday with a 5K race/walk event called "Lauren & Theresa's Run" that honors the baby girls and all families who have suffered losses.
Proceeds will benefit Munson Medical Center’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“We really want to help save babies' lives and that's what they do every day,” said Diane Frechette.
Frechette said she and her husband, Darren, learned 33 weeks into her pregnancy that their baby had trisomy 18, a genetic defect, and wasn’t going to make it. She carried the baby for three weeks longer before going into labor.
“Just before I delivered, there was no heartbeat,” she said.
She and Darren buried baby Theresa at Oakwood Cemetery, which had created a special section for infants. They noticed another infant's grave and wondered about the family.
That fall, the Frechettes took part in a Munson-sponsored memorial walk, where Diane introduced herself to Dru O’Connor, the mother of infant Lauren, who died three weeks after Theresa.
“A year later we had boys three weeks apart. And 18 months later, we had boys three weeks apart again,” said Frechette, who also has a daughter. “Our paths kept crossing and then our boys were in (a kindergarten program) together. That’s when our friendship started.”
There was one more coincidence. Three years ago, the O’Connors unintentionally bought their home a short distance away from the Frechettes.
The two families shared their birth stories, as well as their grief. Unlike Frechette, Dru O’Connor had a healthy pregnancy, as far as she knew. But on the morning of her due date, she felt no movement. She and her husband, Dan, later learned that baby Lauren died from velamentous cord insertion, a rare occurrence.
As the families' friendship grew, Darren Frechette, a runner, proposed the idea of a 5K race to raise money to help struggling newborns.
The first race in 2011 raised $8,000 and purchased special equipment to deliver medications. In the second year, funds of nearly $12,000 bought resuscitation equipment.
Besides raising money, the event gives people an opportunity to share their own stories, honor their babies and celebrate their families. One woman, who lost twins 30 years ago, said she was never able to talk about her loss, O'Connor said.
"What our race does, is help to normalize losing a baby a little bit," O'Connor said. "Death is hard anyway, but when you lose a baby, people are so uncomfortable because they don’t feel you want to talk about. But parents do want to talk about it."
Awards are given after the race, including tokens to kids who are at the age Lauren and Theresa would be today.
“It’s a gift for us to see them,” Frechette said. “They could have been their classmates or cousins or friends.”
"Lauren & Theresa Run" slated for Saturday Families, kids and serious runners are invited to take part in the Running 4 Babies event on Saturday AUGUST 17. The run takes place on a hilly, wooded 5K course at the Grand Traverse Commons, 1101 Red Drive. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. The 5K run/walk starts at 9 a.m., and a shorter, kids' fun run starts at 10 a.m. Cost is $30 for adults, $20 for kids 17 and under, and $5 for the kids' fun run. For more information or to donate to the cause, please go to running4babies.com.