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Julie O’s Story

After several years of trying and then a diagnosis of unexplained infertility, Julie and Yhadird Odar had all but given up on the idea of becoming parents. They decided to stop stressing and just live their best lives – which included plenty of travel and pursuing their dreams. Imagine their shock and excitement when, after a weekend in Miami to earn their scuba certification (a birthday gift for Yhadird) they came home to find two blue lines! Julie insisted – ‘we gotta name this baby Coral or something’ – in honor of the beauty they’d experienced that weekend beneath the waves.

When Julie found out she was pregnant, she knew exactly the kinds of values she wanted to instill in her child. She planned to raise her baby to be strong, resilient and with a love of adventure. As an avid gym-goer, she planned for a fit, healthy pregnancy and hoped for a natural, water birth for delivery. Despite her best efforts to eat healthy, exercise and do all the ‘right’ things, she began to experience a strange symptom just as they entered the second trimester. For two days, she noticed increased discharge. She chalked it up to hormones, but her mom suggested calling her doctor. They told her to come in right away. That day quickly turned into the worst day of her life.

At the hospital, the nurses listened to the baby’s heart (so loud it startled them!) then took swabs of the fluid. Within an hour, it was determined to be amniotic fluid – Julie’s water had broken at 16 weeks and two days. The doctor said that they would need to terminate the pregnancy as soon as possible for Julie’s safety. 

Julie and Yhadird were stunned and numb – how could the doctor go from ‘heartbeat sounds great, super strong’ to ‘we will do a final ultrasound, then induce you to terminate’ within just an hour?! The next thing they knew, they were being escorted across the hospital to the ultrasound area. Julie sobbed silently. It felt like everyone in the hospital was watching them as they went to see their baby on screen for one last time. 

When they finally arrived at the ultrasound room, the tech turned on the screen and Julie watched in horror as her baby wiggled and turned. She had to tell the tech to turn it off – it felt like torture to have to watch her living child knowing that by the end of the day they’d be gone. After what felt like a full hour, the tech excused herself. A new doctor came in, an older lady, and said, “I think I have good news. You still have some fluid left – we are sending you home!” And just like that, we were discharged. They went for dinner to the restaurant that catered their wedding – comfort food – and agreed that the whole day felt surreal…like something out of a horror movie. 

Looking back on that time, there was no mention of the technical diagnosis – PPROM (preterm premature rupture of membranes) – and there was very little compassion and even less information about how to move forward with the pregnancy. Basically just a “we’ll see you back in when you miscarry”. It was the trauma of that day that later inspired Julie to begin her activism in the field of maternal mental health. 

That night, Julie began to Google her symptoms and found The PPROM Foundation – a non-profit providing critical information to PPROM families on expectant management – continuing a pregnancy beyond the PPROM diagnosis. She also found an incredible peer-to-peer support network via Little Heartbeats, a Facebook group based in the UK that emphasizes the importance of staying positive during your PPROM experience. 

The next 17 days were the scariest, most anxiety-ridden experience of Julie’s life. She was afraid to leave her home, constantly worried that she would miscarry in public. Yhadird followed the PPROM regimen to a T, buying every item on their recommended list and cooking meals to try to support Julie and the baby’s health. PPROM babies as early as theirs have a 1% chance of survival. They hoped beyond hope that they would be in that miracle 1%. 

On April 27th, 2019, after 17 days with zero measurable fluid, they lost their battle with PPROM. Julie went to the ER after experiencing some new, concerning symptoms. She learned that her cord had prolapsed and their sweet Little Bean no longer had a heartbeat. She delivered their sleeping daughter, Coral Francesca, on April 28th at exactly 19 weeks gestation, weighing just 9.4oz. The doctors later told her that Coral was ‘perfect’ and that their PPROM experience had been ‘a fluke’. 

After losing her ‘perfect’ baby girl unexplained PPROM, Julie felt an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and a deep lack of trust in her own body. As a gym rat pre-pregnancy, she knew physical movement was a great tool for mental health and she was looking for a way to give her daughter’s short life meaning – to build a legacy in her name. She decided to form a race team  – Team Making Waves for Coral – for the 2019 Baltimore Running Festival. She reached out to @theppromfoundation and asked if she could fundraise for them through her team. Erin Thatcher and the board at PPROM Foundation took a leap of faith and invested in Julie’s idea, becoming a Charity Partner of the running festival that year. Making Waves for Coral, Julie’s race team, has now become an official affiliate organization of The PPROM Foundation, raising over $15,000 since 2019 and engaging in advocacy from peer-to-peer all the way to the national level on behalf of PPROM families. 

Julie had envisioned an ocean-themed nursery from the minute she found out she was expecting, and in the weeks following her loss, she came to envision her baby girl as a tiny mermaid – stuck on the land when she needed water to thrive. With the help and encouragement of friends and family, Julie began to write down her visions and ideas and in November 2022, she published her first children’s book, Coral Couldn’t Stay, in memory of her daughter.

Coral Couldn’t Stay follows the journey of the human family of an adventurous young mermaid as they confront the difficult decision to let her go and allow her to embrace her destiny. 

Originally written and published as a passion project and a way to process her grief, Coral Couldn’t Stay is now available on Amazon in English, Spanish and French, as has been recommended as a useful tool for NICU families and others navigating separation and loss with their living children.

In 2023, Making Waves for Coral broke ties with The Baltimore Running Festival as Julie has shifted her focus to advocacy work at the state and national levels. She is a certified Patient Family Partner through MoMMa’s Voices, a parent advocacy organization, and she attends conferences and events to continue to fundraise and raise awareness about PPROM and the maternal mental health crisis in the US. 

How do you parent a child who dies in the womb? Losing Coral showed me a strength and a voice within myself that I didn’t know existed. Now, I work to honor Coral by living authentically in my grief and speaking her name to affect change for families like ours.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt. She sits on front of some large trees blooming with yellow and purple flowers.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt and holds a small stuffed animal in her hands.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt and stands on a set of steps. She holds a copy of the book she wrote "Coral Couldn't Stay"

Julie wears the rainbow skirt and a shirt that says "Making Waves for Coral". She stands in front of the water.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt and leans on a large lion statue. There are yellow flowers in the background.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt and holds a small urn in her hands.

Julie wears the rainbow skirt. She holds three copies of the book she wrote called "Coral Couldn't Stay".

A small stuffed bear with the name Coral written on it is wearing a sparkly mermaid tail.

Photos taken by Photography by James Trudeau.

Follow Julie @makingwavesforcoral

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