A little over 24 hours after giving birth, Cato holds Jude for the first time. As she fed him a bottle, all of the troubles of Cato’s pregnancies faded away. (courtesy of Amy Cato)
A little over 24 hours after giving birth, Cato holds Jude for the first time. As she fed him a bottle, all of the troubles of Cato’s pregnancies faded away.

courtesy of Amy Cato

A mother’s love

Seven months after giving birth to her son Jude, senior Amy Cato opens up her pregnancy

May 23, 2017

As her stomach began to tighten, senior Amy Cato’s eyes fluttered open. Despite the epidural, Cato could feel her contractions increasing. It was only a matter of time before she would begin to push.
For most Francis Howell Central students, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2016, was just a typical day of school. A day free of IVs, nurses, and catheters. While most students were busy finishing homework that evening, Cato was three centimeters dilated. That night, seven hours before school started for the rest of the student body, Cato gave birth to her son.
Despite her anxieties of enduring labor, despite her fear of the judgment of others, and despite having to miss part of her senior year, Cato gave birth to baby Jude on Sept. 29 at 12:13 a.m.
“I had a baby and I’m proud. Yes, it wasn’t the right time in my life, but I’m not going to make it go away. It happened, and I’m glad that it happened. I love my son,” Cato said.

It was in February of her junior year, when Cato took a pregnancy test while at her boyfriend Gunnar Davis’ house. After 30 seconds of waiting, the stick revealed to her a red positive sign.

“I started bawling when I saw Gunnar. He was really trying to calm me down because I was the one freaking out,” Cato said. “I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t bring myself to go home. I finally went home, and I just couldn’t sleep.”

For three days, the secret of her pregnancy weighed on her conscience. Fear plagued her as she thought of her parent’s reaction. Growing up, Cato’s mother had always reminded Cato of her unconditional love. No matter what the circumstances may be, Tanya Cato would always be there to support her daughter. With this in mind, Cato approached her mother with the news of her pregnancy.

“I brought her up to my room, and I started off by reminding her that she told me I could come to her no matter what. She was surprised, but was very supportive from the very beginning,” Cato said. “I was really scared to tell my dad. I was so scared, I can’t describe how scared I was honestly.”

Like Cato’s mother, Cato’s father was taken aback by her pregnancy but nonetheless provided his daughter with love and encouragement. Despite receiving assurances from her parents, Gunnar, and Gunnar’s family, Cato was still petrified.

“The thought of giving birth freaked me out, I just didn’t think I could handle it,” Cato said. “Since the beginning, I possessed the mentality that I just couldn’t have a baby.”

Aside from enduring through the pains of labor, Cato was terrified of not being able to provide for her child the best that life has to offer.

“I knew I surely wasn’t ready to give a child everything that it may need or want. I didn’t even have a job back then. I knew I didn’t have enough for myself then, and I didn’t want my parents or Gunnar’s parents to feel responsible for our child,” Cato said. “My mom and Gunnar’s mom said that they would help me out. Sheridan, Gunnar’s mom, would babysit while I was at school, but I just couldn’t push off my responsibility on everyone else,” Cato said.

Unsure of what choice she should make, Cato and her parents had a consultation appointment with Planned Parenthood in St. Louis.

“It was honestly the worst experience I’ve ever had. Honestly, I would never go there again. I was so scared,” Cato said.

The appointment didn’t provide Cato with the guidance that she needed, from waiting an hour to see a doctor to not being allowed to have her parents in the examination with her.

“This was the first time that I had to go back into the room by myself, Cato said. “On top of that, I didn’t know if this was the right thing for me to do, to be inside of an abortion clinic. To get an abortion. I didn’t know exactly what to do so I was going with the flow.”

The consultation didn’t resolve or subdue any of Cato’s fears. Growing up as a strong Christian, Cato never felt comfortable with abortion. Instead of scheduling an appointment for an abortion, Cato left, allowing herself the rest of the week to truly figure out the best decision.

Car rides with her parents consisted of only one conversation. Cato’s parents both had very different viewpoints. Cato’s father was okay with abortion, but was initially wary of adoption due to a childhood friend’s experience with it; whereas, Cato’s mother was not comfortable with abortion, educating Cato of the many physiological effects that abortion has. Regardless of her parents’ differing perspectives, they only wanted what was best for their daughter. It wasn’t until one evening in the parking lot of Club Fitness did Cato finally find peace with a decision.

“While my mom was talking, it just sort of hit me. I can do this, I thought. This baby doesn’t deserve to be dead. It needs a chance at life. What am I doing? Am I not going to give it a chance? He could be the president of the united states one day. He could do so much, but I would never even know. If I kill this baby in a week, I could have just ruined everything,” Cato said.

After that evening, Cato never looked back. The consultation at Planned Parenthood was but a distant memory.

“My faith really influenced my decision towards choosing life. I believe that I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I killed another human being. I knew I would have regretted it the rest of my life,” Cato said. “The only reason I wanted to get an abortion was because I was scared. I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to return to my normal life.”

The idea of parenting still didn’t seem feasible for Cato, as she wanted her baby to grow up in a stable home. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, only 20% of teen pregnancies result in marriage. With the odds against Cato and Gunnar, Cato decided parenting wasn’t the best option.

“Since the beginning, Gunnar was very supportive of my pregnancy, and whatever decision that I may make. It’s not like I knew we were going to break up, but I just didn’t want to take that risk. I didn’t want to put my baby in that situation of having to constantly move from house to house. From the beginning he wouldn’t know what a real relationship looks like,” Cato said.

Cato knew adoption was the choice that she needed to make; however, she couldn’t stand the thought of never hearing or knowing of her baby again. After doing a little research, Cato discovered open adoption, in which the birth mother was still able to maintain a relationship with her baby.

“With open adoption, you can still see your baby. It’s not like they’re gone out of your life forever. It’s not like you have to wait 18 years, all the while hoping your child wants to find and know about you,” Cato said.

Through Lutheran Family Children Services, Cato began reading through the hundreds upon hundreds of prospective adoptive parents. Over the course of a few weeks, Cato began narrowing down her choices, writing the names down of the very few she liked. There was one couple that she liked in particular, as she would always find herself going back to them. Cato waited untIl her second trimester before contacting this couple, which happened to be on Easter Sunday.

“You can tell when someone is faking in their profile picture. Some candidates would be holding a baby niece or nephew, but Mike and Jessie didn’t do that. They looked real. They just seemed authentic,” Cato said.

For three years, Jessie and Mike have been in search of adopting a baby. They were very close with one in the past, losing contact with the birth mother two weeks before the birth.

“They were devastated,” Cato said “It was like a death, that is what they described it as. It was like their baby died, and they never got to see him, they never got a funeral, so they were still hurting. I really felt bad for them. I really wanted to bless them with this baby.”

After a month of correspondence via email, Cato wanted to meet Mike and Jessie in Charleston. As they lived in South Carolina, a 16-hour car ride, Cato felt a little uneasy of her baby potentially living so far away.

“I wanted to make sure they were the right fit. I was really surprised my parents were up for a trip to South Carolina,” Cato said. “We don’t go on a lot of family trips, but they understood that this was a big decision for me to make,” Cato said.

For memorial day weekend, Cato along with her mom and dad traveled to South Carolina. Leaving her house at 3 a.m on a Friday, Cato was hoping to have dinner with them that evening.
The car ride itself was very stressful for Cato. Not only was she feeling anxiety about meeting this potential adoptive family, but she was also fearful of getting blood clots due to sitting for so long.

“ It was a tough ride. During your pregnancy you really have to be careful of getting blood clots, so every so often I had to get out of the car to walk around,” Cato said.

At around eight that evening, Cato and her parents had arrived at their home. Just in time for a late dinner.

“Right when I got into their neighborhood I was like ‘Oh God, can we go back home. I change my mind I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to do adoption.’ We just pulled up to their house, and seeing their lights on. I was like, ‘I can’t do this,” Cato said.

At first, it was a little awkward for everyone. For that first dinner, conversation consisted of small talk. They talked about school, her plans after high school, the plans they had for the weekend.
The awkward small talk ceased to exist by the end of her trip. After just two and half days with them, Cato knew they were the ones.

“By Sunday, it was like I literally knew them my whole entire life. Like it was so weird, I was already so close with them, it was like I could share anything with them,” Cato said. “I decided, I wanted to match with them. Once you’re matched, they can no longer look at any other birthparents and you can no longer look at any other potential adoptive parents.”

Bringing a picture frame that held the picture of her first ultrasound, Cato asked Jessie and Mike to be her baby’s adoptive parents.

“I really liked how we all wanted the same thing. I still wanted visits with Jude and they still wanted visits too. We still wanted to talk. It was very agreeable,” Cato said.

Over the duration of Cato’s pregnancy, she began to see many of her friendships fade away, including her relationship with Gunnar.

“We kind of grew apart throughout my pregnancy. Since I wasn’t at school, and he was at school. Even though we were still dating it was hard. He was in band. He had competitions. He had a lot of homework. Whereas, I was at home doing nothing,” Cato said.

Cato shared with only one friend the news of her pregnancy, as she didn’t want to be under the scrutiny of others.

“I didn’t want to tell anyone I was pregnant. I didn’t want anyone to make fun of me, or think of me any differently, because I’m still the same person. Just because I had sex and I had a baby it doesn’t mean I’m a whole different person,” Cato said. “The only friend I told was Daria Colvin when I was eight months pregnant,” Cato said.

For Cato, the humidity and heat of Missouri’s summer was almost unbearable. As she neared the end of her pregnancy, Cato suffered from severe itching, making it impossible for her to fall asleep.

“All of my symptoms pointed to cholestasis, which is a disorder of bile production in the liver. We were all really nervous since cholestasis increases the risk of the baby dying,” Cato said.
With these risks in mind, Cato decided to be induced on Oct. 4. In the meantime, instead of exercising in the humid heat, Cato and her mother would walk laps around the mall.

“By then I really didn’t care if anybody at school found out. I wanted to get this baby out, and I needed to walk,” Cato said. “I saw a few people from school, but I honestly didn’t care, I was done.”

One evening, Cato became exhausted during her walk. Having to sit down and rest for a few minutes, Cato was experiencing minor contractions.

“Having contractions is pretty common when you are close to your due date. They don’t always last very long. They could be 52 minutes, than 22 minutes, and then 10 minutes apart,” Cato said. “The ones you have to worry about is when they are five minutes apart for an hour. But I wasn’t timing them, because it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t supposed to give birth until Oct. 4.”

The following morning, after a restless night without sleep, Cato was admitted to the hospital. Being three centimeters dilated, Cato was going to deliver her baby a week early.

“I really wanted Mike and Jessie to be there for the birth. Well, at least Jessie, I wanted her to be in the room. She was going to do kangaroo care which is when the mother first does skin to skin contact with the baby,” Cato said.

As Cato waited for Mike and Jessie’s arrival, she received her epidural at 5 p.m. on that Thursday, Sept. 28.

“I couldn’t move my legs. I can’t even describe this pain. It wasn’t pain. It just felt so weird. It felt like my legs were asleep, but they weren’t. They were tingling so bad. I was shaking it was so cold. I thought I was going to die from the epidural,” Cato said.

A little after eight that evening, Mike and Jessie had arrived at the hospital. As Cato’s nerves were at ease, she rested her eyes for just a few hours before giving birth a little past midnight. The pain and intensity of labor often portrayed in movies was not present for Cato during her labor, thanks to the epidural.

While Cato may not have felt the physical toll of labor, the emotional toll of being separated from Jude became a reality.

“I blocked my hand, I couldn’t look at Jude. I was just so freaked out that he was an actual human being,” Cato said. “I was just so shocked, and I was so sad because I had this baby and it was going up for adoption, and I’m not going to be with him anymore. I knew it was the right decision, but it still was upsetting.”

Cato couldn’t bring herself to take Jude in her arms in those early morning hours, nor for the entirety of that day. As Gunnar, Jessie and Mike showered Jude with affection, Cato remained afraid to do the same. Although knowing her relationship with Jude would last even after he moved to South Carolina, Cato couldn’t help but feel fearful that he would one day resent her.

“I don’t want him to think that I gave up on him. I just wish I could be his parent and be with him every day, but I understand that I can’t do that. I just really want him to understand why I choose adoption, and not be mad at me, or hate me for it,” Cato said.

It was Friday evening when Cato first held Jude.

“I finally asked them if I could hold Jude, and I was holding him for two minutes when my dad and brother walk into my room. My brother turns to my dad and asks him if he wants to hold Jude,” Cato said. “I looked at him, and I was justing thinking, ‘Excuse me this is my baby. How dare you try to steal him away from me.’ I just started crying and crying. I was just really emotional.”

As Cato fed Jude a bottle, she became overwhelmed with a deep sense of love for her child. In that moment, all of the stresses of her labor and her pregnancy just faded away. All of her restless nights of scratching, mornings of nausea and vomiting, and afternoons alone at home were worth it.

Just a few weeks later, on Oct. 12, Jude left with Mike and Jessie for South Carolina.

“The whole day I was just thinking that I would see them later like they would be coming over for dinner or something but obviously that never happened. I was really just trying to keep busy and not to think about it,” Cato said.

Although it is strange for Cato not seeing Jude every day, Mike and Jessie make it a priority to keep Cato up to date by sending pictures and videos of Judge on a daily basis.

“They [Mike and Jessie] really mean a lot to me. I really wanted a family that would be open to my relationship with my son. I didn’t want to not know my kid because he’s still my kid. I’m just really glad that they’re open with the depth of relationship that I want with Jude,” Cato said.

After years of struggling with becoming pregnant, Jessie and Mike have not only become parents to Jude, but actually conceived a child of their own.

“They actually just had Jude’s baby brother on March 16th and his name is Samuel. He’s so tiny compared to Jude, who is like a sumo wrestler now at seven months,” Cato said.

For Cato, it seems as though the greatest challenge of her pregnancy wasn’t giving birth after all, rather it was returning to school where gossip of her and the circumstances of her pregnancy echoed through the hallways.

“Just seeing the stares that people gave me in the hallway, was bothering. They act like they know me, but they don’t really know me, they just know what happened to me,” Cato said.

Coming to school every day was a struggle for Cato, as rumors were spread by a friend she thought she could trust.

“I’m very distant from a lot of people because I don’t know who knows and who doesn’t know the truth. I don’t know if their cool with me,” Cato said. “I can count on one hand the amount of people I can actually trust at school anymore.”

Though these last few months of high school were challenging for Cato, she was able to discover who her true friends were, one of them being Daria Colvin.

“She’s like a sister to me honestly. We’re really close, I share everything with her,” Cato said. “I feel like we bonded more because of my pregnancy. Daria is someone I know I can alway go to.”

As graduation is less than two weeks away, Cato looks forward to the many memories to come. With plans of visiting Jude in July to starting her freshman year of college at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Cato, like the rest of her classmates, looks forward to what the future has to offer.

“Everybody thought that I was going to drop out of high school, even my teachers came up to me and asked, “Are you still going to college?” Cato said. “Just because I got pregnant and I had a kid it doesn’t mean that I can’t go to college. I just hate that stereotype. Nothing is stopping me. I still have that capability just like everyone else does to be successful in life.”

While at the University of Missouri- St. Louis, Cato intends on pursuing a degree in counseling, where she can guide young teens facing pregnancy.

“My experiences just makes me think I can help people going through teen pregnancies themselves. I understand where they may be coming from. I understand the pain and bullying that comes with teen pregnancy, but I also understand the amazing feeling of holding your baby for the first time,” Cato said.

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  • L

    Louise Koonce, Amy's grandmotherMay 24, 2017 at 4:51 pm

    Both of us, Frank and Louise couldn’t be more proud of our granddaughter. She has faced a great challenge with dignity and grace. She gave the ultimate gift of life to a couple who felt they wouldn’t have a child of their own but now has been blessed two fold and Jude has a brother, something Amy wanted also was for Jude to have a sibling. God has blessed many due to Amy’s choice to give life.

  • S

    Sedra DuffieMay 24, 2017 at 5:28 am

    You gave the most beautiful gift to a very loving and gentle couple. Jude is loved by so many here in Charleston. Jessie always speaks of your bravery and your parents loving support. Allow God to continue to cradle your heart and guide your path

  • R

    RachelMay 24, 2017 at 5:18 am

    You are such a strong young woman…beautiful inside and out! I am so happy you decided to share your story with others. Jude is blessed to have you as a birth mother and will grow up knowing the sacrifices you made to give him a chance. Sending love from Charleston, now and always.