'Rainbow Baby' Photo Captures Grieving Michigan Mom's Emotional Journey Following Miscarriage: 'Knowing I Wasn't Alone Helped'

"It made me feel better that I wasn't alone, but it didn't make it any easier to grieve," Cathy Matthews tells PEOPLE

Photo: Jen Priester Photography

A stunning photo of a “rainbow baby” is shining a light on a difficult topic for many parents.

A rainbow baby is a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. The term has encouraged parents to share their stories of loss – and the babies that followed.

Cathy Matthews of New Baltimore, Michigan, learned she was expecting her second child in February 2015. But in March, she and her husband, Matt Matthews, lost their baby.

Unexpected Loss

“We were really excited when we found out we got pregnant,” Cathy tells PEOPLE. “We started telling our family right away, and then we lost the baby at five weeks. We barely had time to even digest everything – it was really heartbreaking for us.”

To help with the grieiving process, Cathy turned to the Internet to find more information about the pain she was experiencing.

“I did a lot of research on miscarriages and they are so common,” she says. “It made me feel better that I wasn’t alone, but it didn’t make it any easier to grieve. I looked up a lot of resources and articles and quotes to help me get through the grieving process. That’s when I discovered the term ‘rainbow babies.’ It’s just a great way to kind of say…I guess it says a lot in that phrase.”

Cathy also opened up about her tragic loss in a moving blog post, which she wrote in November 2015 – on what would have been her baby’s first birthday.

“I think of you every day and the sweet little baby you will always be to me,” she wrote. “I only carried you in my belly for a few short weeks, but I will carry you in my heart for the rest of my days. When I saw those two pink lines – I instantly knew you were a girl.

“On the day you left us back in March – I wasn’t sure I could ever go on. How would I move on? I needed time and I needed to adjust to having my baby live in heaven instead of here with us. I was slightly comforted in the fact I wasn’t alone – that there are lots of mommas whose babies go to heaven all too quickly.

“And I know that while all of my dreams for you may not be realized, I do know that I will someday be reunited with you and hold you in your sweet pinkness and for now, that is enough.”

Joy After Loss

Cathy and Matt were overjoyed when they learned they were expecting another baby in May 2015. She documented each month of her pregnancy in what would become a rainbow collage.

Although Cathy was hoping for a baby girl – they chose to keep it a surprise. And the moment their baby was born, Matt excitedly exclaimed, “It’s a girl!”

“They put her on my chest and I just burst into tears,” Cathy says.

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When the couple decided to have professional photos taken of their newborn baby girl, whom they named Charlotte, they wanted to incorporate the rainbow baby phenomenon into the shoot with local photographer, Jen Priester.

“These angel babies are certainly never forgotten, and what a beautiful way to memorialize these special babies in a photograph,” Priester tells PEOPLE. “One of the greatest parts of my job is the honor of watching families grow.”

The photo was made even more meaningful by a special headband made by Cathy’s sister-in-law.

“My sister-in-law makes little headbands and so she had made a rainbow headband,” Cathy says. “I brought that with me to the photo shoot with Jen and she is so creative. We were able to capture a lot of emotion in that one photo.”

Cathy says going through the heartbreak of a miscarriage has made her marriage even stronger.

“I think we’re stronger. Any time a couple goes through something heartbreaking or devastating, I think it brings you closer,” she shares. “Sometimes we forget that our spouses are also grieving a miscarriage, because it happens to a woman and her body, but he was really supportive.

“He had a hard time with it, too, but I think ultimately it brought us closer together and we’re incredibly grateful for the family that we have and try not to take that for granted.”

Big brother Cameron, who turns 3 in May, is enjoying his new role at home.

“He loves it. He refers to her as ‘my baby,’ ” Cathy says. “He says, ‘Is my baby crying?’ ‘Is my baby sleeping?’ ‘Where did you put my baby?’ ”

And she’s also found comfort in a supportive group of moms she met online.

“I’m in a moms club here and two of my really good friends miscarried and they were a huge support to me. Knowing that I wasn’t alone helped.”

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