For Jean Luc Montou and Sarah Bertrand, May 9 was one of the happiest days of their lives, the day when 29-year-old Bertrand gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son named Julian Charles.
“Afterward, she just silently dropped tears of joy and happiness,” Montou, 24, told TODAY Parents. “She loved Julian so much.”
But just 24 hours after giving birth, Bertrand died in her hospital room as Montou held their newborn son.
Montou, who lives in Moss Bluff, Louisiana, says that while the hospital is still investigating the cause of Bertrand’s death, doctors suspect she suffered an amniotic embolism — an extremely rare childbirth complication that causes heart and lung collapse and internal bleeding.
“Once the symptoms start showing, it’s already begun,” said Montou, remembering that Bertrand complained of a headache and appeared to be having a seizure before she died. “I remember thinking it would be OK because we were in a hospital — and the staff tried so hard to help her — but I knew it was serious when they started doing compressions and began using the defibrillator.”
The couple did not immediately announce the birth of their son, as they were waiting to be released from the hospital so they could take photos of him in his nursery to post to their social media accounts. However, once Bertrand died, Montou penned a heartbreaking post, alerting friends and family that Julian had arrived, but Bertrand had died just hours later.
“Sarah didn’t make it,” Montou wrote in the viral post. “My last 24 hours with her was the happiest I’d ever been…I loved this woman like no other and she died in front of me while I held our son. Please take a few moments to remember this woman because she was the absolute best thing that has ever happened to me and Jane” — his 3-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
Montou’s experience coincides with the publication of an in-depth report on maternal deaths in the U.S. by ProPublica and NPR, following the story of a neonatal nurse, who gave birth at the New Jersey hospital where she worked, and died 20 hours later. Some 700 to 900 women die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes in the U.S. every year, and roughly 65,000 nearly die, according to the piece. The U.S. has one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the developed world, placing 136th (after Hungary and before Iran) among the 184 countries ranked overall in the CIA World Factbook.