Saranna’s Story, Part 2: From Loss to a Legacy of Connection

by Brita Johnson

Photo courtesy of Saranna W.

Photo courtesy of Saranna W.

In the spring of 2012, Saranna and her husband Frank were expecting their first child, with a sense of anticipation at building the family they’d dreamed of. Their happy emotions spiraled into deep grief, as the pregnancy ended at 19 weeks with the loss of their son, Spencer. (Read the first part of her story here.) The passage through the seasons of private grief that followed felt long, but Saranna was determined to try again as soon as they were given the green light

Although conception had been complicated with their first pregnancy, they were delighted that Saranna got pregnant more easily this time - though Saranna remembers that the giddiness she felt was intertwined with fear of losing another baby. With a cerclage at 14 weeks to address the cervical insufficiency that had prematurely ended her first pregnancy, this second pregnancy was otherwise healthy and uneventful - until a nasty virus intervened during Saranna’s third trimester.

Due to complications of the virus, baby Neha was born five weeks early - though they’d planned to have a cesarean birth, the birth experience became chaotic, with concerns both about the virus and about Neha’s heart. Out of the chaos of emergency cesarean, though, “came this little person,” says Saranna says. “It was the first time I’d seen a biological person of mine, so [I just wondered] at her and [looked] at the ways she looked like me.”

She was able to wonder at the sight, but she wasn’t yet able to hold her baby. Neha was taken for some medical tests, and Saranna was moved from the operating theatre to a recovery room. Marked by her experience of having lost her first baby, her anxiety mounted as the separation went on. Finally Saranna’s birth doula advocated for the family, saying, “Saranna needs to hold her baby - the baby needs to be held.” When she was finally able to hold Neha, Saranna felt a tangible sense of reassurance - this *was* her baby, and the baby was healthy.

Saranna says she and Frank experienced a comedy of errors in the early experiences of newborn care: “Frank had never changed a diaper, and I had to stay prone due to the surgery discomfort - and the books we’d read hadn’t talked about meconium! We had quite a scare til we learned what it was!”

For Saranna, bonding with Neah really started after the first 24 hours, as a massive dose of antibiotics began to vanquish her virus symptoms and she was able to use her body to be active and interactive with her baby. “She was so little - I was so scared I was going to break her,” Saranna says, a feeling common to many new parents but intensified by the trauma and loss she’d experienced in birthing Spencer.

Coming home from the hospital, Saranna and Frank experienced a week of chaos as they settled into their new reality, and then another week of digging out from under that chaos. Neha had severe reflux, and navigating the medical system to find the right solution added another couple of weeks of disequilibrium. Meanwhile, conflict escalated with Saranna’s family, resulting in a decisive separation from her parents.

“It took a while to get into a rhythm, but once we did, we did well,” Saranna says. And soon they felt ready to add to their family again. The experience of having had a healthy baby was redemptive, and there was more a sense of possibility as they tried again to get pregnant. The process, Saranna says, was “more fun this time.” When she became pregnant again, there was still some fear born of loss, but in some ways, the path felt well-trodden - she got set-up with the high-risk team again, and while there were some early moments of concern, those soon resolved. Her 3rd pregnancy was her least eventful.

The birth of baby Mira was redemptive in some ways as well - the team of female doctors and nurses listened intently, respected her priorities (especially getting to hold Mira right away), and validated the ways in which her previous birth experiences had been damaging to her. Mira was hearty, and they were able to leave the hospital without NICU intervention - to their intense gratitude. Saranna was relieved to get home to Neha, who’d been with a patchwork of care providers during the hospital stay.

This time, their homecoming - and the experience of settling into life with a new baby - was eased by postpartum doula support. The birth doula who’d supported Saranna and Frank in both girls’ deliveries had referred them to Bridgetown Baby, and they’d met with Merriah and Emily during Saranna’s pregnancy to plan for the postpartum period.

Recalling what their relationship with Bridgetown Baby meant to them, Saranna highlights both the physical and emotional support that the doulas offered: “It was just me and Frank making the ship go forward, without family help. The doulas helped to keep balls in the air and handle household and newborn care details that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks.” It was also helpful, Saranna says, to have her experiences as a mom to three babies - missing the one-on-one time she’d had with Neha before Mira’s birth, and keenly feeling Spencer’s loss - normalized and validated: “The doulas really provided a listening ear, and this helped me to open up about my grief and process some of the difficult family dynamics. This was so reassuring.”

From a rough start in life, through the pain of losing her son, Saranna has emerged with a clear sense of the legacy she and Frank are building for their children. “We envision our kids as adults around this table, sharing memories of their parents with their own kids. We’re building a legacy of connection.” And that connection is obvious in the calm, deliberate and loving interactions between Saranna, Frank and their rambunctious girls.

When asked what’s allowed them to build this solid, loving, family universe despite loss, grief and broken family ties, Saranna says, “I was empowered - by the difficult experiences I had, my own determination, and the doula support I received - to show the girls, ‘you can do it, you can have it, but you’ve gotta work for it. Even if people try to box you in with their expectations, you have to say ‘my mom said I could do it’ and then do it.’”

If you are seeking support as you navigate the grief of pregnancy loss or the loss of an infant, we invite you to start with a short list of resources on our blog. If you’re embarking on pregnancy, and wish to seek out information to help you plan for and support a healthy pregnancy, please contact us for resources from our extensive list of local referrals.

Saranna's Story, Part 1: Pregnancy Loss - Will There Be Joy Again?

by Brita Johnson

Photo credit: Brita Johnson

Photo credit: Brita Johnson

For Saranna, family was something that didn’t come easily. At 8 weeks old, she made the long journey from an orphanage in Calcutta to an adoptive family in Oregon. Once here, she worked to overcome serious medical conditions, while contending with difficult dynamics within her adoptive family that would leave her estranged from her parents as an adult. When she and her husband Frank married in 2007, they were eager to start a family. “It was like the puzzle pieces were all in place, and we could start to make our dreams of having a family of our own come true,” says Saranna.

As hopeful as the prospect of building their family was, this hopefulness was tempered by the challenges they encountered in becoming pregnant. It took support from members of their church community to puzzle through the maze of the medical system, then a panoply of medical and alternative interventions, to finally get pregnant in the early spring of 2012.

As Saranna and Frank celebrated the joy and anticipation of her pregnancy, Saranna was also careful to follow her doctor’s guidance to a T, with special attention to managing the impacts that the pregnancy had on her ongoing medical conditions. It took a few months, Saranna says, to get back to “her normal.” And then, when she did, things went quietly sideways.

In week 19 of her pregnancy, things started to feel “off.” She shook it off, convincing herself that it could be anything, that it certainly wasn’t something serious. “I didn’t listen to my intuition,” she now says. On a late Friday afternoon, as she headed out on a round of errands to stock the nursery, her water broke.

She and Frank rushed to the hospital, where she would learn, in the words of the attending doctor, “you’re perfectly healthy...but your pregnancy isn’t.” There was no way to save the tiny being inside of her. In a swirl of shock, grief, medical decisions to be made, and hospital paperwork, she spent a sleepless night trying to come to terms with the procedure scheduled for the next morning that would end her pregnancy.

“I felt these mama instincts to ‘keep my baby safe, here in this bed,’” Saranna says, describing the irrational desire she felt for time to stand still, for the night not to end. The early hours of the morning brought a peace and a readiness to let her baby go. When the procedure had been done, she could finally learn whether the baby had been a boy or a girl; the magnitude of the loss sunk in when Frank said, “it was a little boy.” Their son, Spencer.

Bundled out of the hospital, without ceremony, she and Frank were sent home to grieve and figure out how to go forward. The next day was Father’s Day, and the seasons that followed were seasons of numbness for Saranna. She put her grief on hold, going through the motions of daily life, marriage, community, taking care of everyone but herself.

“Grief is a lonely place,” Saranna says, looking back on that time as a season of missed connections. She and Frank grieved their loss separately; she didn’t have a relationship with her parents that provided warmth and support; and her grief isolated her from the church community that had been a pillar of strength for them.

As she sought to understand the medical explanation for what had happened, Saranna also sought out local resources to support her grieving process, but, she says, “the support groups I found didn’t feel welcoming to me, as a person of color with an obvious disability.” She spent hours combing the internet for articles and stories that would validate her experience. She found some small rituals that helped her to cope. The warmth and loyalty of their dog, Mocha, was a sanity-saver and a source of comfort.

Despite the emotional numbness she felt, and perhaps based on an inborn determination that comes from surviving her own hard beginnings, Saranna was eager to try for another pregnancy as soon as she was medically cleared to do so. There wasn’t really a question of emotional readiness for her: “I wanted a different outcome and the only way to have a different outcome is to do it again,” she says, “I just got back on that horse.”

When she and Frank did get the go ahead to try for another pregnancy, she got pregnant right away, to everyone’s delight and to her own disbelief. She laughs a little now, remembering the doctor who said, “if you get five positive pregnancy tests, I think you’re pregnant.”

There’s no such thing as a simple happy ending, and though sweetly humorous, the anecdote above is also revelatory of the complexity of pregnancy, and parenting, after loss: fear of losing her second baby rimmed her emotional experience of the pregnancy; not a day goes by that she doesn’t miss the son she never knew; some of the cloud of numbness she felt in 2012 has only recently started to lift.

But you only have to meet Saranna to sense the joy that she finds in her growing family. In the second installation of Saranna’s story, Bridgetown Baby joins the team that has supported Saranna and Frank through the challenge and redemption of continuing to build their family - read more on Bridgetown Baby’s blog, coming soon.

October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness month. We stand with the families, in our Bridgetown Baby community and around the world, who have lost a child - and we want you to know that you are not alone. If you are seeking support as you navigate this particular grief, we invite you to start with a short list of resources, on our blog.

Ben's Story: Surviving Birth Trauma - A Dad's Perspective

by Brita Johnson

Photo courtesy of Ben B.

Photo courtesy of Ben B.

For Ben and his wife Lauren, the path from their son’s birth in January, 2017 to Father’s Day, 2017 was a rocky road marked by medical trauma, parenting challenges, emotional struggles, and, finally, healing. Ben recalls that first Father’s Day as the time when things started to normalize and they began to enjoy the kind of family moments he’d expected from the start.

Things had felt easy in the beginning. With nothing more serious than the slight nausea and fatigue that you’d expect, Lauren’s had been a textbook pregnancy. When they went into the hospital for an induction a few days past Lauren’s due date, they anticipated a similarly easy labor and delivery. Instead, Ben says, “we walked out forever changed.”

It was while on the operating table for a routine c-section that everything went sideways. Once the baby was delivered, Lauren started bleeding profusely. Ben was rushed out of the operating room while the surgeons scrambled to stanch the bleeding. He spent 15-30 minutes in an adjacent room, not knowing if Lauren would live or die. “It was the most profound loneliness I’ve ever experienced,” Ben says of those moments.

Once the hemorrhage was under control, Ben spent the next three days at Lauren’s side in the intensive care unit, focused wholly on her survival. No part of the story of their first three days as parents is about meeting their son, looking into his eyes, counting fingers and toes, and marveling at his tiny perfection. The baby, who would be named Sully, entered the picture only on day four, when their doctor had to push for an exception to the rules to allow Sully into the ICU to meet his mother.

Ben, Lauren, and Sully headed home from the hospital not long after, to settle into their new life as a family of three. But, “the course of what I thought parenthood was going to be was completely altered,” says Ben. Medical struggles, ongoing physical impacts from Lauren’s hemorrhage, severe colic, and the emotional fallout from their trauma consumed them for the next four months. Lauren experienced a bout of postpartum depression; Ben focused on supporting her through that. As she began to resurface, he took a dive into depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

During those months, Ben lived in a swirl of fear (“Would things ever be normal again? What if this was a mistake and we never reclaim our identity? What if we never get to surf or travel or do the things we love?”) and anger (“why us?”).

“It honestly took 8 months to…I won’t say ‘recover’… but to get back to neutral,” Ben says. What helped? A flood of family and friend support; research into paternal postpartum experience, PTSD, and trauma recovery; an awareness, shared with Lauren, about the need to heal; a subsequent therapy journey. And, support from Bridgetown Baby.

Friends recommended Bridgetown Baby, and soon postpartum doula support became an integral part of Ben’s, Lauren’s, and Sully’s early weeks as a family. “Merriah came into our home when everything was at its worst,” says Ben. Doula support was powerful for Ben and Lauren in ways both simple and profound. “Just to have the energy of someone who’d seen what we’d gone through, and could support us in learning to be parents… In the moments where the four of us could sit down together and talk, Merriah really listened and always gave thoughtful advice.”

Then there was the magical frittata (“I still remember how good it tasted”), and the gift of sleep: “For me, it was having Merriah walk through the door and look at me and say, ‘just go to bed.’ All the riches in the world weren’t as valuable as getting to lie down in the guest room and sleep uninterrupted.”

For Ben, postpartum doula support was something he didn’t know they needed until they needed it. Ben says, “it's unimaginable that we could have gotten through what we did without doula care.”

Looking back, Ben can (almost) chuckle at some of the fears he experienced in those early months. Sully is now a happy, verbal toddler—Ben’s face glows with joy as he describes Sully’s newest abilities and capers. As they approach Father’s Day 2018, Ben marvels at the difference a year makes. “Last year, we were still navigating the crisis, we were in survival mode. Right now, life is chaotic…but life is full, in a good way. We’re able to focus on each other in a different way, and enjoy ourselves as a family.”

With the perspective he’s gained, Ben now feels a drive to share the struggle he went through: if his experience can make it just one or two clicks easier for someone else to find the resources they need, he feels it’s worth telling his story.

For all dads, Ben would like to recognize the tumultuous feelings they might have: “[having a new baby is] a really intense experience, and it’s not easy. And it’s not easy for everybody, not just the mom. The dad’s emotions and reactions are not an outlier—they’re part of the equation. I didn’t think that way walking into it.”

For dads who’ve “gone through something with childbirth, or raising a kid, whether it’s [a crisis of some kind or whether it’s] as simple as you’ve had a completely normal experience but it’s just hard to raise a kid…I hope it can help to know that there’s someone else who’s gone through it and is willing to talk it through.”

His biggest take-home is that it’s okay to feel the feelings you have. ”You owe it to yourself first,” Ben says, “and your family second, to get in there with those feelings, to recognize them, and work through them.”

Find more information on the Bridgetown Baby blog about dads' varying experiences, including tips and resources to make your job as a dad easier and more fun!

Camilla's Story: A Doula Has Her First Baby

by Camilla Malkin

Photo credit: Brita Johnson

Photo credit: Brita Johnson

Becoming a mother after two decades of caring for infants, small children, and families has been an interesting process. While I was pregnant the speculation around how easy the transition would be groomed me to smile politely as anxiety bubbled within me.

‘[I was] an expert with so much experience.’

‘[I would] know what to do under every circumstance.’ 

‘[I had] a Mary Poppins bag of tricks, wisdom, and knowledge.’ 

Yet even with 20 years of practice under my belt I felt like a complete amateur when they handed me Maverick for the first time. As I fumbled with hospital sheets and a starchy swaddled newborn I realized instantly that no amount of prior exposure could have prepared me for the feeling of holding my son. That bundle of life was one of my greatest accomplishments. I had grown him from two cells and carried him within me for 40 plus weeks. As my husband, Andy, and I examined his every inch we caught each other settling into the awareness that Maverick was going to be an adventure of a lifetime and we were only at the beginning. 

When we were released from the hospital I took an eternity buckling the baby into the car seat. I was having trouble securing the straps. My muscle memory was being overridden by my new title of “mother”.

Buckle the 5 point harness. Pull the strap. Slide up the chest clasp. Check for two fingers of give. Nope. I did that wrong. Was I supposed to tighten then adjust? Or adjust then tighten? Was the chest fastener too high? What is a sternum again? Check. Double check. Redo. Check again.

Looking back on our process of choosing a doula, I am so thankful for my husband’s astute articulation of what we (read: I) needed. We were in search of someone who would doula me so I wouldn’t doula myself. 

As we victoriously reach one month of parenthood I am able to reflect on how grateful I am for the loving support of the Bridgetown Baby team. Our son is getting to know us as our best selves. We get to spend time revelling in the nuances of this child. We are becoming experts on all things Maverick. Welcoming in our postpartum doulas has meant we get to focus on the important emotional bonding without having to compromise our everyday routines (showering, eating, hydrating, sleeping) while ensuring that all three of us are getting care and support as we learn, as a family, what works best for meeting our needs and goals.

It’s been an amazing transition. And I’m happy to say that now my muscle memory kicks in even when my mommy-brain can’t fully comprehend why there is so much fabric in the Moby wrap! 

C.V.’s Story: Double Twins Dad!

by Kari Hastings

Photo credit: Nicole Wasko Photography

Photo credit: Nicole Wasko Photography

Stay-at-home dad C.V. already had 4-year-old twins (the bigs) when his second set of twins, boys Carlyle and Sebastian (the littles), were born in fall of 2015. He had forgotten what it was like to have two babies at once, but reality hit full force those first few months. And this time, the infants’ round-the-clock needs were compounded by having two other young children.

“Having twins, again, for me as a Dad … was overwhelming,” says C.V., who quit his job as a pastor to stay home after his first twins, a boy and girl, were born. “In my fuzzy memory, it was as though I was reliving a bad dream.”

Overnight, life turned into an endless rotation of diapering, swaddling, feeding, sleeping and bottle-washing. Competing with these demands were C.V.’s older children, who needed to be fed, entertained, bathed and parented. The sleep deprivation was brutal. The mental exhaustion was punishing. C.V. knew he and his wife, Stacy, needed help.

Stacy’s friend referred them to Bridgetown Baby, and a Go Fund Me account helped them purchase 36 overnights over a six-month period. The help, in the form of postpartum doulas Merriah Fairchild and Emily Darley Hill, brought a measure of sanity back to the household.

The North Portland father says although well-meaning family and friends tried to help, the complex feeding system and efforts to sync the twins’ feeding and napping schedules was difficult to navigate. But when he explained everything to Bridgetown Baby’s doulas, they not only got it, they helped him achieve his goals with professional guidance and seamless care.

“We continue to be in over our heads,” C.V. says, laughing. “But I look back on those overnights with such a sense of gratitude. They made me feel like I could keep going. I really don’t know what we would have done without them.”

What would he tell other parents about to welcome twins into their families?

“Know that you will get to the end of yourself,” C.V. says. “You need to prepare yourself to ask and to receive help. With Bridgetown Baby, you can trust your babies will be well taken care of. It’s a very significant release to be able to hand them over with peace of mind. Just know that when you are at your end, Bridgetown Baby is hope and support … and sleep.”