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.