In 2017 we launched our client stories project, with a focus on sharing stories from the postpartum zone: good things, hard things, mundane moments. Because we believe that supporting new parents is vitally important, our stories show how postpartum doulas can support families in many different ways.
Every family deserves postpartum support.
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.
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.”
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!
By Kari Hastings
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.”
Having a baby surrounded by parents, in-laws and friends is … still hard. Having a baby in a city you just moved to, with few friends and no family around is … overwhelming, isolating and feels impossible.
That’s where Maggie H. found herself just before Thanksgiving 2015, as she ushered her first baby, Kaia, into the world, just 10 months after moving to Portland from Brooklyn, New York. Her parents live in California, and her husband Peter’s parents live in Philadelphia.
Maggie had been induced, and contractions were unusually intense, leaving her with severe abdominal pain for weeks. “I was crying every day,” she says. “I had so much anxiety about breastfeeding. Was she latching? I didn’t want to hold my baby because it put so much pressure on my stomach. Did this make me a bad mom?”
Peter’s parents suggested a night nurse. Maggie, a self-described “tough midwestern girl,” says she resisted the idea. But five days after returning home from the hospital, she relented. Through word-of-mouth, Peter found Bridgetown Baby. Mercifully, Maggie says, they sent postpartum doula Emily Darley Hill over that night. The relationship extended for four months of periodic overnights.
Maggie says Emily and postpartum doula/IBCLC lactation consultant Merriah Fairchild “literally saved my life. They were so knowledgeable and safe and warm. I knew I could trust them. They helped me feel empowered, like I was owning it.”
Emily and Merriah helped Maggie learn how to breastfeed Kaia despite her sore abdomen. Maggie also learned how to swaddle her new daughter and wear her in a sling. She went from getting one hour of sleep at a time to four. The doulas did laundry, cleaned and engaged in a friendly competition of who could bake the best chocolate chip cookies.
Now the family has a broader support system and “mama network,” but at the time, Maggie says Bridgetown Baby was a lifesaver.
“It’s just an incredible way to support yourself and your family during a difficult time. It’s beyond worth the money,” she says. “You can’t put a price on sanity.”
By Kari Hastings
When Carmen and Anand’s twin daughters made their debut in October 2016, the couple got initiated into baby land—times two. “Neither of us had any experience with babies, like zero,” Carmen says. “The first time Anand held a baby was when he held our girls.”
Going from zero to 60 overnight was intense, and both Carmen and Anand say they couldn’t have done it without Bridgetown Baby’s Welcome Home and Overnight Packages. Carmen had a cesarean birth at 34 weeks. Her babies, Anais and Amara, spent 20 days in the Neonative Intensive Care Unit, which she describes as “baby boot camp.” “We learned a ton from the NICU nurses,” she says. “But it’s different when you’re home with them, and you have to figure out what to do.”
Anais, born at just 3 pounds 12 ounces, had significant reflux issues and screamed in pain after every feeding. Bridgetown Baby postpartum doulas Merriah Fairchild, Rose Otter and Catherine Akerson Bailey all worked with the twins, demonstrating how to get them to breastfeed and bottle-feed at the same time, and how to massage their tiny bellies to relieve pressure, burp them and wear them around the house in a wrap. The doulas also assisted with practical things, like setting up an organized bottle-feeding system and figuring out which bottles and nipples worked best.
Anand says having their input was calming.
“I’m a research-oriented person,” he says. “I do a ton of reading and look up everything online. I was able to just let go, save up my questions and ask the professionals when they showed up every week. It really helped our relationship with the babies and our relationship with each other.”
Carmen says the “overnights” were the best.“Those overnights were a godsend,” she says. “We just bought it like it was another resource. It’s really not a luxury item. It’s a need to have, not a want. Merriah would leave the next morning, and the babies and I would be happy and rested, the kitchen would look great, lactation cookies would be baked and breakfast would be on the table.
“The biggest gifts they gave us were confidence and peace of mind. Our postpartum doulas really were a bridge to our new life.”
Julia's Story (Postpartum Anxiety and Depression)
By Kari Hastings
Julia T., mom of Emma—born in February 2016, remembers her most vulnerable moment with Bridgetown Baby’s Emily Darley Hill. It was morning, and Emily was dropping in for one of their scheduled visits. Anxiety and postpartum depression had taken hold of Julia in the middle of the night, overwhelming her with feelings of negativity and a pleading question, “How will I ever feel better again?” When Emily arrived, Julia crumpled onto her couch and cried, “I just want to be a good mom.”
Although Julia had a good support system—a mother and sister living within blocks, plus many nearby friends—she says Emily’s support as a postpartum doula pulled her through that dark time and helped her find her footing as a new mom. “Emily normalized what I was going through,” Julia says. “She assured me I was going to be OK, and for me, that was huge.”
Emily connected her with a therapist who specializes in postpartum issues, and a neighborhood moms support group. Julia, who had a planned Cesarean birth, bought three Bridgetown Baby packages—a breastfeeding package and two home-visit packages.
Julia says knowing she would have a weekly doula visit was a lifesaver. “Emily would take the baby, wear her around the house in a wrap, clean, do laundry, cook, do food prep for the week, and my husband and I would just relax or sleep,” she says. “She would rub my feet, listen, give me advice, just anything I needed.”
Setting up Bridgetown Baby services in advance of her birth was one of the smartest things she did, Julia says. “I’ve struggled with anxiety in recent years, so I wanted to line up that support ahead of time,” Julia says. “I’m so glad I did. Emily was the sweetest, most calming presence. You can have the best family and friends in the world. The difference with a doula is that it’s their job to help you. There’s no guilt associated with it. They’re professionals.”