As I sat across from Sarah with a strip of her soft and beautiful postpartum belly peeking out from the bottom of her shirt, and the sunlight from the window beside her glistening off the tears rolling down her face, not only was I holding space for her sorrow, but now I was holding onto a feeling of my own, as she asked me to please share the story of her and Samuel. 'How will I tell the story in such a way that it honors her labor and his life?', I wondered.
The following is a story of loss. It is the story of Sarah and Samuel. While I usually write birth stories from my perspective only, I have included details that Sarah requested I share, in order to help shine a light on the 24,000 families that face loss in the second and third trimesters each year in the U.S.. Sarah also requested that I include the details of my day that I had originally left out. In order to respect the family's privacy, this story does not include photographs.
It was early on what would be a warm and humid morning. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and reached down to grab my phone off the floor from my bedside, after hearing the assigned "ding" for text messages I give to all of my client contacts in my phone.
I was surprised to read a text from Sarah, "I think my water just broke". I assured her that it would be pretty rare to have her water break this early on, but after having her do a few things, I feared that she might be right. As we talked I opened my client files, and below her name read "19W 3D".
I asked for Sarah to call her provider as I gathered up my things and children and began to make a panicky plan. My phone rang.
"They want me to go to the hospital that is closest to me right now. I think I'm having contractions. What do I do? What is happening?"
I told her to drive safely and that I would meet her there. When I walked through the doors of labor and delivery a nurse named Kim, that I had worked with prior, smiled at me.
"Unfortunately, it looks like you and I will be having a delivery today. I'm glad it's you though."
I held Kim's hand, took a deep breath, and we walked toward Sarah's room. It almost felt like I was moving in slow motion. My mind was planning out all of the words I would say in the next two minutes, my stomach was churning, my heart was racing, and none of my feelings would matter anymore in a matter of seconds.
As I opened the door, the slow motion changed to rapid movement and within seconds Sarah was hanging in my arms, screaming at the top of her lungs. Her husband sat in the corner, with his elbows resting on each knee and his finger tips digging into his forhead, with such a grip they were turning white.
Before I arrived a doctor had come and speak to them and helped them to lay out a plan, but there weren't many choices to be made. Sarah was 6 centimeters dilated.
Then we cried. Kim gathered us up tissues and then we all took our places.
I listened to Sarah's breath change in between sobs and estimated she was contracting every 4 minutes. I told her that if she wanted to alter her birth plan, she had planned an unmedicated birth, that she had options. We called the doctor back in and they helped to get her contractions closer together with pitocin. She chose to not receive any pain medication, even though we had all suggested it.
Within minutes Sarah was sitting on a ball in front of me leaned back against my chest and contractions coming every 2 to 3 minutes. She asked for me to fix her hair and this is where the rhythm of her birth began. I took her hair elastic out and began to brush her hair. She then asked me to not stop brushing it.
She would lean forward, anchor herself on the bedside, breathe through her surges and then fall back onto my chest. There was a tangled air of strength and vulnerability pouring off of her. Every time she fell back I would begin to once again brush her hair. At one point she leaned foward and didn't fall back.
I walked around to the other side of the bed and leaned over. She looked up at me, the look in her eyes will forever be etched in my memory.
Sarah refelcting on this moment: "I had never felt so much fear in my life. I instantly heard the voice of this lady in my head of these birth affirmations I had recently began listening to while driving in my car, 'pushing is invigorating. pushing will bring your baby to you'. What bullshit I remember thinking. I wanted the feeling to just go away. I didn't want my baby. Not like this."
Sarah then asked me to get in the bed behind her. She laid in my lap and I once again began to brush her hair. Her husband was watching us from across the room. He mouthed "thank you" to me. I wish at that point I had someone else for him. Not just my nod and furrow from across the room. I wished the bed was bigger, I wished that they could have both fit in my lap. I motioned for him to take my spot and he just put his head back in his hands. What I was doing for her, was exactly what he needed for me to be doing.
Sarah whispered with her eyes closed,
"I have to push, I don't want to. I have to push, I don't want to. I have to push, I don't want to."
She began to get louder and louder with each repeat of the statement and then she screamed again. The doctor came in and asked her to calm down. He apologized right afterwards and told her that she didn't have to calm down and he was sorry for suggesting such a thing. I could tell he was embarassed by his request.
Sarah pushed. She asked me to tell her when and how. I sat behind her with my hands on her belly and just nodded each time I felt a contraction begin. She pushed in total silence. No one spoke one word, but occassionally you could hear sniffeling bouncing off the walls like a quiet echo. Kim stood with Sarah's husband and occassionally whispered to me asking if we needed anything.
It didn't take very long for Samuel to take his very first breath earthside. I moved out from behind Sarah and allowed for her to sit back holding her precious little boy.
I then remembered the words of a doula who has done this for many years more than me, Shannon Kent, telling me once that she helped mamas in this scenario to remember and cherish all of the parts of their baby.
I pointed out his little fingers and his button nose. We looked at the wrinkles on his feet and his long skinny toes. He has big knees and she told me that her husband had them too. She told him that she loves him and how he had made her a mama first. She asked me to sing with her and we whispered the happy birthday song to him. She told him the story of why they decided to name him Samuel. She couldn't have made him feel loved or anymore celebrated than she did in his 7 minutes of life.
Sarah refelcting on this moment: "I will forever be thankful for knowing exactly what the tips of his little ears feel like and knowing that his middle toe was longer than the rest. I won't ever have to worry about not remembering his important pieces because of those minutes."
I took pictures of them as a family and helped the social worker, help them to make decisions regarding Samuel's services. I went out to the waiting area and explained to some friends of theirs waiting that they should stay and see them; that they should ask about Samuel and the birth and that if they wanted to see him and say goodbye, that would be ok too.
I went back in and kissed Sarah on the forhead and hugged her husband. I left them to spend time with their friends and to make phone calls to their family.
I went down to the first floor bathroom at the hospital, sat on a toilet with my pants up, cried, got myself together, changed my clothes, fixed my hair, ate a candy bar I had in my doula bag, watched videos of my kids on my phone, and headed to another birth.