Babywearing for Partners & Papas

by Amy Rainbow

Photo courtesy of Amy Rainbow

Photo courtesy of Amy Rainbow

The postpartum time is such a huge shift for everyone in the family. With the focus so squarely on the baby and birthing person, it often leaves the papas and partners wondering what their role is in this process. And they, too, experience emotional shifts and changes during their transition to parenthood! Postpartum doula care is a great support for the whole family - another tool that can help everyone through the postpartum chapter is holding baby on your body with a baby carrier.

Photo courtesy of Amy Rainbow

Photo courtesy of Amy Rainbow

Babywearing can help papas and partners through this phase by, of course, allowing them to do things with two free hands (hello, eating with two hands or playing video games!) but also by helping them feel more connected to their baby and more involved in baby’s care (1). The benefits of babywearing for both baby and partner are almost (but not quite as good) as skin-to-skin care (2): reduced cortisol for both parties; stable heart rate and temperature for baby; and, as a result of the reduced stress on our bodies, our brains are better able to grow and bond to our baby. 

Our "prescription" to experience noticeable benefit from babywearing is to use a carrier for about an hour a day, at least three days per week. It can be used for errands, going for a walk, doing chores around the house, or even a nap for baby (with the wearer continuing to monitor baby's airway and ensure the carrier is providing support while baby is asleep). This frequency can help papas and partners feel more confident when caring for their baby, more connected to the process, and have a deeper bond with their baby. Plus, two free hands!

For more information on choosing a carrier, encouraging babywearing, and getting a perfect fit (or just attending one of Amy’s awesome Beers and Babies gatherings), check out the Adjoyn website. Special for Bridgetown Baby families, use discount code BTOWN10 for $10 off the service of your choice.

Adjoyn provides infant safety assistance in the form of in-home and community classes for car seat safety, babywearing help, and infant CPR. Amy Rainbow and Marcie Berzinskas of Adjoyn are educators in both professional and volunteer capacities serving families in the Portland metro area. More information about their consultations and classes can be found at adjoyn.com.


1) Does Infant Carrying Promote Attachment?
2) Infant Calming Responses in Maternal Carrying

On Fatherhood & Training Wheels

by David Koff

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Best I can tell, there are only two kinds of fathers in the modern world: those who are scared to death when they learn that their wives are pregnant for the first time, and those who already have children.

Now that my wife and I are through the first six months of parenthood, I’m able to recognize how much the concept of Fear has played a role in my journey. I don’t say that with shame, by the way: I say it with a sense of pride — allowing, understanding, and even inviting my fear in to my life has been a huge part of the pregnancy, birthing, and parenting process.

Men in this country don’t talk openly of Fear, of course, so it’s essential that I share my own with you up front. I believe that keeping that Fear inside of us only sets men up for an entirely preventable failure. Not only should we men be talking about our fears when it comes to parenthood, we should understand and embrace what doing so can provide.

Experiencing and then talking about my fatherhood fears has been an invaluable teaching tool. I get that now. I didn’t before. Because even though my wife and I were prepared — even though we’d read all the books, taken all the classes, spoken to all the peoples, and purchased all of the equipment and conveniences — there was NOTHING that could have truly prepared us for pregnancy, birth, and parenthood.

Those are milestones you live through, life events that you just have to experience.

I liken it to riding a bike. Riding a bike is not something we learn by reading books or talking to people: it’s something we learn by doing — with training wheels at first — before we are able to physically understand the sensation of speed and balance and turning. Then, once we think we have it, the training wheels come off and we begin to understand that our learning has only just begun.

Then, we learn by falling.

I want to talk with you about falling and fear; about how these are not cruel or harsh punishments from an unkind Universe, but, rather, integral parts of our journey as men. As such, they’re experiences to be both accepted and expected. We will, all of us, experience fear and fall down metaphorically at some point in our journey to parenthood and even after we get there. I know that now. How could it be otherwise?! We are imperfect beings in imperfect relationships who are experiencing an imperfect pregnancy process all in an effort to raise the newest generation of better but still imperfect humans.

Our job, as I see it, is to bring as much joy as possible to that reality.

In our case, our story didn’t lend itself so easily to creating joy… We got pregnant four times. The first three pregnancies all happened within 14 months of each other and all of them ended in miscarriage, somewhere between weeks 8-11. That’s a lot of falling down. Worse, it all happened at a time when we had just lost both of my parents, my father-in-law, all four of our pets and my uncle. The third pregnancy got far enough along in the embryo’s development that we could see a small, fluttering heartbeat on the sonogram. Oh, I thought we’d made it! There it was, right there on the screen: LIFE! After two failed pregnancies, we finally saw life on that screen and allowed ourselves the luxury of becoming hopeful. We went home smiling and hugging. It was real. We’d seen it!

A week later, the heartbeat was gone. Another miscarriage. Another fall from the bike. Another death. Another round of devastation and depression. Another bout of fear if we’d ever be parents. We posted about the miscarriages after that on social media and learned that we were far from alone. Not only had a majority of people we knew also experienced miscarriages, but some of them had carried to term only to deliver stillbirths.

Can’t. Even. Process. That.

By sharing openly about our miscarriages, we gave others the permission to do the same. It opened a massive groundswell of support, so, if you’re like us, I hope you’ll do the same and invite the fear in and be brave despite it. The fear - in this case of other people judging us for not carrying any of our three pregnancies to term - was a falsehood that we had to see to believe. HUNDREDS of people commented on our posts. All in support. All in solidarity. And most of them sharing their own miscarriage stories. Our friends and their posts became our emotional and psychological  training wheels: they helped to get back up again and then keep us balanced as we moved forward.

More people should talk about this part of pregnancy, I believe, to help remove the shame, guilt, and negativity surrounding something that happens in as much as 43% of all pregnancies, according to this study of over 50,000 women. If miscarriages happen that frequently, then there’s no shame, friends: it’s just nature, running its course, and not allowing non-viable lives to be created.

As people in our 40’s who were trying to conceive, it was doubly important that we understand this. Nature was going to be a fickle friend. So we had to work with Nature.

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Our fourth and final pregnancy came via IVF. A friend of mine (talk about luck!) ran a fertility clinic, had heard our story and reached out with an offer: would we like to participate in a small research study he was doing? They would cover the egg retrieval, in-vitro fertilization, genetic testing and implantation. We’d have to cover our out-of-state transportation along with all medicines and hormones. We considered it a gift from God and accepted.

The gift, it turns out, came with some serious strings attached. Mary carried to term but her pregnancy was marred by nausea for the entire nine months. It was fucking awful, can I just say that? It was awful for her because she was in pain most of the day for nine straight months. She couldn’t eat the foods she’d liked, she couldn’t be around food or smell foods, so she avoided the kitchen. The near constant sickness meant she couldn’t sleep well either, so she moved into the spare bedroom and set up camp there, just trying to get by one day at a time.

But her pregnancy was also difficult for me. Her constant nausea made her quick to anger and impatience. We fought a lot. We rarely ate meals together. She spent most of her time in bed and rarely left the house, so we rarely socialized outside the house as a couple. The hormones and illness had caused her to become a different person than the woman I’d married. That forced a change on my end: I became a caretaker, far more than I was a husband or a partner.

My wife needed all of me to be able to help her. All of me. And she wasn’t able to give much in return. Some days, honestly, I wasn’t very good in my role, if you want to know the truth. More falls off the bike. We’d expected some amount of sickness during the first trimester: that had happened in our previous three pregnancies. But being that sick for the entire pregnancy?!? We just weren’t prepared for that.

And yet... the pregnancy continued in perfect health. We could feel him kicking now. And hiccuping. Life was growing inside of her, despite it literally changing her mind, body, and spirit.

My Fear kicked in. Would this shift in her personality become permanent? Would her patience and personality ever recover? What about after delivery: would she be able to co-parent with me? I didn’t have answers to these questions, so the Fear hit me hard. I spoke with teachers, mentors, and friends. I spoke to therapists, family, and God. Hell, I spoke to just about anyone who would listen to me. I was scared about what had happened to my marriage, and I was uncertain of the future.

“It is what it is,” is something my mom used to say. I grabbed a hold of that sentiment. It became my motto. It became my set of training wheels at a time when I desperately needed a pair. I had to learn how to let my fears inform me, not derail me. I became better at allowing my wife to vent but not take it personally. I hugged her more. In fact, I began learning how to give without expecting anything in return. But it took time, patience, and practice to get there. I was extremely imperfect in that journey. Maybe that shift is natural for others; it just wasn’t for me. My friends, family, therapists, mentors became yet another set of training wheels. And, boy did I ever need them in the last trimester.

Then, on December 1st, 2018, our boy was delivered via Cesarean section. He weighed in at 8lbs, 3oz and possessed a healthy voice that he didn’t hesitate to use. We couldn’t have been happier. Or more relieved. He passed all of his initial medical tests, so we knew he could hear, see, breathe, and think on his own now.

After delivering, we spent three days in recovery in the care of the staff: they helped us feed him, change him, nurse him, care for him, and get to know him. They also helped us work through emotional disagreements we had and shared another “secret” that no one talks about openly: most every couple has SOME kind of emotional meltdown on the second day after their child is born. That made us feel normal again. They were our community. They were our support. They were our training wheels.

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But then — and this is the insane part — they SENT US HOME. Home with a baby, with no prior experience at parenting; home with no manuals or support staff; home with no local family to help care for us.

I drove home with my wife and our son at about 5.5 mph even though we literally live around the corner from the hospital. Not even two miles away, but still: my first job as a new dad was to get us home safely. And, damnit: I did just that.

But we still needed help.

Never mind how “seasoned” we were to be parents our 40’s; never mind all of the “life experience” that we’d gathered: this was our first child and we needed help. My siblings gifted us something spectacular and essential for our peace-of-mind and well being: they paid for us to have nighttime doula care for 4-5 nights a week for the first two weeks we were home.

This is how we came to meet the staff at Bridgetown Baby. At first, I let my ego get in the way: “Do we really need night time babysitters?!?” Well, friends, we did, and I found out why very quickly: because we still needed training wheels.

Our doulas cooked food for us, fed and changed our son in the middle of the night while we slept, and made coffee and light breakfast for my wife in the morning. In short, we got to recover from the previous nine months of challenges, heartaches, and life changes and greet each morning having slept soundly for that night. The baby was cared for, yes, but WE were cared for as well, something I didn’t even know that I’d needed.

And my GOD, did we ever need it.

In fact, we needed it so much, that after the gift from my siblings had expired, we invested in hiring Bridgetown to continue providing the gift of sleep, sanity, and safety for us — this time twice a week — through the first three months of our son’s life. Was that a significant expense? Yes, I won’t lie to you about that. Was it worth every, single penny? Without question, yes, so I won’t lie to you about that either.

Our doulas became part of our family. Even better, they were experts who were on hand for us, providing advice, strategies, techniques, and kindness whenever we needed it. Our son needed it in the middle of the night and they provided that for him. My wife needed the security that comes from knowing that experts were in the home to keep a watch on our boy and to help us out with cooking meals, saving us both valuable time, and they provided those things for her. And I needed it, because I spent time talking, venting, sharing, and confiding in our doulas about MY story and my process; and they provided that.

Although some in our society have forgotten or don’t know this: dads have a story and a process as well. We might not go through pregnancy and morning sickness or surgery to deliver a child, but we most certainly go through a journey to parenthood as well. We’re thinking, feeling, emotional creatures, whether we’re able to admit that to ourselves and to others or not. What we aren’t is a disposable item that should be left behind emotionally when the child is born, although it can certainly feel that way at times.

Dads - just like moms - also need to talk, to be heard, and to be validated. We need support, caring, and kindness, especially at a time when our partners simply aren’t available to provide those things to us, because they need to focus on our sons and daughters. Our doulas gave that gift to me more times that I can say, and I will forever be grateful for that kindness, and that space they opened for me as my training wheels.

I leave you all with an open invitation: if you’re a man who needs to talk more about your process as an expectant or existing father (which, I think, should cover all of you reading this!) and you’d like to meet with other like-minded men who can support, uplift, and hear one another, I encourage you to reach out to me. I’m organizing a bi-monthly support group for men here in Portland metro area where we can talk openly about the deep emotional reality we all inhabit. I look forward to learning more about your stories as well.

David Koff is a Portland-based actor, writer and teacher - and dad. You can learn more about his work at davidkoff.com.

YOU Are a Magical Mama!

by Katie Slack, MSW

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As moms, we sometimes get stuck. We question ourselves, we have to “catch up” to a new stage our babies/kids enter, or as a friend of mine recently said... we need to ‘recalibrate.’ I love that.

We literally create a human being with our bodies, and yet within a few weeks or months we’re expected to get our “bodies back” and have everything in full swing again. No way can we ‘recalibrate’ that fast - this is a ridiculous amount of pressure. 

Truth is, when we add littles to our lives, there are A LOT of factors that come into play, and it’s not simple or easy. But at the same time, we are equipped. We are stronger and more powerful than we know. I’d even venture to say, you are magical... mama. 

You may not necessarily think of yourself that way, but to your littles, you are. You heal their boo boos with a single kiss. You hold them, and they know they’re home. And when you find yourself in mama bear mode, they know they will always be safe.

What I’d offer you this Mother’s Day, is ‘make sure you don’t forget to use all your amazing magicon YOU, too.’ If you ever forget - because we all get off track now and again - just remind yourself to bring it on back. Shine the spotlight on your own heart and soul when you need it, mama, because you deserve it, too.

Below are a few ideas to get you moving in the right direction (and I know you’ll come up with a few of your own, because who knows YOUR magic better than YOU?!).

Here are your Magical Mama Tips for May. Here’s to celebrating ourselves all month long!

#1 Practice being your own best friend. 
How would you talk to yourself, what good food would you treat yourself to, what small little nurturing things would you do for yourself on the daily? Befriend your own sweet little self and reap the benefits, baby.

#2 Try these 3 Magical Mama Mantras on for size, and see how they sit with your soul:
“I’m doing a great job.”
“I am enough.”
“All is well.”

#3 Last but not least, when the going gets tough, remind yourself that you don’t necessarily HAVE to get tougher.

Cut yourself some slack! You know, I happen to be uniquely qualified to give this advice (notice my last name), not to mention my status as a recovering perfectionist. Sometimes we need to soften, loosen our grip, do some healing, get some rest. Just trust yourself in that moment to know what you need. But most importantly, give yourself a break.

Because you ARE magical, mama, you are loved, and everything really is going to be ok.

Katie Slack is the founder of FULL LIFE DESIGN. FLD offers women entrepreneurs (who are usually mamas too!) business planning, personal growth and work/life design consulting services to transform and empower. 

The T-W-I-N-S Method for Thriving with Multiples + $100 OFF Package

Because twins are not easy, and YES, two is so much more than one

by Krystle Gard

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My twins are almost four, and I am constantly thinking that I should write something about having twins. But when I stop and think back on those early days, I can barely remember anything. I was so sleep deprived that I ended up with postpartum depression when my twins were eight months old. So, I don't have any flowery words about the wonders of twins. What I do have is practical advice, that I like to call the T-W-I-N-S Method, that will help you thrive during the first year, so you can enjoy all of the many sweet moments amidst the chaos.

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As hard it can be to admit we need help...admit you need help! We often feel we have to do it all ourselves - I certainly did. But we don’t have to. I wish a friend would have recommended a postpartum doula, or a family member who doesn't live close by would have bought me a gift certificate for some postpartum doula hours. It would have been life changing. Partners are wonderful and are priceless. And at some point you both need sleep and support. Imagine for a second… a wonderful, kind woman comes to your door. She sends you off for a nap, engages your older child (if you have one) in something fun while she washes, dries, and folds a load of laundry. She feeds the babies and preps some food for dinner. Then, with her help, you set a new record for getting everyone out of the house in under 36.8 minutes. Every twin mom, whether their twins are their first babies or not, deserves that kind of support.

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Looking back, this could have really changed how that first year went. I decided at some point I was going to follow the advice and “never wake a sleeping baby.” With my babies on opposite waking schedules, this meant I woke every two hours to feed one of the babies for 11 months, which really translates as For. Ever. This is where I lost all my sleep. Take it from me: Dream Feed* the twin that doesn’t wake up. It will save your sanity.

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You are going to hear the same things over and over: “Are they twins?” “Are they identical?” “Wow, you must have your hands full.” Or my favorite: “I don’t know how you do it.” If you get bothered every time you hear one of these comments, you will be stressed all.the.time. Accept that you will hear at least one of these each time you go out - and just let it go.

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To save time and give yourself more freedom, try to feed your twins at the same time. This may seem impossible, but practice makes perfect. There are a couple of great nursing pillow options** and several positions to accomplish this. Hiring a lactation consult is a fantastic way to get the help, support and knowledge you’ll need to feel comfortable nursing both at one time. A postpartum doula can help with bottle feeding, and she’ll come armed with a ton of pro tips and ideas to make it as easy and streamlined as possible. With some practice, you’ll be able to feed like a champ, even in public.

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Sleep deprivation is no joke. We don’t realize how bad it is when we are in it, and it can compromise relationships with our partners, older children, other family members and friends. Getting one or two nights a week of good sleep, or 4-5 consecutive hours of sleep in each 24-hour period, is absolutely necessary. Having a friend or family member come to help with feedings and baby care for an overnight once or twice a week in the early weeks can be a lifesaver. If you don’t have friends or family able or willing to help out some nights, look for outside support -  hiring a postpartum doula will give you the freedom to get a good night’s sleep while trusting your babies are in good hands. Plus a postpartum doula can also do some light housework and meal prep!

Twins are amazing and so adorable. My boys are now starting to call each other their “best friend,” which makes my heart melt into a happy puddle of mama-love. Twins are such a blessing - and when you have the support you need in those first few months, you can create some of the best memories of your life.

*Dream feeding refers to feeding your babies while they are sleeping, such that you can sleep more, too. You can dream feed just before you go to bed, or throughout the night if they wake up on different schedules. Read tips here and here to learn more.

**Krystle’s favorite nursing pillow for twins is the Twin Z Pillow. The My Brest Friend for Twins is also popular.

Krystle Gard is a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby in Portland, Oregon. When she isn’t writing or supporting other families during their 4th trimester, she is hopefully outdoors somewhere beautiful with her three young boys (including 3 year-old twins) and husband.

 

This Mother’s Day, Give Yourself the Gift of Support

For those families who need it the most, we are offering our Multiples Package at a $100 discount for the month of May - $1,190 (Regular rate $1,290)

The Multiples Package includes two 9-hour nighttime shift and three 4-hour daytime shift for two or more babies born within six months of each other.

Multiple babies are without a doubt, overwhelming and exhausting. They also give more smiles and snuggles as they grow. It may not always feel like it, but a family is very lucky to have multiple babies. A postpartum doula helps a family feel lucky. First and foremost, she helps the family sleep, which makes everything else better. 

A postpartum doula will do everything she normally does; support the mother’s recovery, provide healthy cooking, laundry and light housekeeping, plus teach valuable skills that will make it easier to feed, bathe and wear two babies. A postpartum doula can teach the parent/s, grandparents, and other caregivers. It’s a Party/It Takes a Village: The Multiples Package is an invaluable gift for every family expecting multiple babies, but especially those without extended family close by.

6 Tips for Bringing Home Baby Number Two

by Krystle Gard

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When you bring your first baby home time stops. Your whole life is now all about them. You feed on demand, sleep when you can, and stare at that sweet baby for hours. Life is relatively simple. And by ‘simple,’ I mean you have one sweet baby to care for. Enter baby number two and everything shifts. Now you need to navigate how to feed two mouths and manage two separate nap times, and where does sleep fit in? Here are five tips to help smooth the transition to a multi-child household!

1. Special Time

One of the biggest issues is that your oldest now has to share so much of you with their new sibling. So make a plan to create special time just for you and your oldest. This could even be a book and snuggle time - aka nap time for both of you.

2. Who’s a Big Helper?

Find ways to have your older child help out. They can be your super-awesome-water-bottle-filler while you’re feeding the new baby. Or they can be your fresh-wipe-hander while you’re changing diapers. Finding little tasks they can do will make them feel important - and invested in the care of their new sibling. It could be as simple as turning on the lights, to bigger things like making mom a snack or, for older children, doing the laundry.

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3. Baby Has to Wait, Too

This is my favorite. So many times we make our oldest wait because we have to be with the baby for some reason or another. So find moments where you can create a “waiting time” for baby. For example, while baby is waiting peacefully somewhere, you can say to the baby, “Sarah, you need to wait while I put on big brother’s shoes…” This evens things out, and lets our older child know we’re prioritizing them, too.

4. New and Exciting

New babies inevitably bring new stuff. So have a few small new and exciting items for your oldest. Some parents make a basket of new toys and books for the older child to use during baby’s feeding times, so they get something fun while you are with the new baby. Pro tip: make these activities as autonomous as possible;they may need your help with Legos, but board books, blocks, magnets, water coloring books, etc. they can proudly do on their own.

5. Send in the Support Team

Find family members, friends, or hire a postpartum doula to help create space for you and the new baby and you and your older child. These support people can watch your oldest and play and engage with them while you have some one-on-one time with new baby, say in the bath. And at the same visit, the support person can take the baby so you can have some quality, on the ground one-on-one time with your oldest.

6. Make Space for Your Needs, Too

You can’t pour from an empty cup, and adding a new baby to the mix may take you down to the dregs of time, energy and enthusiasm. Making space to take care of your needs, and connect with your partner, is good for everyone - including your older child, who will still be counting on you as a playmate and patient caregiver. Here, too, having support from family, friends or a postpartum doula can help you fill your cup, so you can enjoy time playing with and caring for both of your children.

Siblings are such an amazing treat. Some older siblings may love the idea of a new baby, and the difficult part might be getting alone time with baby. And some older siblings may dread the new baby and have hostility towards them. Either way, adding to your family will multiply both joy and create new pressures. Putting in place some of the solutions above can help you balance the needs of everyone in your household - yourself included!

Krystle Gard is a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby in Portland, Oregon. When she isn’t writing or supporting other families during their 4th trimester, she is hopefully outdoors somewhere beautiful with her three young boys (including 3 year-old twins) and husband.

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.