Cohen’s Birth

A year ago today, I shared my first birth story. At the time, I was calling it what I had always heard it named; miscarriage. The prefix ‘mis’ has such a negative connotation. So I, among others, are making it a point to change the narrative. Last year, I shared my early birth story. Now this year, I am sharing my full term birth story. With that said, It’s an almost indescribable feeling to heal from such a loss, while simultaneously preparing for a new life.

EMPTY: Life After Loss

I found out I was pregnant again on Wednesday March 24, 2021. It felt like it came so soon. I wondered how something [loosely] planned could feel so unexpected? It was just a few months prior that the numbness from the anesthesia lingered – mind, body and soul. Here we are a year later, and I can’t help but look back on how I coped with my loss last Winter. I quickly got back to work. I had company over for the holidays. I dove back into movement, but in an unhealthy way. So when we found out I was pregnant again, I remember we both cried. Not out of happiness, but out of fear. We knew that we couldn’t go through that again. And not even again… We were still in it. Grieving. Healing.

I remember going to the dentist and having a panic attack because lying in the chair, staring at the bright lights triggered a feeling of PTSD I had never experienced before. The sound of the suction was so loud. I knew it was different, but I couldn’t help but remember the discomfort that pulled so much from me.

I remember arriving at a post-op appointment, already anxious just thinking of being examined again. And then I see a friend. She looked like what I should’ve looked like at that point. But instead, I was empty. I overheard her in the next exam room over from mine, sharing in laughter and joy about her pregnancy thus far with our doctor. I was heartbroken, knowing that the conversation would be much different when our doctor arrived in my room. I couldn’t even stomach the post-op exam. I knew it would be more painful emotionally than physically.

I avoided conversations with other women because they never would say the right things. And to no fault of their own of course; how would they know what to say unless they had also experienced a loss.
At least it was early.
Well now you know you can get pregnant.

You’re so young, I’m sure you can get pregnant again.
It’s not a baby until you hold it in your arms.
While all of those things may be true, it doesn’t make it any less painful.

I cut off communication with friends and family, because I was too hurt to be happy for them and their growing families. Not only was I upset that they were experiencing what I wasn’t, but also that I wasn’t strong enough to put my hurt aside to share in their joy. I hated that I couldn’t move past that anger and resentment. I remember swallowing a panic attack as I put on a brave face for my nephew’s Bris. Immediately after, I excused myself and my mom held me as I sobbed in her arms. I was devastated that I was not going to have that moment when I thought. Devastated that I was not able to put those feelings aside for this special moment in my brother’s life. And even when I knew I was pregnant again, it took a while for me to accept that my timeline was now so different from what it first was. So because I couldn’t stand how I felt about myself and about others, I had to work hard to heal.

HEALING: Between Loss and Life

I started going to therapy. I reached out to people who had gone through loss. I created movement that guided me towards a place of acceptance; sharing through dance how this experience had forever changed me, and how movement was helping me to heal. I apologized to those that I stopped communicating with for not being there for them in their happiness as much as they were there for me in my sorrow. I dug deep to find joy again.

I found the balance in the bittersweet feeling of my first Mother’s Day to the child in my heart and the child in my womb. I arrived at my first child’s due date with sadness, of course, but also hope that another due date will be a day to celebrate. I mustered up the courage to finally purchase an item for the child growing within, letting go of any superstition that celebrating this baby would bring them harm. I chose to change the narrative that what I experienced last year was not a miscarriage, but an early birth. I learned to speak up for myself. To demand care. To be informed. To be in charge of my body and my experience. All of these things made all the difference.

FULL CIRCLE: Cohen’s Birth

I chose to birth naturally at home, with the wonderful midwifery team that is Full Circle Midwifery. I chose to have my colleague and, more importantly, friend Hannah by my side as my doula. And this time, unlike my early birth, I was able to have Chris by my side the entire time.

Contractions started at 3:00am on Saturday December 4. I was 40 weeks and 5 days. I began timing them; feeling excited yet calm. I texted Hannah, knowing that she had a special ringtone for me at this stage in my pregnancy. She got back to me right away and reminded me that I can make any choice that feels best for me. So I decided to continue for an hour or so on my own, letting Chris know things were happening, but to rest while I began to prepare myself a bit for early labor.

Hannah arrived just before 6:00am, and the Full Circle team, with Patrice as the matriarch, arrived around 7:00am. By around 10:00am I was fully dilated, the birthing pool was set up, and I was mindfully breathing through contractions as they came. Finally around noon, I felt the urge to push.

I remember using the breaks in between contractions to move from the pool, to the bed, to the exercise ball and even the toilet; desperate to find a place that felt like progress was being made. Chris was there to hold my hand and offer so much support and comfort. Even Bernie looked on with care and concern for what was happening, never too far away from me. The entire birth team followed my lead as I continued to change rooms and positions.

Eventually, I notice it’s dark out, and hear whisperings in the next room. At this point, it was not the pain that really got to me, but the utter exhaustion from hours of pushing. I started to realize that progress was not really being made, despite the extreme efforts of Patrice helping to get baby in the best position to join us earth side. I asked what was happening, and she asked me the same. I remember telling her, feeling so defeated, nothing. I didn’t feel like anything was happening and nothing had changed for hours. She confirmed my intuitive feelings. She explained that baby was not positioned well for a smooth birth, and despite our best efforts, didn’t seem to be moving in that direction any time soon. I remember wanting to give up, yet fighting so hard to have the birth I had planned for. So I asked how long until she was going to call it and send me on my way. She said she felt comfortable with an hour. I agree, yet only 15 minutes go by until I decide I can’t make it the full hour and I’m ready to go to the hospital.

The 45 minutes it took to prepare to leave the house felt like hours, but the 40 minute drive to the hospital felt like an eternity. I had driven so many times to Fremont, I knew the drive so well, that I couldn’t help but realize how slowly each landmark came and went as we made our way to the hospital.

Once we arrived, I was growing extremely impatient. I don’t know what relief I thought I would feel once in my room, I just knew it would bring me that much closer to birth. From there on it became more and more of a blur. But I remember this fire that lit inside me. The nurse midwife gave me a last ditch effort to push a few more times. However, with no luck, the OB who originally thought they could use a suction, changed their tune. Our little one was sunny-side-up, chin held high, with his fists snuggled up by his cheeks. So then began the prep for a cesarean.

I admittedly felt so much relief. As much as I didn’t want it to come to a c-section, because it was the furthest thing from the home birth I had envisioned, it somehow seemed so much better than having to hear that suction again. They used suction with my early birth. And that sound I think will forever haunt me.

As I entered the operating room, I remember so many questions were asked, and because I had Hannah as my doula in the back of my mind, I knew I had so many choices. Informed consent. Because of Hannah, I was able to be so much more aware of this birth than I was the first birth.

What I imagine to be about 45 minutes had passed and Chris finally joined me in the OR, ready to meet our son. Cohen Theodore Sawson was born at 8:42pm, weighing 8 pounds 14 ounces and measuring 21 inches long.
The whole time, all I could do was watch the birth through Chris’s eyes; and I think it was more beautiful through that lens than if I were to watch it through my own. Seeing him look at his son for the first time was magical.

We got to see Cohen briefly before he was taken for more observation. It wasn’t until I was recovering in my room that we found out that he had some concerning respiratory troubles. They gave it some time, but then decided he would benefit from heading to the NICU at DeVos in Grand Rapids. I was heartbroken.

We saw him again just before he left the hospital. I got to hold him for the first time, but not for long. Even while hooked up to all those tubes and machines, he was the most pure being I had ever seen.

Cohen arrived in Grand Rapids around 2:00am Sunday morning. He had a small pneumothorax, which is essentially a hole in his lung. Luckily, in cases like his, it can usually resolve itself. So by Monday afternoon he was allowed to come back to Gerber, this time as a guest, as I still was recovering. The short time I was without him felt like days and days. When he arrived, I felt complete for the first time.

For myself, it was a bit more tumultuous of a ride. I was diagnosed with hypertension and postpartum preeclampsia. I was discharged on Tuesday afternoon, and was back in the ER on Wednesday evening for blood pressure that was pretty worrisome.

REBIRTH: Personal Growth of Two Birth Stories

Life since birth has been anything but easy. Not only am I healing from a major surgery, but I am constantly monitoring my own health. I couldn’t stand to be separated from my family again. Cohen worked so hard to transition from the formula and bottles he was understandably introduced to in the NICU to exclusively breastfeeding. He is now over 10 pounds and growing beautifully each day. Bernie is equal parts jealous and protective of his new human brother. While Chris and I learned the difference between Cohen’s cries, we’re also learning Bernie’s barks for attention and his barks of concern. Chris and I struggle to find our new normal; often feeling underprepared and overwhelmed. We try to honor all the hard feelings; frustration, exhaustion, helplessness… while also remembering the feelings of strength, love, admiration and affection for one another and for this new life we created.

The entire journey of two pregnancies, life lost and life gained has taught me that I know my mind and body better than anyone. Healing is never linear. No two experiences of life lost or life gain are the same. And each parent’s postpartum journey is unique; even within the same household. How I experience parenthood is completely different than how Chris does. I’ve also come to realize that societal timelines and norms can be so unrealistic. How can I post birth announcements and photos on social media so soon after birth when we weren’t even together? How can I have my son’s bris 8 days after birth, when just 3 days prior I was in the ER? How can I update and communicate with family and friends when I can barely grasp the newness of communication that is parent to parent within my own home? The expectations are extreme, and I choose to release them completely and take each day as it comes, doing what works best for me and my family.

2021 was a year of grieving, healing, and acceptance. I’ve learned so much through loss and through birth. I can’t help but think that I myself experienced a sort of rebirth. So in 2022, I look forward to getting to know this new version of myself. This version of myself as a parent of a child I did not meet earth side. The version of myself as a parent of a child I did; Cohen. The version of myself that learned to speak up and ask questions. The version of myself that knows how to heal as much as possible from an incomparable loss. The version of myself that gets to do life with a new version of their partner. I look forward to more growth, more experiences and more love.