The anticipation leading up to Sean's birth was epic... Jane and I were sharing the honor of being Sean's doula and the squeee-fest that we shared during the morning of June 9th when Sean began to accept that labor was real had a palpable magnitude. Leading up to her birth, we had decided that while two doulas was not a normal situation, we'd totally rock it and balance the duties as best we could... how little we knew at that time about how necessary two doulas would be. I don't think I've ever been so excited as I headed off to a birth. I remember cruising along in Matt's car singing along to Billy Joel and getting out allllllll of my excitement so I could enter her space with a calm reverence for her birthing time.
I arrived at the house and found Seanie laboring in her room, still unconvinced that this was "it". I showed her that I was wearing my birthy-pants and that she knew better than to think I'd show up for a false alarm. I have a life, ya know. :P She was amazing. She rocked on the bed, she walked, I checked in with a nervous and tired Tim, and I took my "doula-pulse" of her labor pattern... strong contractions, coping well and they were beautifully spaced, not changing with position or external stimuli. She was drinking water (duh... anyone who knows Sean knows that her Camelbak is never far from reach), and we got her to choke down some rice crackers and hummus to help keep her energy up. Jane arrived and after a bit more hanging around in laborland, Sean decided it was time for the tub. Tim and I set to work getting it assembled, and I decided that I wanted to get his beer-thermometer for my doula bag since it is perfect for getting the temperature of the birth pool. :) I was still a bundle of excitement so I fussed around getting all of her birth kit supplies out and set up all pretty-like.
Sean got into the birth tub and was much more relaxed and comfortable... she was doing so well and was starting to feel pressure at the peaks of the contractions as they picked up in intensity. She rode her labor out like a champ. Toning and moving and being peaceful during the breaks. At one point, she looked at Jane and I sitting by her side in the tub and said tearfully, "I know you guys are gonna laugh, but I have to say it..." we laughed lightheartedly as we knew what was coming and we said "yeah, we will... but say it anyways..." To which she replied, "I can't do this anymore!!!" and gave a quick chuckle herself before more tears came... her labor was taking a turn and Jane decided it was time to bring in Brandy (the midwife). Tim was doing an amazing job sitting near us, chatting, resting and holding a space of immense love for his wife and son. I began texting updates to Sean's mother, Carla, who was excitedly waiting for news.
Eva arrived first and sat patiently in Sean's space, being calm and present. Brandy arrived shortly after and was absolutely beaming with the joy and excitement of being here (finally) ready to catch Sean's baby. Megan arrived at some point and had brought a treat for Sean (frozen cherries I think... I forget). Whatever it was, it was like mana from heaven to this tired mama working hard in the tub. After a bit of observing the labor, Eva took a round of Sean's vitals and they attempted to find the baby's heartbeat in the tub but it was a tough angle so Brandy suggested that Sean head to the toilet to pee and try again. No luck on the toilet so we moved her to the bed to check her cervix and see if we could find heart tones.
From this point, it becomes a blur. The midwives quickly took turns searching for heart tones and checking Sean's pulse... the oxygen tank came out and I saw the fear and the flashbacks of Sean's meningitis battle wash over Tim's face. He stepped out of the room and I followed him into the office to reassure him that this was one variation of normal and that she was in good hands. Sean was safe, I promised. If we needed to transfer, we would and it would be the best choice.
As we walked back into the room, we passed Brandy arranging the transfer and I knew the look on her face. I looked at Jane and saw the fear she was trying desperately to hide in front of Sean. At this point, I was thankful that Jane and I were there and somewhat share a brain. I knew we had a few anxious minutes before Sean would be secured in the car, so I took Tim into the closet to distract him with packing things for a hospital stay. Clothes for him and Sean, toiletries, an outfit for the baby. At some point in here, I messaged Carla again with an update that we were transferring to Evergreen but I tried to be reassuring.
We piled into the cars and I offered to take Tim with me (and try my best to keep him calm). He was so scared and while this was not my first transfer as a doula, it didn't have the same vibe as other transfers. Something was wrong. I told Tim that it was likely she would head for an emergency cesarean if they diagnosed fetal distress... I had no idea what was going to happen but I tend to be plan oriented so I tried prepping him for the little things I knew would be standard. Arriving at the hospital. Don't leave her side. Tell her you love her and that she's safe. Trust the doctors... this isn't the time to question the things they will need to do. I think I reassured him that Sean and the baby were safe, but I wasn't convinced and I think that shone through.
We arrived at the hospital and more blur followed. We shuffled her to her room and the nurses were prepped with monitors and tried to find heart tones. An ultrasound machine was brought in and I stood in between Brandy and a seated Tim, with tears we watched the stillness of the baby on the screen. A second doctor was rushed in to confirm what we already knew and Dr. Pfiefer looked at Sean and vaguely said "I'm so sorry. I don't know why these things happen." I remember being angry that he hadn't used more direct words, so I looked at Tim and asked him if he knew what that meant. He broke down and I led him over to Sean. Jane, Brandy and Megan all had the same mix of emotion on their face... anguish, disbelief, anger, sorrow, confusion... all hid behind that face a midwife is trained to show: strength. We would have our time to cry later. We needed to be strong.
I turned to Jane and simply asked, "Carla?". Jane kept her eyes on Sean and said, "Get her down here" and I left to make the call. I'm pretty sure it was some version of autopilot that took over me at that point. I knew she would see my call coming in and would be hoping it was news of her grandson's birth. I knew I had to say the words calmly and quickly. I explained as carefully as I could that Sean was healthy but the baby had died and we wanted her and Rick to come down to Evergreen. I told her to take a minute and scream and cry in her house... steel herself and come down, I'd meet her outside when she got here.
Part of being a good doula is acknowledging and taking in our own self care in times of duress. I messaged Morgan on the way back into Sean's room because I needed her. I messaged Matt and my mother at some point too, but I can't remember when. I later found out that the wise women with me were all reaching out to their "people" as well... Jane to Jodilyn and Pat, Megan to Robin and Dave, and Brandy to Jozette. We knew we'd need our support as we supported Sean and Tim.
Back in the birthing room, it was very still. Silent tears were falling and poor Sean was still in labor, contractions had slowed but she was not wanting to feel them. Fentanyl went in and an epidural was requested.
Tim looked at me and choked out "I have to call my mom." It was pretty much here that Jane and I really were thankful that we had two doulas. She gravitated to Sean, and I leaned into Sean who asked how Tim was doing... That's my Sean. The worst moment of her life thus far and she's worried about her husband. I promised her I would watch over him and support him as best I could. Tim and I left to go get the bag (with the cell phones in it) from the car and he asked me if there was any chance the baby was still ok. I told him there wasn't. He asked me what was going to happen and I said she would give birth and they would get to hold him. He wavered... he didn't want to see him. I told him that was a totally natural reaction, and I said I think he'd probably feel differently later. This is still his son, and it's recommended to "say hello before you say goodbye". We got the bags and the phones and sat on a bench to call his parents. His mom answered and he cried and tried to get the words out. At some point, I took the phone and explained what I knew to his mother. I promised we'd update throughout the day and as we turned to walk in, Carla and Rick arrived. They hugged Tim and cried with him and we turned to go back to Sean's room.
The rest of the labor progressed slowly. The epidural was placed and the test dose went in, but somehow the line was disconnected from the pump and she got no relief for an hour until this was discovered. The rest of that afternoon and evening was a series of random conversations, foot rubs, silent tears and hand holding. I never let Tim out of my sight... even when he went to pee. He was probably uber annoyed with it, but at some point he accepted me as his shadow and when he needed to step out to call someone, eat or pee, he'd just wait for me. During one walk, we passed a new father in the hall carrying his newborn baby and I wanted to scream at the hospital for not barricading the halls for Sean and Tim.
I slowly let the people who knew she was in labor know about the baby. I messaged her close friends who had been at her blessingway and were patiently holding vigil over their labor candles, as well as our doula sisters who knew who's birth I was attending that day. Love and prayers were sent, and suggestions of a photographer to capture the birth and first moments with him. I brought this suggestion to Sean and Tim, who took some time to think and then decided to bring in Rachel. She was prepped and flew like the wind to capture this time.
At some point later in the night, we realized we needed to eat and the cafeteria was closed. Morgan to the rescue... she brought an insane amount of food for all of us. Gluten-friendly foods and rescue remedy for Sean. I don't know if I needed the food more or I needed to see her face. I met her in the hospital entry way and collapsed in her arms. I hadn't cried yet and I allowed myself 2 minutes to do that before I went back in. I think it was around now that I noticed Evergreen had put a rainbow on Sean's door. A signal to all who passed by that there had been a baby death in the room. I remember anger bubbling up... I've never hated a rainbow before but I wanted to rip that one to shreds and at the same time, I respected and was grateful for the care the hospital had taken to ensure their emotional security.
The rest of labor and pushing were hard. The night turned to morning. Sean had a horrible pinched muscle in her neck and her reflux was bubbling up as she worked. I tried to keep pressure on her injured neck but totally kept literally dropping her head so Brandy took over. Sean was numb and she was also pushing without the help of a baby who wriggled and turned as he descended. Sean was pushing with the brokenest of broken hearts possible and we were awestruck at her determination. Through all of this, she brought her son into the world with strength and love. Once the baby was down far enough, the doctor offered to assist with a vacuum and Sean agreed. I kept Tim and Sean's heads together and out of view of the vacuum and delivery. The nurse took the baby to the other side of the curtain to clean him and Jane and Rachel followed. Sean and Tim cried and held each other. They steeled themselves for the greeting they were about to endure.
Silently, they waited for the moment to feel right and when it did, Jane brought the baby in and handed him to his mother.
He was perfect in nearly every way. They poured over him, looking at every feature and silently taking him in, until Sean turned to us and calmly said "This is Samuel Finn." Such strength. We all greeted him and praised his name and features. We looked at his ginormous baby feet and touched his little hands. Sean turned to Tim and asked if he wanted to hold him. Tim gathered every bit of strength he had and said, "He is my son, I should hold him." He propped himself up in the rocking chair with pillows and I gently took Sam from Sean and passed him to his father who held him tight.
Pictures were taken. Footprints were made. The nurses were amazing... speaking to Sam almost as if he was any other baby... calling him "buddy" and "little man" and saying "good lord you have big feet!" as they pressed them into the footprint mold. Rachel and I obsessed over which letter beads to use in his footprint mold... we all ate and drank and there was a sense of relief mixed in with the unimaginable sorrow. The labor had been hard and the anticipation of this moment was a strain. Once he was here, we were able to find the moments of joy in his presence. Sean and Tim made a damn cute baby.
At some point, I got back in my car and Billy Joel was still on. I decided to just dump some salt in the wound that I had been waiting to acknowledge, so I sang along to "Goodnight My Angel" on my way home, where tears flowed freely in the comfort of the arms of my mom and Matt.
I will forever be grateful for Samuel Finn and the imprint he left on my heart. Sean and Tim's love and devotion to each other was tangible in that room, and in the days and weeks that followed. I will never forget the strength I saw in Sean that day. She did what no mother should have to do and she did it with courage and love, the way mothers who have to say goodbye to their children do.
Thank you Sean and Tim, for the gift of your son.