Two months ago today, I got called into a birth. A birth that I thought would be a normal, “easy” birth. I knew Jenny from some of the birth circles she attended. She decided to hire me as her doula, based on a mutual friend’s recommendation. Jenny and Chris were expecting their third child. They had decided not to find out the sex of the baby, but knew the baby’s name would be Shae, whether it was a boy or girl. They had two very normal, healthy births with their first two. Their first birth of their son, Owen, was a hospital birth. Their second with their daughter, Norah, was a birth center birth. There was no red flags, absolutely nothing to signify that this birth would be any different. Anything but perfect. Jenny had a low risk pregnancy. She was birthing a birth center. By all accounts, this should have been a beautiful, flawless birth. As a doula, I’ve always known in the back of my mind that things can happen. Birth is unpredictable. Things can go wrong, but that was the farthest thing from my mind when going into Jenny’s birth. Little did I know that the birth of Chris and Jenny’s third child would forever change me. That the precious baby inside of her would forever altar my life, and change the way I view life, my family, my work, the world. I went into Shae’s birth as one person, and came out forever changed.
I have been hesitant in some ways to post the story of Shae’s birth. I’m a birth advocate. I believe fear hinders birth in so many ways. I believe birth is normal and natural. I never want to scare anyone, but to not share Shae’s story seems wrong. Shae touched the world. She has impacted so many lives. Her life mattered. The loss of Shae was a tragedy that no one could have predicted or prevented. To not acknowledge the part she played in my life and my work and so many others, would not do her justice. So with Chris and Jenny’s permission, I’ve decided to post Shae’s story from my point of view. This is what I experienced the day of Shae’s birth. Jenny and Chris I know have a more tragic, yet beautiful story to share with those they feel led to share with. This is just my version of events.
At 8:15am on May 19th, Jenny sent me a text that said, “Woke up to water broken in bed!!! That was around 7:20, just got downstairs to your number. No contractions other than sporadic Braxton Hicks.” I responded saying that I hope contractions would pick up and become regular soon. I suggested that Jenny give it a few more hours, but if they didn’t pick up soon she could try getting them going with walking, nipple stim, etc. I also suggested she eat a really good breakfast. Jenny said she had gone to bed really late the night before, so she didn’t get much sleep. I responded, “Well if you can, try and get a nap in before labor really gets going. It might be a long day.” Jenny replied, “I was thinking that, but I may have just drank coffee because I was nervous about the baby not moving for a while. Baby is definitely moving now.” She said the kids were at a friend’s house and the cleaning lady would be there any minute, and after that she was going to pack her bag for the birth center and lay down.
At 3:25pm, Jenny let me know that her contractions were more regular, but not picking up in intensity yet. She said the midwives wanted her to come in to talk about a plan. Jenny said she’d call me once she got in the car. She called at 4:15pm. We talked about everything that was going on. She felt like they would give her a 24 to 48 hour window after her water had broken. She also said the baby was very active and she felt lots of movement. Jenny was laughing about how much Shae always moved. At 5:53pm, Jenny sent a text to let me know that she was 3cm dilated. She said baby sounded great, and that they went ahead and gave her a round of antibiotics, because they felt like labor would move fast once it got going. She said that they also suggested nipple stimulation, and that the midwife she really wanted there was going to be on call until the morning.
At 9:00pm I checked in on Jenny to see if pumping had helped get contractions going. She said she had started pumping around 8:30pm. She said she was definitely having a lot of contractions and they were getting more intense. She was going to get Norah asleep and then try pumping again if things slowed down. At 12:45am, Jenny called me to let me know contractions were about 3 minutes apart, and that she could no longer walk or talk through them. She still didn’t think she was very far along, but she said that the midwife thought she needed to go ahead and come in. I agreed with the midwife. I went ahead and got up and headed out the door to meet them at the birth center. At 1:46am, I received a text from Jenny that said she was 7cm dilated.
I arrived at the birth center around 1:50am on May 20th. When I arrived there was an ambulance and a fire truck there. My heart sunk the moment I saw them. I knew it had to be a real emergency for them to be there. Normally when someone transfers from a birth center they drive their own car. I was hoping and praying that they were there for someone else. Not Jenny. But then I saw her being wheeled out on hands and knees on the stretcher. The midwife was behind her holding the cord in. I knew then what had happened, but I was hoping I was wrong. Chris was in his truck. He rolled down the window and said, “Cord prolapsed.” I said, “I’ll meet you at the hospital.” I followed everybody to the hospital and all the way to outside the OR. They had Jenny in there in less than 5 minutes from the time I had showed up. They wouldn’t allow me back into the OR, but I expected that. I went back out to the waiting room. I sat and I prayed. Every part of me was hoping that Jenny and the baby were okay.
The birth photographer, Kira, showed up not long after I went out into the waiting room. I let her know what was going on. Less than 30 minutes later, the midwife came out. This is a midwife I know, trust, and love. She loves her patients like no other. She was in tears. I knew at that moment that Chris and Jenny’s sweet baby hadn’t made it. I hugged the midwife and cried with her. Then I hugged Kira. The midwife stayed out there for a few minutes and then went back. She wanted to be there when Jenny woke up, and Chris told her about the baby. Not long after, the midwife came back out again. She said that Jenny was holding the baby, but that we could go back there. She walked us to Jenny’s room. Room number 10. Kira began to take pictures. I stood and waited with some of the firemen who were standing outside Jenny’s door. A few minutes later they rolled sweet Shae out in her bassinet. They took her to another room so Kira could take pictures of her. I went in Jenny’s room. She was still in some pain from the cesarean, and she was shaking still from the anesthesia. Chris was sitting next to the bed by her head. I stood back for a few minutes, truthfully, unsure of what I should do. The midwife was still in the room. Jenny started talking and crying about what happened, so I just stood there and held her hand and listened.
Not long after, they came back in with Shae, and Kira returned. They laid Shae on Jenny’s chest. She said that she just felt so much comfort from holding her. Jenny looked her over. We talked about how light her hair was and how tiny she was. She was Jenny’s smallest baby. We were all amazed by how long her hands and feet were. Jenny said she had Norah’s face, but some of the same features as Owen too. She held her. She kissed her. She apologized to her. Jenny said she felt like there must have been something that she could have done, but realized that no there was nothing that could have been done. She did everything right. Everyone did everything right. There was no way to prevent this. She was a perfect mommy to that precious baby. Jenny found comfort in knowing that Shae never knew pain. She only ever knew love. Jenny talked about how glad she was that this pregnancy was so easy and so enjoyable. She was so glad she had been able to feel Shae move so much. She cried saying, “I just want to nurse my baby.” She couldn’t believe that she wouldn’t get to see her sweet face every day. Or watch her grow. And she mourned for Owen and Norah. She didn’t know what she would tell them, because they were so excited to meet their baby.
After a while, Jenny told Chris she didn’t want family worrying. She wanted him to let everyone know what had happened. I offered to sit with Jenny while he did that. Jenny continued to talk about everything and just look at and examine Shae more. She put other outfits on her, so Kira could take more pictures. Jenny loved on her. She memorized her whole body. She talked about how soft her skin was and how fuzzy her hair was. She soaked every bit of her in. There were smiles, amongst the countless number of tears, especially when we talked about Shae’s LONG fingers and feet. Jenny coveted every second she had left to hold on to Shae. She just wanted her skin on skin on her chest for as long as possible. Chris came back into the room after calling all the family members he needed to. He was clearly shaken by having to repeat what had happened over and over again. He came back to sit next to Jenny. They comforted each other and loved on each other, and once again looked at their baby girl. The love between Jenny and Chris is so strong, so tangible, and it was so very obvious in that moment. Then Chris held Shae for a little while to say good bye. Eventually, they moved them to a bigger room. Jenny and Chris were both exhausted and hoping to try and get a little sleep before they talked to Owen and Norah. I left then, hoping they could rest. I went home and held tight to my girls, knowing that nothing in life is ever promised to us.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Jenny, Chris, Owen, Norah, and beautiful Shae Marie. Her life was so short. Still it was so perfect. Shae Marie may have never taken a breath earthside, yet she has changed lives. Many, many lives. She’s impacted the world. She’s taught me countless lessons. She’s taught us how short and precious life can be. She reminded me to never take for granted those I love, and as time goes by, and I continue to process, her life teaches me more and more. She gave so much to so many. Her life was filled with purpose. The night Jenny and Chris lost Shae forever changed me. I will never be who I was before I stood by their side during those heartbreaking moments. It was truly an honor to be there. It was an honor to hold that space. Shae was perfect and beautiful. Her life will never be forgotten.
All Photos taken by Kira Grantz atBlessed Reflections Photography
Please check out the beautiful video below also done by Kira
Please feel free to share your birth stories here. The more women can read empowering birth stories, the more confident they can feel in their own births! Please email birth stories to firstname.lastname@example.org