One Mum's Life-Threatening Birth Story, In 12 Incredible Photos

Sara Peach's labour was induced because of eclampsia, and she spent most of her son's first day separated from him. Here, she tells her story.
Sara Peach with her newborn son.
Monet Nicole
Sara Peach with her newborn son.

For years, HuffPost Parents in the US has shared the beauty of the birth experience through the lens of talented photographers. In a new series, we’re focusing on one story at a time, honouring the many different ways babies come into the world and the beauty of every family’s story.

This week, we’re hearing from Sara Peach, 36, a second-time mum who hired Denver-based birth photographer Monet Nicole to shoot her birth.

In her own words, Peach describes what birth was like the second time around.

I was induced with both of my children because I had preeclampsia. This time around, most of the third trimester, I just felt... uncomfortable. I had this headache that would not go away. You know that feeling when you wake up and you’re like, ‘I just don’t feel like myself’? That was persistent and pervasive.

At 35 weeks, I called my doctor’s office to talk to them about it, and they sent me to triage. (It was later in the evening, and the office was closed.) They ran some tests and said, basically, that they weren’t too concerned and there wasn’t much they could do. So after a few hours, I went home. I got a call the next morning, and it was a nurse from my doctor’s office who asked me to come in for a non-stress test to make sure the baby was doing OK.

They were looking at his movement and heart rate, and everything seemed fine, except he wasn’t that active. They gave me some juice to try to get him moving. I felt a little bit of nervousness, but the practitioners did a good job of making it seem kind of like, this happens sometimes. Let’s see if we can get baby to move around. I told them again that I had not felt well for weeks.

The nurses doing the non-stress test said they just wanted to check with the on-call doctor and told the doctor about my headache. At that point, they came back in and told me that they were worried that my preeclampsia had progressed to eclampsia, which can lead to organ failure and seizures. I needed to go in and have my baby today. I was there by myself because I kind of thought I’d go in and get checked and they’d send me home. My husband was at the gym, and I couldn’t get a hold of him. I actually had to call the gym owner’s wife to track him down.

Because of what turned out to be the severity of my stage of eclampsia, I was put on magnesium. Even though both of my babies were induced, their births were pretty different: With my first, I laboured for 42 hours and they gave me as much time as I needed to move from one stage to the next. This time, they really moved me through things much more quickly. That’s when I started to realise how serious everything was.

They started pitocin right away and, maybe 20 hours in, ended up manually breaking my water. About an hour later, my son was born.

Both of my births were similar in that when it was time to push, everything was really fast. With my daughter, I pushed three times. With my son, I pushed two times, and he was out.

After he was born, they put him on my chest, but then they pretty quickly took him and started working on him. His lungs were pretty underdeveloped, and he wasn’t breathing on his own. They were vigorously rubbing his entire body.

Once they did what they needed to on the little warming table, they brought him back to me to cuddle for a few more seconds. Then they put the little oxygen mask back on him and said they were going to take him to the neonatal intensive care unit to get him the help and attention he needed. Because I was on magnesium, I wasn’t able to get out of bed at all. I couldn’t sit up.

I don’t think I realised at that point that it would be 12 hours until I could see him again. Actually, usually it’s more like 24 hours, but in my case delivering him really was the cure for the eclampsia — and I was healing quickly — so they let me see him sooner.

They ended up wheeling me to a recovery room, and I was there by myself for a while. That was what my husband and I had talked about beforehand, that if anything happened he should go with the baby. But being in that room alone was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. Every instinct you have is screaming that this isn’t right. Your baby is supposed to be with you. To be wheeled somewhere else without him felt... impossible.

When I did see him again, I broke down. He was so tiny, and he needed so much help breathing. Honestly, I felt very broken — for quite a while — after the whole thing.

What I felt was kind of this sense of failure, because my body was supposed to be able to keep my babies inside and keep them safe, and it didn’t. One of the things I love so much about these photos is that they’re healing. You know, I wanted intervention-free deliveries for my babies, which didn’t happen. They help me look back and realise that there were a lot of beautiful moments. They help me step back and realise there wasn’t any “failure” in how my babies were born.

My husband is the fourth to have his name. And we hadn’t found out ahead of time that we were having a boy, so seeing him react to having a son — seeing his joy at having him earthside — I’m so grateful for that.

Monet came to the NICU when our daughter got to meet our son for the first time. Those first photos, even though they’re in a hospital room and he is attached to so much equipment, are beautiful. They’re also honest and respectful of our situation.

It wasn’t easy. During his NICU stay, there were several times when he would stop breathing on his own, and the nurses would have to come in and kind of rub his sternum, or rub him on the back to get him to breathe in, and that was really traumatising. I mean, it was traumatic on its own, but also because our daughter had a fairly severe allergy to eggs when she was a newborn that stopped her from breathing — and that we dealt with for 13 weeks before we figured out what it was. I definitely had some unresolved trauma from that. To then to see our son stop breathing... that was so hard.

Monet Nicole

The day our son was discharged from the NICU, I saw the physician who had been on rotation when I gave birth. He stopped by during morning rotations and said: “I’m so glad I get to see him leaving. He was a really sick baby there for a while.” That hit me pretty hard, because it was one of those times when I realised how much they had done to shield us, as parents, from how serious things were in the moment.

It was just another realisation that things could have gone a lot differently for us. In a lot of ways, we were so lucky. We’re both here, and we are past it.

Quotes have been edited and condensed for clarity.

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