The stunning Sarah Khalily, Joshua (10), Milo and Elliot (4), and Olive (10 months).
Sarah is a previous project participant, you can view her photo and story here.
Sarah's first pregnancy was unplanned. She was 20 years old, had recently dropped out of college, and felt completely unprepared to become a mother. Her immediate reaction was abortion but she had to wait two weeks for her appointment and in that time she realized two things: that she loved her baby and did not want to abort him and that she was feeling him kick, so it was probably too late anyway. Sarah carried Joshua 13 days post dates and had a natural, uncomplicated birth. She struggled to breastfeed him for those first few weeks and felt such relief when she switched to formula. Joshua was an easy baby who grew into a difficult toddler/preschooler/child. It wasn't until he was seven that they finally got some answers as to why: Joshua is on the Autism spectrum (PDD-NOS) and knowing that has helped her understand him better and learn how to parent him better. She was with his father in the early days but always felt alone. He was verbally and emotionally abusive to Sarah and she struggled to make it work for Joshua's sake. Sarah finally found the strength to leave when Joshua was 3.5 because she realized that she was miserable and Joshua deserved a happy mother.
Sarah had been friends with her husband since high school but that friendship grew into love as he was there for her through her transition into single parenthood. They married three years later and decided to expand their family right away. Sarah conceived easily their first month trying and was shocked to discover she was carrying twins. Pregnancy with Milo and Elliot was surprisingly easy and Sarah was able to continue attending college courses and finish the semester on the Dean's List just before being induced at 38 weeks and 3 days. Induced labor was miserable for her and lasted for over 36 hours. Milo was born first head down and delivered with the assistance of Sarah's midwife. Elliot was breech and doctors tried repeatedly to turn him around - attempting both external and internal versions for close to 30 minutes before offering her the choice of a cesarean or vaginal breech delivery. Sarah chose breech delivery and Elliot was born feet first just minutes and a few pushes later.
Both boys nursed wonderfully from birth, spent no time in the NICU, and went home with Sarah two days later. They nursed for over 31 months, slowly weaning themselves down and ultimately stopped when Sarah was about 12 weeks pregnant with Olive
Pregnancy with Olive was a bit of a surprise. They had been discussing the possibility of a fourth child but while Sarah was sure she wanted one more, her husband was not. One night, he decided he was okay with trying - but just that once, and that's all that it took. At an early 6-week sonogram, there was simply a sac and no baby. Sarah spent a week terrified that she was losing a baby that she wanted so badly, but the follow-up sonogram showed a little fetal pole on the screen and they heard her strong heartbeat.
Pregnancy was easy with Olive until Sarah's 41-week post-dates sonogram when they discovered that she was breech. That afternoon she went to a chiropractor who used the Webster technique to encourage her to turn and went home to attempt inversions she had used 3 years prior to turn Milo. The next day Sarah went to the hospital for an external version. The doctor came in and was negative about breech birth and even more negative about the odds of turning the baby but willing to try. The residents tired as well and Sarah was in excruciating pain but allowed them to continue. They were able to get Olive to turn but the sonogram showed that her cord may be in the way. They agreed to go ahead and start induction and later that evening Olive attempted to turn again but her midwife was able to nudge her back down and bound Sarah's belly with a sheet.
After allowing Sarah to labor for a bit her midwife broke her waters and the fluid was thick with meconium but cord was not in sight. Labor continued quickly after that and while it was full of interventions and a required epidural, Sarah got the vaginal birth she wanted just a few hours later.
Olive was beautiful and they thought she was perfectly healthy until they went to give her her first bath and the nurses noticed a lump on her lower back with a skin tag dangling from it. They had an ultrasound of her back the following day but the results were inconclusive so they sent Olive home with her at 2 days old with instructions for her pediatrician to keep an eye on the lump. Sarah says she mostly ignored it, as it was hidden under her diaper but at Olive's 3 month well check her doctor noticed the lump had grown. They ordered a follow-up sonogram, which revealed nothing new, and then an MRI, which finally revealed that Olive has a form of Spina Bifida. They met with a neurosurgeon a few weeks later who explained that Olive's case is relatively minor but that she had an opening in the meninges, which surround the spinal cord, and that her cord was very slightly tethered. Olive had surgery at 5 months old to release her spinal cord and close the opening.
Surgery was successful and Sarah was instructed to keep Olive flat, on her side, for the next 3-5 days in the hospital. The nurses gave her sugar water, but she hadn't nursed in over 12 hours. Their doctors had told Sarah, Olive's nurses would help her figure out the best way to breastfeed while keeping her flat but when she asked they only offered to find her a pump. Sarah pumped for a day and watched as Olive sucked the bottles down in pain, gulping down in minutes what took her 20 minutes to pump. She clung to the empty bottles, trying to comfort nurse from them, and Sarah cried watching her. The next day Olive's nurse was much kinder. He listened to Sarah explain why she needed to directly breastfeed her daughter and he went to bat for her with his superiors. They went over the head of the on-call neurosurgeon to Olive's own surgeon who agreed that she needed to nurse directly. By midday they had brought in a hospital bed with a firm mattress and used a board they would normally use to support a broken neck to transfer Olive from her crib to the hospital bed. Sarah was able to directly nurse her by side-lying and her mood improved dramatically from then on. Three days flat were easy with comfort nursing and lots of cuddles and Sarah was able to sleep by her side every night while she rested and healed, nursing on demand. Olive passed the upright test with no spinal fluid leaks and was able to go home at 5 days post-op. Olive's wound healed beautifully and while she'll have annual checks with her surgeon, but shouldn't require further surgery.
Sarah says that she finally feels like her family is complete and wanted to document that. "I felt compelled to share Olive's story because it changed who I am as a mother. Those 5 days in the hospital brought out a strength in me that I didn't know was there. My boys love their baby sister and my heart is full, but I struggle with my body image now. I miss being pregnant because I loved my body each time, but I know I need to learn to love my body for what it is. This body is the only one I've got. It grew four beautiful babies and fed each of them for at least a little while. I'm proud of what this body has done and I want to learn to celebrate that. This movement helps me to walk down that path."