The radiant Sara Rivera, Jacob (14), Nathan (10), Eli (8) and Mina (12/10/14 - 12/13/14 | would be 13 months)
Pregnancy and birth always came easy for Sara. She gave birth to her eldest son, Jacob, at a military hospital while living in Japan. She was strapped down, the only woman in the room and it wasn't at all what she'd imagined birth to be. Nevertheless, Jacob was healthy and she got through it. They lived in Japan for the next year and she jokes that Jacob was that peaceful, happy baby that gave you an inflated sense of confidence an ease because he was so easy. Nathan in turn shook things up quite a bit with his personality a few years later. Sara gave birth to Nathan stateside and was able to have another natural, vaginal delivery in much friendlier conditions.
Sara and her sons father divorced and when she remarried they decided to have another child. Once again things went very well. Eli was born healthily without any complications and they thought their family was complete. Sara had taken for granted that she could just conceive and birth as many healthy babies as she chose and things would go well. When they got the itch to add another a few years later, why wouldn't it be the same?
From the very start her pregnancy with Mina was very different than her boys. She chalked it up to being much older this time and perhaps having a girl that made everything a bit more complex. Mina appeared to be doing well, however, in the last couple weeks of Sara's pregnancy she gained over 20 pounds of water weight. She went into the doctor and learned that her blood pressure was too high and she didn't have any amniotic fluid. They also noticed that Mina had an enlarged abdomen and joked that she was going to be a fat baby. Sara transferred to the hospital and was prepped for a cesarean, which at the time seemed like the worst thing that could possibly happen to her. As they began to deliver Mina she was doing great, the doctors even saw her sucking her thumb before they cut through her amniotic sac.
As soon as Mina emerged, however, she went limp. Sara was on so much medication that things became a bit fuzzy but she could tell from her husbands face and responses that things were not okay. They called in the head of pediatrics to stabilize Mina and she was taken to NICU. Sara felt too sick to see her baby and nobody knew exactly what was going on but they expected she was having issues with her liver. When Sara was finally feeling well enough to be wheeled to meet her baby she was beautiful but Sara sensed that more was wrong. Mina was on life support and her belly was shiny from being so stretched and distended. The call was made to transfer their baby to UCSF Children's Hospital and they prepared to send her on her way. What should have been a 2 hour transport took over 5 hours due to a terrible rain storm.
Once Mina was finally settled at UCSF, Sara received a call from an oncologist who ultimately encouraged them to come right away. Her doctors pulled some strings to have them discharged and they made the trip to UCSF. Sara was in such poor shape when she arrived that she was readmitted to the hospital locally. The doctors were wonderful to Sara and her family and incredibly supportive as they tried to figure out what was going on. They discussed operating on Mina and weighed the complexity of the surgery she needed. Before long, Mina's condition began to decline and her other organs began to shut down due to compartment syndrome. After weighing all options, it became clear, that Sara and her husband could not put their newborn through all that was required with such uncertainty and made the incredibly difficult decision to let her go.
The hospital was again wonderfully supportive and moved Mina to an area of the NICU that allowed her to have her whole family come and visit. Sara's mom flew in and Mina's big brothers came to spend time with her. Mina was taken off of life support and died just two hours later. Sara and her husband wanted answers and because they were at a research hospital wanted to explore the cause of their daughters death in hopes of being able to possibly help others. It was determined that Mina had stage 4 adrenal cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes and other organs, and that even with surgery she never would have survived.
Navigating the aftermath of her daughter's tragic and unexpected death has been understandably difficult for Sara. She says that physically, her greatest struggle was having her milk come in without a baby to nurse. Emotionally, seeing her boys and her husband navigate the loss of their loved one in their own ways was most trying. She says that she's a fixer and there wasn't anything she could do to do to fix this.
Sara doesn't believe that everything happens for a reason and doesn't believe there was a purpose or a silver lining in her daughters death. She was on the unfortunate end of senseless bad luck but that doesn't mean that there aren't lessons that have come out of it. Sara now understands so much about what it means to be a mother who has lost and has found great comfort in the community of other women who have experienced what she has. Whether a mother has lost a child to miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death the realities and emotions of their experience are similar and she feels compelled to give back to this community. While Sara isn't ready yet she wants to find her place to give back to the bereaved - through doula work, photography, support or something she hasn't yet realized she knows that she has new purpose when the time is right.
Simultaneously, Sara has received the gift of no longer taking things for granted. She says that she's an okay parent, competent but perhaps not stellar but now there isn't a day that goes by where she diminishes that. She is lucky to have had all four of her children and the impact that they all have had on this earth, and her personally as a woman and mother, is nothing short of spectacular.