“Preterm Labor” – with Leah Stern

Leah Stern emailed Dr. Fox to share her High Risk Birth Story because “my story was really miraculous, I am extremely grateful for our happy ending.” In this episode, she describes a subchorionic hematoma, preterm labor at 25 weeks, and eventually delivering her son at 30 weeks.

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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High Risk Birth Stories,” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you, the listener, a window into life-changing experiences of pregnancy, fertility, and childbirth. Leah, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Great to see you. 


Leah: Thank you for having me. 


Dr. Fox: You volunteered. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: You sent an email you said, “Let’s do it. I wanna tell my story.” What brought you to do that? 


Leah: I feel my story was really miraculous. I am extremely grateful for our happy ending. And I just thought it was a great opportunity to share the story. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, listen, it’s really nice. First of all, I love when people email in and say, “I wanna tell my story.” That’s why we do this. And so for our listeners, absolutely. If you wanna come on the podcast, just shoot me an email, you don’t have to live in locally, we can do it over the phone. And number two, a lot of these birth stories, you know, just people gravitate, in telling the stories like towards like the disasters, like the bad things that happen and can’t happen. And so the podcast is not meant to scare people from birth. There’s all these stories that are wonderful, and have amazing miraculous endings, and are inspirational in that way. So I’m always glad to have a good story, so to speak in that sense. 


Leah: It’s funny, because Dr. Fess, [SP] who was part of the practice that I used for this pregnancy. 


Dr. Fox: Sure. Sure. Of course. 


Leah: She told me, “No matter what you do, do not Google anything. Because people that have happy endings and are busy with their babies aren’t going home and writing the happy stories. It’s all the miserable people who had horrible endings that are doing it. So just stay off the internet.” 


Dr. Fox: Right. And when you Google, you frequently find yourself going into the dark depths of disasters, you know, like, “Oh, my God, there’s so much awful things that happen in this world.” But yeah, the happy, you know, the flowers and sunshine, don’t go on Google as much. We’re talking about the birth of your oldest, Eleazar [SP]. And he was born in January of 2008. So a while ago, 


Leah: Yes, 13 years ago. 


Dr. Fox: At the beginning of your reproductive career. How was his Bar Mitzvah? I guess he just had that? 


Leah: Yes. It was beautiful. Very, very small. Just immediate family because of COVID. 


Dr. Fox: COVID. 


Leah: But it was really nice. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, very nice. Well, that’s great. So in terms of that story, tell us where you were when you first got pregnant, how old were you? Where you’re living. What’s your situation in life? 


Leah: So I got married in 2007. I got pregnant a few months later, I was living in Israel with my husband. Regular normal pregnancy went for our first prenatal, everything looked fine. I had terrible morning sickness. Remember, the only thing I could eat was Mike and Ikes that were sour. And my husband had to find like the American grocery store that carried it. 


Dr. Fox: Was it your intention to have the baby in Israel to deliver there? Or was it your attention to come back at some point? 


Leah: So, we weren’t sure only because I was due shortly before Pesach and like the thought of having a newborn and getting stuck there over Pesach was a little overwhelming. So we weren’t sure what we were gonna do. But it was still up in the air, we hadn’t decided. 


Dr. Fox: Right. And how old were you at the time? 


Leah: I was 22. 


Dr. Fox: Got it. Okay. So you got married, went to Israel for some period of time and you’re pregnant there? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: We came back to America to visit family for Sukkot. I was around 14 weeks pregnant. And a few days before Sukkot, I started spotting red. So my sister said, “Go to my OB/GYN, Dr. Bacall, he’s amazing. And get it checked out.” So… 


Dr. Fox: Like you know he’s right across the hall over there. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. They delivered all my kids. 


Leah: Oh, really? 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. So we’re only gonna say good things. 


Leah: Yes. So I went to Dr. Bacall, he did an ultrasound. Everything looked normal. He said, “Baby looks normal.” He said, “Why don’t you see how things go over Sukkot, the holiday. And then after you’ll come back, we’ll do another check and make sure everything’s okay, before you fly back to Israel.” So it seemed reasonable, I wasn’t overly concerned. I went back to my parents’ house. And first night of the holiday, I started bleeding really, really heavily, like just soaking through a pad. 


Dr. Fox: And how far pregnant were you at the time? 


Leah: Fourteen weeks. 


Dr. Fox: Fourteen weeks. Okay. 


Leah: And I was just convinced that I was having a miscarriage. I called the practice and they told me to just go to the closest emergency room and my mom said, “There is no way you are going to Brooklyn emergency room, you are going…it’s late at night, you’ll get to Mount Sinai really quickly and you’ll have your own doctor’s.” So I ran into a taxi with my husband and we ran to the emergency room… 


Dr. Fox: Poor taxi driver. 


Leah: …we ran to the emergency room and I went up to labor and delivery. And they did a sonogram, the baby was still fine at that point. And they said, “Listen, we’ll keep you the night, we’ll see what’s doing. But there’s like a 50% chance that you’ll miscarry by the morning.” And I was like just sitting there terrified out of my wits. By the morning, they did a more detailed ultrasound. And they found a subchorionic hematoma. And at that point, there was like really nothing to do. They were gonna send me home, and they said that, “For now you just have to wait it out. Like just see what happens.” So I went home, I bled a ton, passed large clots. And then I kept going very frequently for checks to see like if the hematoma was resolving itself. And thankfully, like after a few weeks, it was resolved, but like I really bled a lot during those weeks. And I kept being told that something that happens from subchorionic hematoma, it’s possible you’ll go into preterm labor. So it was just like in the back of my mind, and they kept telling me just to take it easy and whatever. 


Dr. Fox: What specifically were…I’m just curious when this is all going on, and you’re bleeding. Well, number one, what kind of instructions were you given? Because it’s usually all over the place. Were you told like, “Be on bed rest?” Were you told it doesn’t matter if you’re on bed rest, take a medicine, don’t take a medicine?” 


Leah: So I’m trying to remember if I was on bed rest at that point. At 25 weeks, I was definitely put on strict bed rest. But I don’t remember at that point if I was just told to take it easy or bed rest. 


Dr. Fox: Right. And the messaging to you, as far as you can recall, was what? That, “Everything’s gonna be okay,” or “There’s a very good chance you’re still gonna miscarry?” Again, not that first night when they said 50/50, sort of once you went home. 


Leah: So I think once I went home, things looked okay. But they said we have to be careful about the preterm labor. 


Dr. Fox: Right. Right. Okay. 


Leah: I don’t think I was like overly concerned at that point. Then at 25 weeks, I went into labor. 


Dr. Fox: Got it. Between then and 25 weeks was it clear at this point, “I’m not going back to Israel?” 


Leah; Yeah, at that point, I wasn’t going back to Israel. 


Dr. Fox: We’re done. 


Leah: And I hadn’t finished… 


Dr. Fox: Who packed up your stuff up there? 


Leah: I just left it there. That was it. 


Dr. Fox: “We‘re done, we’re out, banned and whatever’s there is Israeli property. They could have my clothes.” 


Leah: Yeah. 


Dr. Fox: All right. 


Leah: We just left everything in the apartment there, whatever. We were living at my parents’ house, which is pretty crazy, which actually, when at 25 weeks, when I went into labor, I got admitted to Mount Sinai, and they gave me the steroid shot. And at first, they said, like, “You can’t eat anything,” they were nervous they would have to do a caesarean because my baby was transversed. And I remember my husband went to the synagogue…things like had stabilized for the moment, like they eventually gave me permission to eat. So it was Friday night. And he went to the synagogue to pray the Friday night services. And they came up from the NICU with their sheet of paper. If the baby’s born tonight… 


Dr. Fox: Oh, here’s all the horrible, terrible things that could happen. 


Leah: Why do they do that? 


Dr. Fox: They do it actually because they’ll only do it if we ask them to do it, meaning they don’t do it on their own. They NICU doesn’t look around and say, “Hey, there’s a woman in 25 weeks, let’s go up and torture her.” It’s, someone says, to the NICU, “Can you please come up and talk about 25 weeks, up to 25-week deliveries?” Yeah, I usually ask women if they wanna know, because some women… 


Leah: I did not want to know. And I did not wanna know with my husband not there. They were like, “50% chance he won’t survive. And if he survives a 50% chance will have cerebral palsy. And if he doesn’t have cerebral palsy, there’s still a very good chance that he’ll be physically disabled. And if he’s not physically disabled, there’s like a crazy high chance that he’ll be learning disabled.” And just on, and on, and on, and on. And I was just dying like there myself, and my husband came back, I was ready to strangle him. And he’s like, “What do you mean, there’s a 50% chance that this baby will be okay. And that’s all we need. We just need one baby to be okay. Just look at it that way.” And I’m like… 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, that wasn’t so helpful, I guess. 


Leah: No. Not really, very helpful. I was freaking out. But his like, whole outlook on life is, “Why worry now if you could worry later,” and my outlook on life is… 


Dr. Fox: “Why worry later if I can worry now?” 


Leah: Exactly. 


Dr. Fox: You know, it is actually a lesson that for us, as doctors, one of the lessons is, we’re not required by law to tell you all the terrible things that could happen to your baby, we should tell you that you have an option to know. Like, “Do you want to know what happens if the baby’s born today?” And some people do and some people don’t. And if they don’t, fine. Like, okay, like, “We don’t know, the baby’s being born today, they may be born a month from now, so who knows?” And the second thing then on the other end, as a patient, you can also say to the doctors, like, “I don’t wanna have this conversation now.” Like, “Let’s stop this and either don’t come back at all. Or can you wait till my husband’s here because this is freaking me out.” And that’s totally legit. And they probably say, “All right, fine we’ll leave.” They’ve got no stake in the game there in that sense. They’re happy to not tell you these things, but they were asked to at some… But that does happen. You’re not the only person who has recounted it like that. Like I’m just there minding my own business unless people come in and tell me all the horrible things that could happen to me and my baby. And I’m like, “What? Why are you doing this? Like, I don’t wanna know.” What brought you to the hospital? How did you even know you were in labor? Was it contractions? 


Leah: Just contractions. 


Dr. Fox: And was your cervix open? 


Leah: I was dilated I believe one to two centimeters. It did not let me get off the bed. I remember I needed a bedpan. And it was the most humiliating thing ever. And… 


Dr. Fox: We do that differently now. 


Leah: Oh, really? 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, you should definitely… If you can go into preterm labor. Do it now versus 2008. Yeah, I know you’d be able to go to the bathroom, go to bed. But it was a little bit…that was a transition point from sort of old school things to how we do it now, 


Leah: But I remember the nurse being so compassionate and so nice. And I was just humiliated. And she said, “Don’t worry, I do this all day. Like to me, it’s nothing.” And she was just so kind and it was just such a lesson how you could just be nice to someone and what an impact it has, like 13 years later, I could still picture her face and how kind she was to me. 


Dr. Fox: It is amazing. 


Leah: And it really is just amazing. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, little… 


Leah: But little things. 


Dr. Fox: …little thing. Yeah, but it’s like that in healthcare, it’s like that in all aspects. A little bit of kindness, you show somebody compassion… 


Leah: It goes a very long way. 


Dr. Fox…especially in a difficult situation. It means a lot to people and they remember it so. So you’re there. You’re in the hospital… 


Leah: And then I was there for three and a half weeks. 


Dr. Fox: Three and a half weeks. 


Leah: They’ve put me on a terbutaline pump. 


Dr. Fox: We don’t do that anymore, either. This is like all the things we used to do and don’t do anymore. It’s great. You’re like a historical piece of preterm labor. Yeah. 


Leah: I remember I had like this really funky bed that I have to go in in order to take a shower. 


Dr. Fox: Right, right. Because it was attached to you. 


Leah: I had my own room, thankfully. So my husband was able to sleep there every night. 


Dr. Fox: Did you have side effects from the pump? Did it make your heart race and things like that, or it was fine? 


Leah: I think my heart did race, if I remember correctly. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. I mean, it’s a normal side effect. But they weren’t… I mean, they actually got taken off the market. They always thought that they may be dangerous. I never really saw any danger with them, it was really just people with side effects. And the main reason is they didn’t seem to work as well as we thought they would. That’s one of the main reasons we don’t use them anymore. But definitely, a lot of people would get the terbutaline pumps around that time period. Sort of from like 1998 to 2008 and well, beyond. 


Leah: Yeah, so I had my own room, my husband slept over every night, but I did not have my own bathroom, I mean, shower. And I remember it was like a room with a bunch of showers. They used to make my husband stand outside. I wasn’t touching a shower curtain in the hospital. I was like, “I am not using that shower curtain. You stand outside the whole bathroom, the shower section, and make sure no one comes here.” And I really like flooded the whole area every night when I took my shower. And watched a lot of “Gilmore Girls,” and “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and just try to stay sane during those three and a half weeks. 


Dr. Fox: Well, I’m trying to think, 2008, could you get stuff on the internet? Did you have to have like a DVD player? Was it on the TV? 


Leah: DVD player and TV. 


Dr. Fox: TV and DVD player. Yeah. 


Leah: Did not have a smartphone. Did not… 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, it’s much easier now. It’s in Netflix. It’s like unbelievable. People love being in the hospital now. 


Leah: I hated every second. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, horrible. 


Leah: I used to beg the doctors, “Just let me go home. Let me go home.” My husband joked though, that we finally had a suite overlooking the park because we had been living by my parents till then. So now like we had our own space in the hospital overlooking central… 


Dr. Fox: A nice studio apartment on Fifth Avenue. 


Leah: Yeah. Overlooking Central Park. And then I remember I felt like a little bit like a science experiment because all the residents would come in daily… 


Dr. Fox: Sure. 


Leah: …like, present my story and all that. But after three and a half weeks, things weren’t changing. And they said, “Okay, now it’s time you could go home.” 


Dr. Fox: Probably because you’re about 28 weeks or something. 


Leah: Right. 


Dr. Fox: What were your thoughts about sort of being in the hospital, you have your doctors, but there’s all these other people, the students, the residents, the fellows coming in? And was it like novel and sort of neat that they’re doing this? Or were you sort of annoyed that there’s always people like involved? 


Leah: Definitely it wasn’t novel. I don’t think it was annoying. It was just like…you feel like a little self-conscious though, like you’re the science experiment. I do remember though, that I was really annoyed. They woke me up at 5:00 in the morning to give me my glucose tolerance test. And I remember complaining to the doctor. I’m going like, “What is with them? I’m here all day and night, they have to wake me up at 5:00.” He’s like, “You know the old joke in the hospital. They wake you up to give you a sleeping pill. It’s just the way it is.” 


Dr. Fox: Hospitals are a tough place to get rest. And also people’s day start very early there. I remember as a resident, we would be, you know, our instructions were, okay, you have to round, write all your notes, do all your orders. And then we’re gonna meet at a quarter to 7. And you’re like, “So I have to be done by quarter to 7.” They’re like, “Yeah.” was like, “Okay, I’ll be there at 4:30 I guess.” And so you start at 4:30 and you’re like waking people up to like, “Are you doing okay? Are you doing okay?” “Yeah. Yeah.” “Go back to sleep.” And it’s horrifying. And we know that but there’s like no choice. It’s just sort of how the day is. It’s not a great situation. But so yeah, try not to be in the hospital. That’s another lesson in life. 


Leah: Yes, takeaway. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, stay home. All right. 


Leah: Okay. So at 28 and a half weeks, I went home. And then at 30 weeks, my water broke on a short list [SP], of course, all my emergencies were in a different short list. 


Dr. Fox: Sure, good. Good. 


Leah: So I ran… 


Dr. Fox: Take all your driving in. 


Leah: Yes, we ran to Mount Sinai. And of course, the resident first tried convincing me that I peed in my pants. 


Dr. Fox: I guess they were wrong. 


Leah: Yeah. But you know what? It’s not the only time that happened. With my third baby also in Israel, I had my water before I went into labor, and also they were trying to… Like what…? 


Dr. Fox: Well, there are a lot of people who they think their water broke and it didn’t. 


Leah: But it doesn’t come from the same place. It doesn’t feel the same. I don’t get it. 


Dr. Fox: So you’re astute and you figure it out. But some…a lot of people come in and say, “I think my water broke” and they’re like, “No, it didn’t break.” Not everyone is correct when they come in thinking their water broke. It’s usually obvious, but not to everyone. And it’s even for some people who normally would know, sometimes it’s not obvious. It’s like if they wake up, sometimes they don’t know that when they rolled over, you know, they peed a little bit or something like that. They wake up and they’re wet and they think it’s from the amniotic fluid. It happens more than you would think. Yeah, smart people, you know, a lot of people get it wrong. 


Leah: So I was given the steroids again, again, they came up from the NICU to talk to me, and I said, “Where’s your paper?” And they said, “We don’t have a paper, the 30 weekers do really well.” Which is very interesting because… 


Dr. Fox: We have an index card. 


Leah: My doctor had kept telling me like, “Just make sure you make it to 32 weeks, just 32 weeks, 32 weeks.” So I was really scared at 30 weeks like, “This is not 32 weeks,” like, “Oh, my gosh.” But they weren’t ready to deliver me yet. They said, “It’s like a very big balance between keeping the baby in as long as possible. But you’re more susceptible to an infection once your water’s broken.” So they were like, just monitoring me very closely and trying to figure out like at what point? 


Dr. Fox: And the baby was still transverse right? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: I mean, when it was time to deliver, you knew it would be a C-section. 


Leah: Right. Dr. Reda [SP] is the one that did the C-section. He actually did an ultrasound literally as I was being wheeled into the OR just to be sure. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, to be sure. Yeah. 


Leah: He’s like, “Such a wait, it’s such a small baby, it would be so easy to deliver. We have to make sure it’s really transverse.” So I was there for like, two, three days. Monday in the middle of the night. So Tuesday morning, Dr. Reda walked in at 3:00 in the morning. He says, “I’m here to deliver your baby.” And I said, “Are you joking?” He said, “No, I don’t joke at 3:00 in the morning.” 


Dr. Fox: That’s sounds like Dr. Reda, “I don’t have joke at 3:00 in the morning.” 


Leah: I’m like, I kick myself till today. Like I never asked what changed at that point. Like why exactly then he came in to do it. I never asked. So I don’t know. 


Dr. Fox: It would be either because you had a fever would be one of the reason. 


Leah: Right. But I didn’t have. I was like sleepy. Maybe the… 


Dr. Fox: Maybe the baby’s heart rate was probably… 


Leah: Right. That could be possible. 


Dr. Fox: I’m guessing because the baby’s heart rate showed either was very fast, or there was some concern, or something like that. Those would be the top two reasons that you wouldn’t know about, right? If you went into labor, you would know that’d be another reason to deliver. But my guess is if you didn’t have a fever that the heart rate was showing that either the baby was infected or that there was a concern that the heart rate was dropping or something like that, especially at 3:00 in the morning. There’s not much reason to do it otherwise. 


Leah: Right. But that’s why like I was really surprised, like I was out cold, sleeping. And then, of course, whenever I am nervous, I have major stomach issues. I like ran to the bathroom. And I was like in there for a while and Dr. Reda is [inaudible 00:17:41] again going, “Now is not the time for a bowel movement.” And so now in my family, it’s like this running joke anytime anyone uses the bathroom at an inconvenient time. We’re all yelling, “Now is not the time for bowel movement.” He was like literally banging down the door that I better get out. So I got out. I was wheeled to the OR and I was really nervous. And again, the nurse was so kind and so compassionate and held my hand. I was like shaking like a leaf. 


Dr. Fox: Your husband was there? 


Leah: Yes, he was 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: And I remember during the C-section, I didn’t have any pain. I didn’t, but I felt tons of like tugging, and pulling… 


Dr. Fox: They did an epidural or spinal I guess? 


Leah: Yeah. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: I remember like talking to anesthesiologists, but like not making any sense. Like I remember like realizing I’m not making sense. But like, he was born at 30 and a half weeks, he weighed 3 pounds, his Apgar score was a 9. 


Dr. Fox: Great. 


Leah: Which was incredible. He was in the NICU for five and a half weeks. 


Dr. Fox: When he was born or in that hour, or whatever leading up to it. What were your thoughts? I mean, were you like… 


Leah: Terrified. 


Dr. Fox: Right. You’re terrified that he wouldn’t do well because of 30 weeks? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: Right. I had no idea what to expect. I was so, so scared. 


Dr. Fox: And then that you’re about to deliver and you see, there’s like a whole team of pediatricians in the room waiting… 


Leah: Yes, everyone. Yes. 


Dr. Fox: …with their equipment. Yeah. And they’re ready to go. 


Leah: Yeah, it was very scary. And like I said, we didn’t have smartphones then. And of course, that night, my husband had forgotten the camera in Brooklyn. I said to him, like, “Oh, you forgot the camera.” And he’s like, “What’s the chances we’re having the baby tonight?” And then, he was born that night. And then I didn’t see him right away. My husband did, but I didn’t see him. He delivered like early, early Tuesday morning. I don’t think I saw him till Wednesday. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, that could be. I mean, the day of, it’s hard to get wheeled down to the NICU. I mean, it’s you’re sort of in pain and you’re in the bed. It’s hard to [crosstallk 00:19:29]. Yeah. 


Leah: Right. I remember Wednesday, my husband taking me in a wheelchair to see him. The first day he was on CPAP. But then after that, he wasn’t. So I think by the time I saw him, he was already off CPAP and… 


Dr. Fox: Just hanging out. 


Leah: …looked much less scary. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, but even CPAP is just, I mean, it’s just like in the nose. They did not have to intubate him. They did not have to use the tube. That’s pretty good. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: He’s there in the NICU for five-plus weeks. At what point during that stay was it that you sort of realized he’s probably gonna be fine? Was it the first day, in the middle, never? I mean, at what point do you sort of cross that road? 


Leah: So I think at first we realized like he really is gonna be okay. But I worry tremendously like what long-term effects it would have. Like we weren’t worried he wasn’t gonna make it. But I had no way of knowing like what ramifications being born so early? 


Dr. Fox: And what were your thoughts at the time the likelihood that there’d be long-term issues? Did you think it was like for sure gonna be an issue or just maybe? Like what was in your head going on? 


Leah: I think I was very nervous. I was very, very nervous that either he would have some sort of physical disability or learning disability. 


Dr. Fox: And your husband, was he worried also or no? Or because he doesn’t worry about these things? 


Leah: He doesn’t worry so much about these things. 


Dr. Fox: Okay, fine. Okay. And what was it like having a baby in the NICU for five weeks, and you’re recovering from a C-section at the same time? 


Leah: So actually, I think the recovery from the C-section was easier because of it. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, a lot of people say that. 


Leah: First of all, I wasn’t waking up at night with the baby. I was pumping every four hours, but I allowed myself to go eight hours at night. I was like, “I’m pumping way too much milk anyway.” We ended up donating a lot of it to an organization after that, because we went back to Israel after and I couldn’t take it back with me. So all the extras, we donated. So I was sleeping through the night, which was like a big help. And also, I think the fact that I went every day to the NICU and like, pushed myself to be physically active, helped me recover… 


Dr. Fox: That makes sense. 


Leah: ..from the C-section right. 


Dr. Fox: Right. You had to give up your apartment on Fifth Avenue, though. 


Leah: Yes, but we did. There were some very kind people. We used two different people’s apartments in Manhattan… 


Dr. Fox: Oh, that’s nice. 


Leah: …during that time. Yeah. So I was able to spend the whole day in the NICU. And then went back. 


Dr. Fox: So travel, you didn’t have to really go far back and forth? 


Leah: Right. So that was a tremendous help. And I just remember, he was just so perfectly tiny. Like everyone that came to visit him. They’re like, “Whoa, like, he looks perfect, like a perfect baby, just like really, really tiny.” The nurses in the NICU also beyond incredible, kind, compassionate, like, just so nice. They encouraged me to buy him clothes, so that I should feel like he’s a real baby and not just like, this kid tied up to like a million monitors and whatever. And they like taught me how to change his diaper and give him a bath. He was like so, so tiny. I was so scared to do anything. But they really showed me how to do everything. And they were very warm. And like when I was trying to… Like first, he was on a feeding tube. Then he learned how to take a bottle. And then I was trying to teach him how to breastfeed. And they were just so nice about it and like helpful and just very, very kind. And I remember, we didn’t stay for Shabbat, like, we would go to Brooklyn to my parents for Shabbat. But the nurses always called and left a message on the answering machine, “He’s peeing and pooping just like he should be.” And they were just very, very nice and always kept us in the loop and just very considerate. And it really makes a huge difference. It’s so scary and so overwhelming to have a baby in the NICU. And when the people around you are nice and supportive, it makes a huge difference. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, they’re an amazing team there. And they just, I mean, all day every day this what they do is they work with sick babies and parents of sick babies, which is its own…you know, that’s a separate specialty. 


Leah: They take tons of notes on the parents, my husband and I use to sneak when I was looking, and we’d read up all the stuff that they wrote, they would write how often you came, how many times you called, like they took really good notes on the parents. 


Dr. Fox: They need to know. I mean, if you think about it, I mean, you know, they have relationship with these parents for months. I mean, a baby’s born, let’s say, you know, at 24 weeks, the baby will be in the NICU for 5 months. And they’re…yeah. 


Leah: There was an eight-month-old baby there while we were there. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, and they’re gonna see these parents every single day, give or take for that whole time. And it’s an intense situation. It’s not like, you know, most time when someone’s in the hospital the nurse will see the patient, let’s say, I don’t know, six times a day, the doctor will see the patient once a day, maybe twice a day. But the NICU it’s like living in, they’re right there all the time. And the parents are right there all the time. It’s a real, real intense relationship. And sometimes people felt very close relationships with the team, because it’s the same team, it’s not always rotating. They may see the same nurse every day. And it’s great. And they’re really good like that. Was it a bummer for you that it was a caesarean for your first baby? 


Leah: It was. It was pretty disappointing. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, how much, I mean, obviously, there’s so much going on, because if your baby’s premature, how much of that even play into it in terms of the emotions of the entire event? 


Leah: So I think, because I knew that I was most likely having one, like, because at 25 weeks, when I went into labor, he was transverse and they told me that if I deliver in the next few weeks, there’s a good chance that he won’t turn before then. So like in the back of my mind, I knew it was a real possibility. I think that was helpful. My sister had C-sections and she described to me exactly what it would be like. So I think that was helpful. 


Dr. Fox: She also had all C-sections? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Got it. 


Leah: So I think like just knowing what to expect was helpful. Like, just she went through like the whole process exactly what would happen at what point. So I think that was helpful, but it was still very disappointing. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. No, I hear you. And I mean, ultimately, you did have VBAC. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: And so we’ll talk about that. But yeah, for a lot of people when their first baby’s born by caesarean, it’s a disappointment. I mean, it’s not the end of the world. But yeah, it’s a bummer… 


Leah: Oh, it definitely is disappointing. 


Dr. Fox: …especially… Yeah, it’s a big deal for people. 


Leah: But I think what helped was, I knew there was no other way. It wasn’t a question of like, oh, the doctor just did it too early, or too rashly, or too… 


Dr. Fox: There wasn’t a choice. 


Leah: It was very black and white, like, this is what had to be done. And he even did the ultrasound like literally as I being wheeled in to confirm. 


Dr. Fox: When the five and a half weeks are over, and you’re taking him home that day. I wanna go back to that day. He’s in the car seat, or the stroller, whatever he’s in and you’re bringing him home. How much of that was unbelievable joy/excitement versus unbelievable terror that we have this little baby that now we have to take care of instead of the whole NICU team? It’s probably a little both. I’m just curious how much of each. 


Leah: So I think it was mostly excitement. I think it helped also that I was going home to my parents’ house that my mom was gonna help me. That like, I think if I was going home home myself would have been a lot more terrifying. I think it was mostly excitement. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, sometimes people say, “Every day we’re going and the baby, has a team of 14 professionals watching him or her and there’s monitors all over the place. And now this kid’s home with me. Like, what do I know?” And it’s a really interesting shift in terms of monitoring and observation of these kids. 


Leah: But I also think, because we didn’t have a bumpy road in the NICU, that it was less scary. Like, there were never any times where we were worried for his life, I think had there been those times, and I thank God he was hooked up to the monitor that saved him, whatever, then I would have been more scared. But because we didn’t have that, I wasn’t as nervous. 


Dr. Fox: And once he came home, and he was sort of bigger and seeing the pediatrician. Was it sort of smooth sailing in terms of his development in meeting his milestones? Or were there sort of bumps in the road that made you think maybe he’s gonna be delayed? 


Leah: So he was a little delayed, but it was all normal according to his corrected age. 


Dr. Fox: Right. Right. Meaning when you’re born at 30 weeks, and then you go to the pediatrician at 8 weeks old, they don’t assume you’re an 8-week-old baby, they assume you’re a newborn. 


Leah: Right. 


Dr. Fox: Because you’re now like, 38 weeks. And so they correct for that for the first two years. But taking that into account, the pediatricians, they were pleased on how he was progressing, and meeting his milestones, and developing, and all those? 


Leah: Yes, I remember before we left the NICU, I asked one of the attending neonatologists, “What’s something I could do for this baby?” And he’s like, “Whatever you’re reading, just make sure to read out loud. Always read to him. It’s like, I know, it sounds ridiculous. But they actually have a cart of books in the NICU. And really encourage reading to babies. Like I know it sounds ridiculous, like you’re reading to this tiny nothing, but it really makes a difference.” And now, of course, I have like tremendous [inaudible 00:28:14] because he’s my super reader. And my other kids aren’t, and like, I didn’t spend enough time reading to my other babies. I read to him so much. And so… 


Dr. Fox: Right, now you just play them podcasts now in their cribs. 


Leah: Exactly. 


Dr. Fox: Just put on a little podcast, and they can listen, it’s like someone’s reading to them. They don’t know. They don’t know if it’s a book or not. 


Leah: Exactly. 


Dr. Fox: All that’s really interesting, right. And then, during that time, obviously, he didn’t have his bris until after he came home. Did you even have a name for him? Would you call him just baby? 


Leah: Baby Boy Sern. 


Dr. Fox: That’s it, just Baby Boy Stern, BBS. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. And so I guess you named him when he was almost two months old, probably? 


Leah: He was six and a half weeks when we named him. 


Dr. Fox: Wow. 


Leah: He was home at five and a half weeks. At six and a half weeks, we made his bris. He weighed four pounds. And we wanted to choose a name that represented the story. But we also wanted like a name from the family. So we ended up naming after my husband’s grandfather, my mother-in-law’s father, his name was Eleazar which means Keleazor [SP], God helped. So it’s just like a daily reminder that God helped us with this baby and that he’s our miracle baby. 


Dr. Fox: That’s so nice. Right. And how soon after he was born were you ready to try again? 


Leah: So we tried again a year later. 


Dr. Fox: Okay, so not… I mean, it’s sort of a typical time. 


Leah: Right. So when he was three months old, we went back to Israel it was after the holiday, of Passover… 


Dr. Fox: Dusted off everything in the apartment. 


Leah: Yes. We went back Israel… 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, when you went back was sort of when…around the time he was due? 


Leah: Right. Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: And then we tried a year later. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. And then at that pregnancy, I’m just curious, how worried were you about what was gonna happen? 


Leah: Very, very, very worried. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, I would imagine. That’s a tough pregnancy to go through. And I’m sure it’s nice that you didn’t have all of the bleeding, and all those issues, and so you know, that’s a plus. But did you, sort of in the middle of the pregnancy, you’re 20 weeks, you haven’t had bleeding, everything’s going okay. Did you assume it would be better because you didn’t have those problems? Or did you assume, “I’m really still high-risk for this because of what happened last time?” 


Leah: So I was still really worried. And also I had a ton of contraction. I don’t remember when they started. At this point I just know when I’m pregnant. I have a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions and that’s it. 


Dr. Fox: Right. And what about the doctors in Israel? Were they making you feel like it’s gonna be fine or like you’re super-duper high-risk? 


Leah: Fine. He wasn’t overly concerned. 


Dr. Fox: Right, so he was pretty chill. 


Leah: Yeah. 


Dr. Fox: They did the progesterone injection. 


Leah: Yeah, the progesterone injection starting at 16 weeks. I was also given…I know they don’t do this in the States. I don’t even know if they still do it in Israel but Prevnar with my contractions. 


Dr. Fox: I don’t know, maybe. 


Leah: I was given some medication that I know they don’t give in America… 


Dr. Fox: Okay, it’s something to stop them. 


Leah: …to stop them. But then with my third pregnancy, I also had tremendous amount of contractions and they didn’t give me anything. 


Dr. Fox: You’re okay. And so your second one was also born in Israel, right? 


Leah: Yes. He was born in Israel at 39 and a half weeks. 


Dr. Fox: And as a VBAC. 


Leah: As a VBAC. Yes. 


Dr. Fox: All right. That was something they encouraged or…? 


Leah: Yes. Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. And how did that go? 


Leah: Amazing. 


Dr. Fox: Amazing. No issues. The birth was fine. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Big baby. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Your newborn was probably the size that your son was at like six months. You know? 


Leah: Exactly. Yeah. It was incredible. I was so nervous the whole pregnancy. “Am I gonna have a C-section. Am I gonna have a VBAC?” Like I was so desperate for the VBAC. And… 


Dr. Fox: Why? I’m just curious. Just because you thought you wanted a lot of kids? Or just as something, an experience you wanted to have? 


Leah: I don’t know why. I was so nervous about having another C-section. And I remember even talking to someone who had both C-sections, and the vaginal deliveries and the crazy stories during her pregnancies, and I remember her like really sitting me down and telling me like, “A successful pregnancy and birth is a healthy baby, and a healthy mother. And it doesn’t matter how it’s born.” And it wasn’t just someone saying, “Get what…” She really experienced both sides of the table. And it was something I had to work on like to tell myself like, “Really, that is ultimately what’s the most important.” But when I had my VBAC I was very, very [crosstalk 00:32:26]. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, I mean, those are both true. I mean, it is true that what ultimately matters is healthy mom, healthy baby. But that said, I mean, if someone really wants a VBAC over a C-section, that’s the next biggest thing, right. Okay, like, “I wanna be fine and I want my baby to be fine.” But let’s assume those are gonna happen, right? “I’d really like to deliver vaginally this time.” For many people, it’s a very strong desire. It’s not just like a preference. It’s like, “I really, really want this to happen.” And it’s great that it worked because also it changed the rest of your deliveries. I mean, you’ve had multiple kids since then, and having, a bunch of C-sections is a different experience than having a bunch of vaginal deliveries, obviously in terms of your recovery. 


Leah: Right. Also the thought of taking care of a toddler and a newborn after a C-section was very scary to me. 


Dr. Fox: Yeah. So you delivered, everything went fine. And then after that, you delivered in Israel. Your third was in Israel. 


Leah: Yes, my third was in Israel. 


Dr. Fox: Right. And same plan as the second pregnancy, the progesterone, the VBAC, it all went okay? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: And in that, I’m curious, the third pregnancy. What was your anxiety level? Because you had a successful one before. 


Leah: I think I was calmer by my third pregnancy. 


Dr. Fox: Plus, you’re running after two kids. So you don’t have time to be nervous. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: You’ve got too much stuff to do. Also when you were having your first baby, your second baby, you’ve got a lot more time on your hands. There’s a lot more time to think about these things. Once like, life is rolling, it’s just, “I like to be worried, I just don’t have the time for it. I gotta go do stuff.” All right. And then you had…your fourth was Pennsylvania? 


Leah: Yes. My husband was in law school at University of Pennsylvania… 


Dr. Fox: Got it. 


Leah: So we were living there. 


Dr. Fox: All right. How was that? Where did you deliver? 


Dr. Fox: Lankenau hospital. It was good. The delivery was amazing. The pregnancy was very difficult. I lost my mother very early on. 


Dr. Fox: In the pregnancy. 


Leah: In the pregnancy. I had found out that I was pregnant the week before my mother passed away. 


Dr. Fox: Oh, God. 


Leah: So that was very, very difficult. I remember, like rushed to that my mother. My mother was diagnosed with leukemia in June. And then she had a bone marrow transplant, was in remission, and she was doing much better. And then she caught an infection in February and died a week later. 


Dr. Fox: Wow. So within like, six, seven months of her diagnosis? 


Leah: Right. 


Dr. Fox: Oh, my God. 


Leah: And it was really unexpected because she was doing so much better. And I remember that week after she collapsed and then was rushed to the hospital and passed away a week later, but we all, all my siblings and my father, whenever, we all rushed to the hospital to be with her. That first night we didn’t even think she would make it through the night. And I remember I was in the room with my mother and my two sisters. And I turned to my sisters, I’m like, “I shouldn’t be telling you this, but I’m pregnant.” I had literally taken a pregnancy test on Friday and this was Saturday night. And my older sister was visibly pregnant already, like we knew she was expecting. And my younger sister turned to me. She’s like, “Me, too.” She had also just taken her pregnancy test, like three days. 


Dr. Fox: How many siblings are you, total? 


Leah: We’re six kids. 


Dr. Fox: Three boys, three girls? 


Leah: Yeah. 


Dr. Fox: So all three of you were pregnant at the same time with your mother there? 


Leah: Yes. So that was very difficult losing my mother during that pregnancy and thinking about having a baby without my mother around was very, very overwhelming and caused a lot of anxiety in retrospect, like… 


Dr. Fox: And you’re living away from your family? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: On top of that. 


Leah: Yeah, it was very, very difficult. Thank God, it was second year of law school and not first year of law school. The second year of law school is like a lot calmer, and my husband had a lot more flexibility and he was extremely supportive. And then I also had gestational diabetes during that pregnancy. So that made things much harder for me. 


Dr. Fox: Right. Certainly more annoying. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: So much to do. Yeah. 


Leah: But ultimately, I remember someone said to me during that pregnancy, I already had three boys and had just lost my mother. She was like, “Aren’t you dying for a girl?” And I said, “No, I’m really just dying for a healthy baby.” And it’s really true. Of course, a girl would be nice. It would be nice to have a name for my mother. But like, really, there was just so much going on at that point. And I just wanted a healthy outcome, a healthy baby. 


Dr. Fox: Right. Right. And your mother looking down is not looking for you to have a daughter. She’s looking at you to have a baby. 


Leah: Exactly, to have a healthy baby. 


Dr. Fox: Did either of your sisters have a girl? 


Leah: No, all three of us had boys. 


Dr. Fox: Really? 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Wow. 


Leah: But my brother had a girl two months after my mother passed away. 


Dr. Fox: So in addition to the three of you being pregnant, your sister-in-law was pregnant. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: Wow. Okay, so they named their daughter after your mother. 


Leah: Yes. 


Dr. Fox: What was your mother’s name? 


Leah: My mother’s name was [foreign language 00:36:49], but she was called Judy. 


Dr. Fox: Judy. Okay, so they named her Judy. 


Leah: They didn’t because my sister-in-law’s name is [foreign language 00:36:57]. 


Dr. Fox: Ah, the same name. 


Leah: And she’s called Judith. 


Dr. Fox: Got it. 


Leah: But they named her [foreign language 00:37:01]. And they called her Frieda [SP]. 


Dr. Fox: So you have that pregnancy. That’s a very emotional pregnancy, obviously. 


Leah: Yeah. 


Dr. Fox: And then you have one more. Right, that’s when you…finally, you found us. After all that time. 


Leah: Moved back to New York, living in Monsey. My husband was working in the city. And that’s when I had my fifth boy. 


Dr. Fox: How’d you find us, by the way? I’m curious. 


Leah: My sister used to… she had [crosstalk 00:37:25] Dr. Bacall… 


Dr. Fox: Ah, okay. Got it. 


Leah: …for her pregnancies. And then… 


Dr. Fox: That’s the sister that told you to, “Go see my doctor.” 


Leah: Right. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. 


Leah: And then when she was pregnant with her…she actually has four girls. And then that last baby was a boy. 


Dr. Fox: Got it. 


Leah: And then when she was pregnant with him, Dr. Bacall said he’s retiring from OB… 


Dr. Fox: He’s done, “I’m done.” 


Leah: …and she was finished, she was like, “You can’t do this to me.” 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, listen, I hear you. I mean, the man’s a legend. 


Leah: He really is. And then he sent her to you guys. And then that’s how I came here. 


Dr. Fox: Wow. That’s it. Listen, it’s an amazing story. I’m curious. Two questions. The first is, is there anything you know now that you wish you knew during your first pregnancy? Right, here you are 13 years later, 5 kids later, all this life experience. What do you wish you knew back when you were having your first? 


Leah: I don’t think anything. 


Dr. Fox: Okay. That’s fine. I mean, some people feel like, “Oh, if I know this, I would have done this. If I’d known this, I would have done this.” But no, you don’t have to. I think that’s great. You know, I mean, you could look back on it, and sort of you went through it in a way that resonates with you well, That’s good. All right, then great. Okay, fine. Second question. What have you learned from all of this, your whole experience? 


Leah: I learned that you can’t underestimate, like, how miraculous every baby is. And every single solitary baby is a miracle. And whether you had a complicated birth, a non-complicated birth, crazy pregnancy, normal pregnancy, really, every single pregnancy and baby that’s healthy is a tremendous blessing and a tremendous miracle. And I also learned, like, how sensitive you have to be to people around you, and you never know what people are going through. And my story had a happy ending, but plenty of people’s stories don’t have a happy ending. And I know on one of your podcasts you asked the person if like, fortune [foreign language 00:39:22]. If she thinks that like, you should scare people about like, what’s the possibilities? And she said, “No, like, what’s the point? Let people be young and dumb.” And I completely agree with that. There’s absolutely no point in scaring people. But I think just a little awareness of like things could go wrong just makes people more empathic to people around them and more sensitive to people around them. And also, when you’re going through something, you just feel less alone, knowing that other people could be going through something like this. 


Dr. Fox: Listen, those are great lessons. And it is a balance. And that’s why in my scripts I always ask people how they think about it? And people’s own experiences sometimes color the answer to that question. Like would I tell my daughter, right? I see crazy things, you know, when she’s pregnant, am I gonna tell her, right, all the things, the this and that? And I don’t know, right. And in one hand, no, because I don’t wanna freak her out. I don’t wanna like scare her and like what’s the point? Almost like what happens with the NICU. 


But on the other hand, l guess that people don’t always realize that like things can go wrong and it is a blessing if it goes well. And it’s not like everybody has wonderful outcomes with pregnancies. And people do miscarry, and people do have babies that are sick, and people do have complications. And it’s important to know that to understand that I’m not alone. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. Or if it happens to a friend of mine, that there’s nothing wrong with her. It’s a tough balance. I don’t know the right answer myself. I struggle with that. And I’m just curious how other people think about it. 


Leah: I remember when I was engaged, I took classes on the Jewish family purity laws. And the teacher told me that, “I just wanna let you know that miscarriage is very normal. And a lot of people have a miscarriage.” She didn’t spend a whole class on it. It was literally a brush-over, two minutes. But I think it’s important. It’s important for people to know that because then you just don’t feel so alone. And it is very common. And… 


Dr. Fox: Yeah, I think it’s also different nowadays, perhaps than when you were planning to get married, or I was planning to get married. And I think that just for better and worse, there’s a lot more information out there. Definitely worse in terms of, you know, like you say, you can end up in these really bad places if you’re on Google. But I think better, there’s so much more, I think openness about this in conversation. And I do think that there’s more resources for people. I mean, just take, you know, like a podcast like this, like it didn’t exist, podcast didn’t exist, when we were first having kids. It just didn’t happen. And now someone listens, and is like, “Oh, like, that’s interesting. I didn’t realize that.” And it’s just more awareness. And also, I think people, in general, are more open to talk about these things with friends, and with family, and their children, and their relatives. And so I think there’s just more conversation that I never heard anyone talk anything about miscarriage when we were first having kids, 20-plus years ago, no one talked about these things ever. 


Leah: You know what? Growing up, my mother spoke about the fact that she had a miscarriage. 


Dr. Fox: That’s interesting. 


Leah: And I think that helped me. I had a miscarriage this past summer, at 18 weeks. And it definitely helped me. Like I couldn’t discuss it with my mother. She wasn’t around anymore. But it definitely helped me knowing. And two of my kids already knew that I was expecting so they knew about the miscarriage. But then my next two kids, I ended up telling them for two… I mean, my baby, obviously, he’s too little to know anything. But my next two kids, I told them for two reasons. Number one, like they saw something was going on. Like I was scheduled for a procedure, which I didn’t end up meeting, but I’m like, well, that and I figured if I don’t tell them, then the thoughts in their mind will be so much scarier than what’s actually happening. But I also felt like it’s important because like, somewhere in the back of their mind when they’re older, like, they’ll…I hope they never have to experience it. But if they do, like, they’ll know that it happens. It’s common, it happens. And interestingly, when I had that miscarriage in the summer at 18 weeks, it like brought back a lot of the trauma of my first pregnancy. And like, it made me so acutely aware of how differently that pregnancy could have turned out, and how lucky we are that he’s normal, he’s healthy. And not only isn’t he learning disabled, but like he’s literally at the top of his class. I know every mother thinks that about her own kids, but like he’s really… 


Dr. Fox: But this one is. 


Leah: Exactly. 


Dr. Fox: I’ve got papers to prove it. 


Leah: Exactly. 


Dr. Fox: Leah, thank you so much for volunteering, thank you so much for coming on. You have an amazing story, an amazing perspective on it. And I know that people hearing your story are gonna appreciate it and many people are gonna benefit from hearing you tell everything that you’ve been through in your life in building your family. 


Leah: Thank you for having me. 


Dr. Fox: Thank you for listening to “High Risk Birth Stories,” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. If you‘re interested in telling your birth story on our podcast, please go to our partner website at www.healthfulwoman.com and click the link for sharing your story. You can also email us directly at hrbs@highriskbirthstories.com. If you liked today’s podcast, please be sure to check out our “Health Woman,” podcast as well, where I speak with the leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy, and wellness. Have a great day. 


The information discussed in “High Risk Birth Stories,” is intended for information and entertainment only and does not replace medical care from your physician. The stories and experiences discussed in our podcasts are unique to each guest and are not intended to be representative of any standard of care or expected outcomes. As always, we encourage you to speak with your own doctor about specific diagnoses and treatment options for an effective treatment plan. Guests in “High Risk Birth Stories” have given their permission for us to share their personal health information.