Sehreen Noor Ali is the co-founder of Visible Health Co and is an award-winning growth strategist working at the intersection of technology, business, and inclusion. She’s worked for Obama, a stable of wildly successful startups, and is on the Advisory Board for SXSWedu. She is also the mother to two beautiful daughters. Here, her birth stories.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter, I had just changed jobs. I didn't even go to the doctor until was 10 weeks along. I thought, if I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant! I honestly didn't have the time. I had just left one startup and joined another and I was so focused on work at the time that I felt like as a second time mother, I probably knew what was up.
[I had been working for one startup but the company was downsizing and I was part of the second round of layoffs. That was very early in my pregnancy. I knew I should have left company before but my older daughter, Ayla, was in daycare at the same place and I just didn't feel like I could be.
[Once I was laid off, I felt I should probably to get my behind in gear a little bit and then I joined littleBits, which is another startup in the education space. The pace is just crazy in the startup life. You don't get a break. The thing that was hard for me was, as a mother, the last thing I wanted to do after starting this new job was to say, "I'm going to go see my O.B." So, I just put it everything on the backburner.
But I knew I was pregnant again because I recognized the symptoms. I had like this ideal in my head of wanting two kids, two years apart, though eventually they were closer to three years apart.
I was also very conscious of miscarrying, which is also, I think, why I didn't go to the doctor, to be honest. I thought, "If this is going take, I would rather just wait a little bit until it gets more viable as time goes on." I had a very early miscarriage before I had my first daughter and that really shook me a lot. Mentally, I just didn't want to go through the same thing again: go to a doctor, find out you're pregnant, and then find out it didn’t take. I definitely have a paranoia around miscarriages. It was just easier to be like, "If I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant and I can just wait."
Of course, when I went to my doctor all that basically said was, "Oh, you're pregnant. Don't eat raw food."
I was very excited when I found out I was pregnant because it's what I really wanted, but I think it was when she was born that was the most pivotal moment in my life. I remember feeling so incredibly happy. I had never felt that happiness before. It had completed the notion of what I always thought about when thinking about having a family. Even now, there is a part of me that wants another one, but at least I know that I had the two that I had always dreamed and hoped for.
The beginning of the pregnancy was probably less of a big deal for me, because for me, it just felt like I was constantly waiting until the baby comes and is healthy. We went to Greece and I just remember being tired the whole time.
I was actually pretty chilled out during that pregnancy. Now, when I look back at it, I wonder if I was too chill.
There were times the pregnancy was stressful. There were a couple of times when I went to the O.B. and they couldn't get the heartbeat. They sent me to the hospital because they have better machines there. The hospital was like, "I don't even know why you're here. You're totally fine. Your baby is totally fine." We had a couple of those types of incidents that put me in high stress, but the result was always that the baby was fine.
Throughout my pregnancy, I did a lot of stuff. I was very active with my older daughter at the time. I remember I got hit by a soccer ball while I was picking up my daughter. I went home and I did the kick count and I was like, "It's fine." I was like very conscious of that kick count. When I went to go see my O.B. a couple of weeks later she told me, "That was a situation where you should have called me."
But that's how chill I was. I felt like I got this. I do remember being very tired a lot of the time. But you see a lot of other mothers who do the same thing. We just do it.
It was fun that my older daughter knew she was getting baby sister, too. She was really excited. She would talk about the baby, to the baby. She was very conscious of it, which was great.
We did find out the gender, which was an interesting experience because I had wanted a boy, and now I think about it and I'm like, "I can't even believe I was worrying about stuff like that."
One thing that was very difficult during my pregnancy is that my dad got cancer. I think I had a lot of other distractions in my life. For instance, I was pregnant and I worked at three different places. I left one company, joined another company as a consultant, and then I got a full time job at Kaplan. There was just so much to keep me busy between a new job and my Dad that I just kept going with this pregnancy.
And then at nine months pregnant my water broke! There was a huge snow storm that day. I was at home and was supposed to drop my daughter off at school and I go to the kitchen and my water just breaks. The nurse said it was because of the barometric pressure from the snow storm!
My water hadn't broken with my first daughter so I was just confused. I didn't understand. I hadn't read about it or anything. I didn't realize that it just keeps breaking. I thought it would just be quick and I'm in the kitchen with a puddle of water. I yelled, “My water broke!” and I went to the hospital alone in an Uber while my husband waited for the babysitter.
I just remember being really calm. I remember talking to a friend and telling her I was in the hospital. I remember she asked me about my Dad. And I was like, "You know what? I'm not worried about it right now." And I keep going back to that moment in time, because at the end of that, he ended up actually being in a much worse situation. But that moment at the hospital, when I said that, I was very focused on the baby coming.
They then put me in a room and gave me an epidural. I did not feel anything with this labor. It was amazing. They gave me a little bit of Pitocin and I chilled out in bed for the rest of the day. I wrote a love letter to my first child so I could document what life was like “before” and so that she could have that as a keepsake forever; I wanted her to know that she was my everything. I talked to my best friend and debated baby names with her, as we still hadn’t decided. My family came and I almost threw them out because I was so chilled out and they seemed so stressed! I think at one point I asked them to go get coffee or something.
I labored and, after about 20 minutes of pushing, she was out in no time. The entire thing was super chilled out. And she was perfect. I remember being just so ridiculously happy. We did skin to skin immediately.
When my first one was born, I was crying and someone in the room asked me if I was crying out of happiness. I was like, "I'm crying out of happiness and sheer terror." When my second child came, it was only tears of happiness because I knew what I was doing.
I breastfed but that didn't go super well--and I was totally fine with supplementing with formula. She was very small--six pounds, one ounce.
I have a startup that I started in October that was inspired by the fact that my younger daughter has special needs and what we went through with the medical system. Her condition happened in utero. All the doctors were clear that we couldn't have done anything about it. But obviously there's a part of me that's wonders if that's really true. Like, what if I by mistake, ate a piece of meat that I shouldn't have, or had too much coffee.
We didn't find out she had a medical issue until she was 18 months. I think people think “special needs” is a very drastic thing. Sometimes that's the case, sometimes it’s not, and sometimes it’s in the middle -- it’s a broad spectrum. There are children who fit into what is normal development, and anyone who's outside of that has a special need.You could be a late walker, receive physical therapy, and be considered special needs. You could have Kabuki syndrome, which is much more symptomatic, and have the same special need label. It’s a huge, broad spectrum. No matter where you fall on that spectrum, though, I find it scares other people off, which is very sad. Her condition is on the milder side, and even though she’s tracking towards normal development, the sheer amount of time it takes to coordinate and optimize between the medical system and therapeutic system is mind-blowing. The challenge of finding the right information to optimize a child’s treatment is the impetus behind the product that we’re building at Visible Health, the company I’m co-founding.
I think the biggest challenge is the emotional challenge because it’s based on my experience and I am constantly toeing the line of how much of my daughter's story to tell when I really strongly believe that's her story.
A lot of parents of children who are affected by special needs feel the same. I think a lot about what it looks like if I tell someone about my child. Are they going to pity me? And people really want to be seen. No matter who you are. There's always the risk of the part of a special needs child of not being seen, misunderstood, and at worst, excluded. And even when they try to help their life be seen, they can't control the other person's perception. And there’s the fact that most of our systems - medical, therapeutic, transportation, education - are not inclusive and people with special needs are not accommodated well.
When we brought the baby home, my older daughter was so happy. I think it was a fascinating thing to her that there would be a baby that was hers. We actually bought her a play guitar and said it was from her baby sister. That really captivated her imagination. She adapted to having a sibling immediately. Even now, Ayla is six and Azali is three, they're thicker than thieves.
The memory that I have of that labor and the aftermath was that it was so much easier than the first time around because my identity had already shifted. With your first one, you have no idea what's happening. You're just given this beautiful child that you're supposed to take home and care for.
With the second, I knew what to do. It was such a gift. I could focus on her more than I had to focus on me. I could enjoy the fact that there was a new baby in my life. It was really beautiful and it was really calm and I just think a lot of happiness.
Now the girls are at the age where they have personalities. I love the intimacy of being a mom. Every morning we snuggle, every night we snuggle and there's such strong emotional connection.
I sleep with my younger one right now because she has sleep apnea, it's just the sense of, oh my God, these are my people! This is what I live for this. I live for these moments. It's pure joy. And that's such a privilege. I fell in love with my husband and that was pure joy. But to have that feeling of falling in love every day multiple times a day--that's a high.
Interviews and stories on hillhousehome.com are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.