My birth story.
The most intense day of my life.
I gave birth to my little miracle, Cléo, at 9.06 p.m. on 2 June 2020. I had no idea that this adventure would last 22 hours and would be of such an indescribable intensity.
Picture by Kathleen Van Vaerenbergh
On the 1st of June, after a beautiful day during which I had taken a long nap in the garden, I felt perhaps that the long-awaited moment was coming. I went to bed at about 10.30pm. Since the morning I had felt a few squeezing movements in my lower abdomen here and there, but still nothing worrying. The pain started to come more regularly and increasing around 11pm. I didn’t know it then, but I wouldn’t have a minute of sleep all night. At that moment I really wanted to meet my daughter. And at the same time I loved my third trimester so much that I felt a hint of nostalgia at the thought of the end.
During the night I alternated between hot baths, breathing, hot water bottles in the lower back, exercises on the ball and lying on my left side. I tried to close my eyes, but to no avail. Because I am a midwife, I examined myself. Of course I wanted to do as much of my labour as possible at home, if Cléo’s health and mine allowed me to. My pain could only be felt in my back. I could not describe it afterwards, but I had never felt such sensations. Feelings that touch you in the depths of your being, that require an enormous trust in you and your baby and a huge effort to let go… I was tired but happy. I was expecting my first child and the happiness of meeting her soon was stronger than anything else.
Around 4.55am, I felt the need to go for a walk. So my partner and I walked down the 14 floors of our building to take a walk in the park below our house. The contractions came every 4 minutes and forced me to stop and lean forward to make the sensations less uncomfortable.
On our return I spent the morning with a series of low back massages, warm baths and different positions, all while focusing on my breathing. During my pregnancy I had practised a lot of yoga and mindfulness, using several books, including Nancy Bardacke’s book “Mindful Birthing”.
Around 11:40 am my cervix was 4 cm dilated and I felt like I needed more support, I needed someone to guide me and help me through my intense contractions. I called my midwife Sarah. During my pregnancy, I had made the choice to be followed by midwife practice ‘Amala’, based in Saint Gilles. Sarah arrived as an angel at 12:45 pm. It was a great relief for me. She accompanied me during my contractions and accompanied my partner so that he could find his place by my side. She also helped me to relax by making sounds that relaxed my jaws and also softened my cervix. We continued to alternate positions, rocking in my partner’s arms, bathing, breathing, as I let go of all the tension at every contraction thanks to the liberating “OM”-sound I pronounced out loud. Sarah checked Cléo’s heartbeat at regular intervals. She was doing well, I could feel it and I had confidence in her.
Picture by Marine Hardy
But the sensations in my lower back became more intense and sometimes difficult to control. By 4.30 pm my cervix was 6-7 cm dialated and my membranes were bulging. Sarah advised us to go to the Erasmus Hospital. I wanted to give birth in Le Cocon, a department within the hospital managed by midwives and located in the Erasmus Hospital. The road was difficult because I was on the passenger side and in this position every contraction was an ordeal. Moreover, it was rush hour, which meant that we had to make 1001 detours. I was so looking forward to coming into this cocoon … We parked in the emergency car park just after 5 pm. I started to have trouble dealing with it. With every contraction I threw myself on the ground on my hands and knees or I clung to Sarah’s or my partner’s neck. All this while still making the “OM” sound. Passers-by laughed, including the workers who were rebuilding the pavement…. I was exhausted.
Once I was at the Cocon, a bath was waiting for me. Thank you Sarah, for letting them know we were coming. I took a bath and ended up on an inflatable care pillow. What a nice feeling. I asked my partner to turn on the music player and play my playlist. African rhythms invaded the room: Cléo and I had listened to this music throughout our pregnancy. The pain in my back was the worst pain I had ever experienced. Everything was centred in my lower back. I started to fear for the arrival of every contraction. Around 19:00, after alternating baths, ball and hands and knees, accompanied by massages/pressure on the back, Sarah examined me again. My cervix was 8 cm dilated, with bulging membranes still. I was disappointed that I was only there and began to lose my courage in the face of the intensity of the contractions. At the time I didn’t believe it when I was told “you will forget these pains”. And yet it is true, 4 months later, I can’t exactly describe them anymore.
I asked my midwife if we should break the membranes to speed up the process, because I wasn’t sure how much longer I could go on. If it didn’t proceed fast enough, I was even determined to have an epidural. Deep inside I was disappointed with the prospect, but I could barely handle it. Then the membranes broke spontaneously, but I think the cervix closed a bit at the same time. I couldn’t take it anymore. Sarah, who knew about my birth plan, suggested that I try kalinox, also known as laughing gas. I accepted as a last alternative for the epidural.
Sarah advises me to lay on my side. Then I switch positions to my hands and knees, breathing in through the tube with all my strength and breathing laughing gas into my lungs. Even though I was high, I lost my courage in the pain that became unbearable. I screamed, I wanted my mummy to hug me. My back hurt a lot and I was afraid of the next contraction. I finally asked for the epidural. I even shouted that I wanted a caesarean section. Sarah then offered to examine me. If I wanted the epidural, I had to leave the cocoon and go to the standard delivery room.
It was about 8pm and I was 9cm dilated. According to Sarah, Cleo had probably turned herself into a stargazer position… i.e. her back was against my spine. In this position the labour is longer and the passage of the newborn is more difficult through the pelvis. She asked me if Hannah, the Cocon midwife, could examine me to give her opinion. I was finally fully dilated and the baby was descending nicely. I couldn’t believe it anymore. I had just gone through that famous desperate phase where you can’t take it anymore. And then the miracle happened. Sarah and Hannah suggested that I take a bath and start pushing. As soon as I was in the water, I started to feel the urge to push, the sensation that makes you feel you can’t do anything but push. But I couldn’t find my position. Neither lying on my side nor hands and knees were comfortable for me. So I decided to lie on my back, with both feet on the bathtub wall, to have some counter pressure. Faced with the intensity of the sensations I felt in my vagina, my perineum, at that moment, I lost my grip again and shouted that I wanted an epidural. This new feeling of pressure for me was so frightening…. I felt I would never make it and my perineum would tear at the tension I felt. Sarah and Hannah reassured and encouraged me. I screamed at every contraction and gave everything I could to push as hard as I could, despite the fear I felt. Then I said to myself “you don’t have a choice Emilie, you have to give everything”. I also put my hand on my perineum to feel my little Cléo’s progress and so reassure myself.
Picture by Jij & ik fotografie
Cléo finally pushed her little head out at 9:02 pm. I had to wait another 4 minutes before a contraction came back and I wanted to push again. That is how Cléo was born at 9.06 pm. She ended up on my chest. Never in my life had I felt such soft skin. She was so beautiful. My eyes lighted up. I had just had the most difficult, most intense and most magical experience of my life. I had to dig deep inside myself, trust my body, trust my baby and accept a big and indispensable release. I got to know not only my baby, but also the woman I was and the mother I was becoming. This feeling that still amazes me today is intense and indescribable at the same time. Since that day I have lived on cloud nine and even if I almost gave up and lost my courage, I would repeat this extraordinary experience without hesitation.