Picture by Lisa Helsen
Every year on my birthday, my mother used to tell me, at different times throughout the day, ’15 years ago ‘ (or whatever age I was that year) … ‘around this time I was still unsuspectingly mowing the lawn’ … ‘ your father was preparing peanut butter sandwiches for us to take to the hospital’, … ‘you were born at this very hour.’
My teenage boyfriend’s mum used to do the exact same thing during each of her four children’s birthday. And when I was the pregnant one, every friend, colleague, neighbour or even random women behind me in line at the checkout would tell me their birth story in detail. Whether that story dated back 6 months or 60 years. Every woman seemed to remember the story of the birth of her child to a tee and could recount it by the minute. It struck me there and then that it must be an incredibly important story.
When I was about halfway my first pregnancy, I had heard many of these stories, yet I still remained rather clueless about all the subjects to overthink and decide on, concerning the available care options for pregnancy and birth. I found the thought of giving birth very exciting and I wanted to be well prepared for it. Often I was told “he will come out anyway, as all babies do”. Of course this is true, and even though you cannot be totally in control of how your birth unfolds, I was still happy to be aware of the many different options available out there.
Bart and I did some serious thinking about what I specifically needed to gain confidence in the birth ahead. Through a friend I learned about the independent midwives’ practice La Madrugada. At every consultation they had all the time in the world for me. All kinds of questions could be asked and were dealt with extensively, whether these were of a purely medical nature or whether they entailed the many insecurities, questions and wishes we had prior to the birth and about our baby’s actual earliest start of life. They listened to us and we felt truly heard.
“It offered me peace to know one of these midwives would be with us for the experience; that she would be with us at home during labour, would go to the hospital with us and attend the birth as well as take care of us afterwards when we were at home as a new family.”
One person to share this unique story with. I was not at ease with the idea of having a midwife attend to us who would state, somewhere mid-labour, “ my shift is over, my colleague will care for you now.” Or with the obstetrician barging in at the last minute. I wondered what I would need at that moment? I needed a confined and very familiar close circle.
The birth of our first son went smoothly for the most part, but the logistics around it felt quite chaotic to me. “Chaotic” as in : you wouldn’t even write the script for a romantic comedy like that. We only dared calling our midwife after several hours of strong contractions (because, what if labour hadn’t actually started by then?). She, in turn, had lost her car keys, delaying her arrival. When the midwife arrived at our house, I was already 8 cm dilated.
The car ride to the hospital was frantic : I dealt with one intense contraction after the other while we got lost in the dark due to the heavy rain. Upon arrival at the hospital – finally! – the barrier to the parking would not open, and when we got inside we raced my wheelchair through the hospital and eventually ended up… in the geriatric department instead of the delivery ward.
I myself was somewhat out of the zone, and quite literally so, too.
Once inside the delivery room, I could go in the birth pool at once, and I was already fully dilated. So the pushing stage began, which didn’t quite work for me like that. I did not feel the contractions very well and the tub was slippery so I didn’t have a grip anywhere. Because of the frenzy right before, I couldn’t go through my birthing options calmly, so I ended up giving birth in the bed, on my back. The birth itself went smoothly and quickly, and it is an experience I look back on in a positive way. However, I was disappointed the birth pool hadn’t worked out for me. And the frantic car ride was something to never experience again !
When we were pregnant with our second son, the midwives always devoted time and care to listen to our experiences of that first birth. More uncertainties and new fears were also discussed, and suggestions were given for breathing and positions during labour. We discussed to great extent all options for a waterbirth this time around. On several occasions we were advised to call the midwife rather soon than late, in order for our experience to be more serene.
It is remarkable how these midwives attend births and are a part of birth stories on a daily basis, yet their support is anything but automatic or standard. Each and every time they offered us all of their attention. Our experience really mattered a great deal to them and they were actively part of our unique story.
When I was 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant and expressed my concern about being induced to them, they offered me fantastic help and reassurance. We discussed some options to nudge spontaneous onset of labour (I had tried acupuncture and shiatsu in the days prior), and the midwife explored my actual wish. Did I want to give birth as soon as possible, or did I want to avoid being induced? The latter proved to be the case. We came up with a “plan of action”. Most helpful to me were the words “there is still time, and let it rest for a while”. I came home more relaxed, and I took a warm bath and afternoon nap.
“That night, at midnight, the contractions started naturally …”
Very swiftly they came every five minutes. This time we weren’t going to wait long before calling the midwife who would be with us at home during labour, hence we gave her a call around 2 a.m.
The contractions had taken a quick start, but slowed down a little. Dilatation is a lot slower than last time, which often makes me insecure (has labour really started now? A subsequent birth is usually faster than the first, right? Did we call the midwife too early? Will the midwife stay with us from now on?) Anyway, the situation allows us to take things more slowly, and it makes me feel so much better. This night is exceptional. The three of us are in our living room with the lights dimmed. I am sitting on the birthing ball, Bart is close and sometimes sits in front of me so I can lean against him, sometimes he behind me to give my back a rub or to apply a warm cherry pit pillow.
The midwife helps us with the breathing and advises different positions to make the contractions stronger. In between contractions there is still time for chatter. Around 8a.m., Bart prepares himself and the midwife breakfast, and squeezes some fresh orange juice for me (we joke about how I will squeeze the baby out shortly…). The atmosphere is so very different compared to that surrounding our first birth.
At 9.30a.m. we drive to the hospital when I am about 6 cm dilated (tremendously different car ride compared to the previous birth! ). A special delivery room is available in the hospital, called “the living room”. This particular room is more homely and less clinical, and the night we spent in our home living room is continued here. The room also has a birthing pool!
I get into the tub around eleven. Everything we discussed during pregnancy and in the antenatal sessions comes back to me and I find a position that feels comfortable. I am on all fours breathing away the final, strong contractions. This part feels very intense and I feel an enormous urge and power to birth our son: he has to get out.
“I doze off a bit, but I hear the midwife tell me to ‘push gently and with love’.“
This small and subtle encouragement was all I needed to help connect my mind to my body. This is a moment of pure love: our sweet little son is emerging. These few words suddenly become an important part of our story. And exactly this is what I was looking for in a midwife: someone who provides both physical and emotional care.
Moments later, at exactly noon, our son is born. Under the watchful eye of the midwife, he ‘swims’ into my arms from underneath me.
We got what we wished for: our son is born in the birthing pool and he is completely healthy. The umbilical cord is ‘untangled’, and there is plenty of time for cuddles and the first breastfeed, and no rush for the cord so we wait for it to stop pulsating before clamping and cutting it. These first moments spent together peacefully, are tremendously special. We are so very grateful to have been able to experience our birth, our story like this; within our little circle of love.
Only a week after giving birth, I hear myself say several times “This time last week …”.