The name Noor means ‘light’; she was actually born at the first light on the day she was due. The blackbird had just started singing and the great tits had finished their first round through our small garden. Noor was delivered in our living room where the toys had been put aside and the rug became the bottom of my birthing space.
It would be my fourth delivery and actually the third child that was due for the same period! And what’s more: the birth was again scheduled in the middle of the yearly holiday of the midwife!
My previous delivery, of Gust, had nothing in common with a fairy story! On the contrary, it was the kind of delivery about which I thought: “I would like to have a caesarian; liberate me”. Two miscarriages followed in half a year’s time. It meant a loss of faith in my own body. As a matter of fact I was diagnosed with issues of coagulation. My pregnancy got a medical start as a result which meant I had to take bloodthinners for the first months and a lot of ultrasound checks were planned.
No sooner had the most tense weeks passed than the pandemic emerged. The lockdown entailed that I no longer had to travel to work. Besides I was all by myself for the 12-week ultrasound check. The gynaecologist assured me that a caesarian was not a first option as I had already given birth to three healthy children. She proposed to give birth in hospital, but I still preferred being monitored by our midwife during my pregnancy. As I would be nearing 40 at the expected time of delivery a non-invasive prenatal screening was scheduled.
When Johan and I are invited to discuss the different options, we share the same feeling: we both prefer a home delivery in the presence of a midwife instead of a hospital delivery. We have long been hoping for a little, fine girl. As two of my boys got stuck with their shoulders the midwife in charge, however, was not in favour of our plan.
The 20-week ultrasound confirms my gut feeling that I am carrying a girl! The gynaecologist doesn’t disapprove of the idea of a home delivery, but she advises us to have an extra growth ultrasound towards the end of the pregnancy.
‘Meanwhile I realise that my previous pregnancy was hinder by my own anxieties and that more than only therapy is needed. I have to look after my well-being.‘
Via an acquaintance I learn about a pregnancy meditation course in the Netherlands. It implies a whole weekend with only round bellies who engage themselves in meditation, massage, walking, a harp concert, singing, etc. In other words: a totally different way to experience your pregnancy which is exactly what I need at the moment! So I decide to indulge myself realising this might be my last pregnancy. The primal mother instinct in myself starts to emerge, it wasn’t even that far off. My self-confidence gets a boost when I learn to consider myself to be the experienced mother I actually already am!
As soon as the summer holidays have passed, it is time to start with some indoor activities: gathering baby clothes and other stuff and designing the birth card.
In fact those practical things make me face the fact that I have to make time for this baby. Therefore I isolate myself more and more from the outside world which adds to my confidence. Or even better: I have both feet on the ground. I realise that women are never told how to be strong. Or, how natural and how ordinary pregnancy and birth are and how normal it feels when you open up for it. In the mean time the child in me grows and reveals her strong character. This will definitely be a lady with backbone who clearly demonstrates when she disapproves of something, like a safety belt that is pressed against her head or like a doppler coming too close.
Waiting for the growth ultrasound I am aware of the rumbling in my belly: the young lady has assumed a transverse position. And indeed, at 36 weeks! The gynaecologist in charge warns me that she will be much too big for the planned home delivery. As soon as we are outside the first thing my husband says is: “We won’t be discouraged by this, that doctor is simply opposed to home births”. Afterwards it turns out that babies in a transverse position cannot be measured accurately. I am feeling confident about the transverse position: if she is so huge indeed, she won’t have enough space for that.
As our midwife sets out on her holiday I am being referred to two carefully chosen colleagues with plenty of experience, even with little shoulders getting stuck. During our first interview I become aware that my confidence still has to grow. When I refuse the streptococcus test they do not try I to change my mind, which feels really reassuring. At home I am meeting another colleague, namely the second midwife; I hit it off with her as well adding a boost to my confidence: I will be able to deliver a baby with the support of these ladies!
The following growth ultrasound is carried out by my usual gynaecologist and turns out completely different. It is indeed a big baby immersed in a great swimming pool filled with amniotic fluid. This is not exceptional as it is my sixth pregnancy and one of my sons is also big. The gynaecologist reassures me that a home birth is feasible and that I can always come back to her in case something goes wrong. This time I do take the streptococcus test feeling sure that the result will be negative, removing all doubt. I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks anyway. I keep on repeating for myself: it will be a small, fine baby. As my eldest daughter Lotte was like that so will this one be.
As it is Gust’s birthday we decorate the living room with flags from the big windows looking out on our city garden to the walls. The flags are not removed as it will be my birthday 10 days later. There will be no extensive festivities for my 40th birthday because I am encapsulated in my cocoon. Sleeping has become very difficult due to my enormous belly.
‘Now and then I start dancing to remove the tension from my brain and body. I am treating myself with short naps and delicious food while enjoying the baby who is slowly getting ready. My husband Johan has been nominated as “my brain” as he will be the CEO of our family as long as it takes. Bills, school matters, appointments will all be taken care of by him.’
In the mean time the holiday period of our own midwife has come to an end and we are meeting on Friday. The day before I am just feeling awkward and it is impossible to find peace. Due to that stupid corona virus I really feel so restricted. I’m making an appointment with the Thai ladies who I often visited before my pregnancy. In charming English we decide that a soft pregnancy massage is not required as the contractions may be set in motion. One hour later I cycle home, feeling totally relaxed. When we go out for a walk in the evening I experience a hard belly all the time and I’m walking with a stagger like only very pregnant women can do.
The flags are still there when Tijs celebrates his birthday the following day. I am not feeling at ease and I don’t want to go out any more. The midwife pays me a visit and when she notices what is going on I get scared. The previous birth started with a month of contractions making me exhausted by the time of the birth. A repeat of that scenario frightens me, even though I don’t want to lose confidence. I am weeping for the babies who didn’t make it but at the same I realise that if they had been born, I wouldn’t have had Noor.
‘I have stopped crying and I am determined not to be frightened any longer.‘
Our midwife gives me some homeopathic medicine and she makes a list of things that can set the contractions in motion. This weekend my eldest children will be staying at their father’s and the youngest at my parents’. Johan and I burst out laughing. Imagine: a list to help give birth to an elephant! The first thing Johan actually does is make ginger soup. Remember something from an experienced person in that field: wash your hands well after having grated the ginger. Really!
John is even more eager to offer help at the following stage: half an hour’s massage of the nipples and having sex because that will definitely be put on halt for a while. Have I said anything about washing hands? Hard belly: check. But contractions? Nope. We are going out for a crisp one-hour walk because that’s also on the list. As my sense of time is not functioning as usual, we seem to be taking a long way round. We have to stop more often to deal with the contractions. The strolls in between become shorter and I’m feeling for the third time in this pregnancy that the little head is lowering.
Once at home I’m taking a bath. The contractions that seemed so strong at first have stopped. We are both so tired that it’s hard to keep our eyes open. Anyway, I decide to mix the disgusting castor oil to a cocktail. Tijs was actually born after drinking this. As we have run out of apricot juice and grain distilled gin it’ll be a mix of apple-mango juice with blueberry liquor. Mind you, don’t add too much of the juice, because you have to finish the cocktail. If nothing happens that night we will at least have enjoyed a good night’s sleep.
When I’m in bed the baby seems to waken. Not like she normally does at this hour, but she simply keeps on turning. I am glad that I have bound the shawl supporting my belly in such a way that she won’t get out of my pelvis again. After an hour the revolving has stopped.
I am falling asleep until I have to go to the toilet. Castor oil seems to stimulate the bowels.
I get back into bed but awake again of a hard belly. Another visit to the toilet follows. I go back and forth a few more times until I can’t get to bed anymore. I seem to be losing all sense of time. But I do realise that tomorrow is 3rd October, the day I am due. My sons were overdue but my Lotte was born on the day she was expected. I am wondering if it will happen tomorrow.
I wake up Johan because he has to time the contractions and call the midwife. In my bubble I notice that Johan is indeed timing the contractions. Everyone respects my privacy as I have asked beforehand. The baby and I will solve this. During the pregnancy my confidence has definitely been growing. I am observing how my body is swaying, seeking support and opening up. Standing up is no longer possible so I sit down on the stool in the bathroom, holding onto Johan. Not a single position proves to be satisfactory and the time to recuperate is up. I am wondering what is keeping the midwife.
I am surprised when there is less than a minute in between the contractions. At that moment Johan suggests calling the midwife. Didn’t I already ask him an hour ago? Let’s concentrate now so as not to become more tense with the next contraction. I should let go… Next I am sitting on my knees in front of the shower. All of a sudden I can actually sense the strength of all women to pull through.
‘I am grumbling, groaning and swaying to open up my pelvis.‘
The midwife has arrived. In between the contractions I am lucid enough to explain where the blankets and other birth material can be found. And then, all of a sudden, I can’t seem to blow away the contractions any longer. It seems my body is completely taking over. It is time to go downstairs because it is better to be on the ground floor in case transport would be needed.
The second midwife has also arrived. At the front door I am feeling the next contraction coming up, but I decide to postpone it. She wonders if the curtains at the rear of the house have to be shut but I want to be able to look outside while giving birth.
I am sitting on my knees leaning on Johan. No, this doesn’t work. Then I’m trying to crouch down, which doesn’t help either. Do I want the birthing stool? Yes, of course. It even makes me laugh for a moment! Originally I crossed out the stool from my birthing plan.
‘Giving birth is letting go, even about what you think of yourself.‘
I can hear the blackbird wake up in the high tree. The great tits fly along for the first time after the following urge to push. I lean forward on the birthing stool. My waters have to break! I am pushing and – wham! – with a great splash the waters break and unfortunately the midwives can’t avoid the shower!
I feel the head gliding down as if she’s going down a slide! I should invite my child and it seems I am not just singing in my head. A song I got to know at a harp concert during the meditation course appears spontaneously on my lips: “Welcome, welcome, welcome here. Come as you are, come as you are, come as you are, exactly as you are.” And there she comes!
Until then the midwife supported my perineum with a wet wash towel, but now I can feel the baby myself. The head is lowering and getting back. Come on now, little Noor, there is also food for you here outside. As I push her head lowers even more and then it shows. I can actually feel the head in my hands. I am opening my legs even wider so that the head appears completely.
The midwife removes the umbilical cord and invites me to sit on my knees with Johan in front of me. I have to push while the midwife is helping Noortje get her shoulders out. Those shoulders! With some help she leaves my body and I lift her! What a beautiful child!
As soon as Noor has found the way to my breast she starts drinking with great gulps. I feel how my womb contracts. I was frightened of a difficult start, like with my boys, but this goes very smoothly. I sit down on the stool again until the placenta has to go out. The midwife wraps it in a warm towel and puts it next to Noortje as her personal cherry pit pillow.
When the cherry pit pillow is getting cold I think it’s time to cut the umbilical cord which Johan takes care of.
‘My royal escort accompanies me upstairs and I reveal my intention to stay there for a few days. After all, I may be rewarded for carrying out such a magnificent job!‘
With breakfast in bed, for example. While Johan is taking care of that, Noortje is being weighed and measured: 3.7 kg and 52 centimetres. Wow, what a baby!
I am feeling good, very good indeed. As it has been my intention to have a peaceful maternity time I am going downstairs for the first time after five days. The living room has been decorated matching the birth card and the sugared almonds. A rainbow and the whole family on a bike. Gust proudly points to mummy and daddy with Noortje in the carrier cycle, Gust on the push bike, Tijs and Lotte. This is my family. It is time to move on following our own path…