My name is Kirsten and I gave birth to my first child Wouter on september 6th 2000. He weighed in at 4,05 kg (approximately 9 pounds), measured 53 cm(almost 21 inches) with a head circumference of 38 cm (15 inches!).
In Belgium it is customary for a pregnant woman to give birth in hospital, with an OB/GYN attending. He only comes in when birth in imminent (i.e. second stage). First stage is managed by hospital midwives. All belgian hospitals have high intervention rates, and the women I talked to before getting pregnant were often unhappy with their treatment. So I decided that this would not happen to me if I ever got pregnant.
Then, on december 28th 1999 it happened, I saw 2 little lines appear on the test stick. I told my husband (who wasn’t even surprised as he’d suspected already I was pregnant) and gave him the news that I wanted a home birth. He ofcourse was rather shocked as he never imagined me giving birth anywhere but in hospital. Needless to say he was not exactly thrilled, so I went off to look for a compromise (me being very stubborn I vowed not to let an OB touch me, so he knew I was serious).
Researching the ‘net I came across what would prove to be the ideal solution to our problem: birth centre Bolle Buik (which means something like “Round Belly”). It is an organisation of 4 midwives who offer antenatal and postnatal care and courses, who do homebirths and most importantly offer the possibility to give birth in their centre (it looks more like a giant living room actually). This center is part of the home of Benedicte (one of the midwives), and all our antenatal classes were being taught there, so it became quite “homey” after a while.
We went to our first antenatal visit when I was about 8 weeks along. My husband still wasn’t totally convinced that it was the right thing for us. But he soon became impressed with the professionalism of all my midwives. And while attending the antenatal classes that the midwives organised, he became an avid supporter of normal birth taking place outside of the hospital.
So, fast forward to september 5th 2000…
At 9 days overdue everyone was getting impatient for the baby to arrive, that is, everyone except me and my husband. We knew that our child would have to be the one to decide when it was time to arrive. So we waited.
That morning as I am getting up, I feel a little fluid escape. I am not sure whether or not my bag of waters has broken so I call my midwife. She comes to visit, checks and says it wasn’t my waters, but that something definitely is going on, as I was losing my mucous plug during the cervical exam. Ofcourse my husband Johan cancels all of his appointments for the day, and stays home with me. And wouldn’t you know, nothing happens for the remainder of the day. So a little disappointed, we turn in around 22h30. And at 22h45 on the dot, I feel this strange sensation in my lower back. I ignore it, until 6 minutes later it reappears. Still not getting it, I try to go to sleep. Then 6 minutes later I am hit with a pain I can not tolerate lying down any longer and I think: “Wait a minute, can this be it?”. Johan who hadn’t fallen asleep yet, notices that something is going on, and we get up. We time the contractions for an hour, they are consistently 6 minutes apart and I have to breathe through them. So we call my midwife Hilde, who tells us we can still hang around the house for a while, but to make sure to be at the birth centre around 02h00. It is an hour’s drive from home and I don’t want the very painful contractions of transition to happen in the car. So I take a nice long and hot shower (much less painful contractions, yet not slowing down). Then finally at 00h30 we leave the house with all our birthing supplies (sports drinks, glucose tablets, soft music, an old sleeping gown, etcetera) and head for the centre.
On arrival we are greeted by Benedicte, who has already prepared the birthing pool (it is a planned underwater birth). She warns me though, not to get in too soon, and to stay out until I can no longer keep on top of the contractions on dry land. She offers to check my cervix, but I decline. I know I have a way to go yet, and don’t want to be subconsciously discouraged by a small dilation. Since I am coping fine with the help of Johan, Benedicte decides to head back to bed. She tells us to wake her up if we feel we need her. We also agree on calling Hilde at around 05h00 in the morning. Slowly contractions are picking up in frequency as well as in duration and strength. I have to puke a couple of times and slowly begin loosing control at the peak of a contraction. We call Hilde and by the time she arrives (half an hour later), I really want to use the pool. So I have my first pelvic exam, and it reveals a dilation of 7 cm, with a bulging bag of waters. This exam by the way is agonising as I have to be flat on my back. During all the other contractions I am on hands and knees with Johan providing counter pressure in the small of my back. The doppler echo reassuringly shows a strong and steady heartbeat.
We discuss artificially rupturing the membranes and decide to do this before using the pool. The fluid is cristal clear. This is a major relief, as midwives have to transport when there is meconium staining during first stage labor. I quickly throw off my clothes between contractions, step into the pool and aaaahh…. sweet relief. It is now 6h00. While in the pool, labor really kicks into high gear and I drift off to labor land. I am totally, blissfully unaware of my surroundings and go deep within myself looking for the strength to handle my double peaking contractions. The water makes moving around easy, so I can adjust my position to whatever I need it to be.
At around 08h30 I suddenly have the urge to push and I feel myself returning to reality, as if my body knows I need to be fully aware to help my child into the world. Hilde checks to see if I am complete, and there is only a small cervical lip left. She says to do whatever my body tells me to, so I move to a squat, resting my arms on the side of the pool, and I push. Very quickly my perineum is bulging and then the baby very slowly moves down further (the contractions space out a little). His head is stretching my body beautifully. And then at 09h15 I am hit with the most primally powerful urge and I push his head out in one contraction. I wait for the next contraction and with that his body shoots out of me like a torpedo into the water. I pick up my son (still liberally coated with vernix; overdue??? I think not!), lift him above the water, and he lets out a little squeak. We stay in the water until I have another urge to push. So Johan cuts the umbilical cord and I get out of the pool and onto the bed. There I deliver a huge and healthy placenta, followed by a big gush of blood. But my uterus contracts immediately, so the bleeding slows (no oxytocin shot needed). I am examined, and there is no perineal tearing, only a little skidmark internally that needs just 2 stitches to bring the edges together. While all of this is happening, Johan gets to know his son, who immediately poops all over his t-shirt. What a way to say “Hi dad”!!!
And then my son and I start our beautiful nursing relationship, he latches on like a champ and takes his first meal. We stay at the centre where we are pampered by Benedicte until 18h00 in the evening. Then we pack everything together and head for home with our new little family.
This experience has made me a complete woman. I now know I am stronger then I ever believed I could be. My birth gave me the realisation I can achieve anything. And I owe it all to myself, my husband who supported me unconditionally and ofcourse my midwives, those beautiful people who believed in my birthing capacity, and let me do it myself, in my own time. And that’s the way it should be for all women! We only have to claim this right for ourselves!!! So to any expectant mother who reads this: educate yourself, and have the birth you and your baby deserve!