The Story of a Birth

Yesterday was Lola Maggie’s first birthday. A whole year has passed since the day she was born and it’s been a wild ride so far. Unbeknownst to many until reading this blog, I am a sentimental soul and this week I’ve found myself sat on the couch conjuring up pictures and stories from this past year and looking back to the last days of pregnancy and Lola’s birth. So here is Lola’s birth story.

Leading up to the Big Day we’d attended 2 out of the 3 childbirth classes we’d signed up for, but as we were also flathunting and working, doing anything else around that was about as appealing as going to a rave, so the 3rd was missed. And rescheduled. And missed again…

I had surprised myself about how relaxed I was about the birth – until I was around 8 months’ pregnant, when I suddenly decided I was in no way prepared and saying to myself “it just happens” really didn’t cut it any more. I tried listening to hypnobirthing CDs (I’m far too impatient for that) and watching a yoga DVD, but it all felt a bit like doing some last-minute swotting for an exam. Only the result of this “exam” wouldn’t be determining my next educational step, it would hopefully be delivered quickly and smoothly out of my birth canal (and no, I never thought I would write that sentence in a blog post before now).

Anyway, despite my temporary panic attack, I liked the Dutch attitude towards natural home birth and felt very supported by my own midwife team in Amsterdam Zuidoost. They spoke English well enough to keep me totally informed and reassured and were very supportive of my birth plan, which was that there wasn’t a plan, I just wanted to see how it went. Oh, and drugs should be an option if I wanted them.

On Tuesday 23rd November (a week before my due date) at 4am I woke up with stomach cramps. Only slight ones, so I knew it could take a while to kick off and after telling Ewoud, we went back to sleep. When I woke up in the morning, still with cramps, I thought about meeting our baby and how hard labour was going to feel and then….I freaked. Just a bit. Was I really ready? Could I do it? How much was this going to hurt exactly and is warm water really going to help at all? And with all these thoughts and the feelings of impending doom…everything stopped.

WTF??! My midwife came round that evening to see how it was going. She couldn’t perform an internal check as there was a possibility my membranes had ruptured (which sounds rough, but is actually quite a good thing in the “giving birth” deal), but after sitting through a few contractions with me, she determined that it was still very early on. Tuesday night was spent timing intermittent contractions and drinking water to make sure I was hydrated enough for the main event.

Wednesday was a loooooooooong day, and if you say that out loud you’ll almost yawn, which is what I was doing too, in between wincing and panting. I spent way too much time walking the hallway, cleaning dishes, re-checking my hospital bag just in case. The midwife came to the house again Wednesday afternoon after I had some blood loss and the contractions were getting more painful. She felt I wasn’t progressing as I should have been by then and referred me to the AMC in Hollendrecht (my nearest hospital).

** FYI – dealing with contractions in the back of a taxi whilst the driver complains about the state of the motorway is not joyful. Doing the same trip 3 times in the space of 12 hours is just cause for assault.

At the hospital, they hooked me up to a machine that confirmed I was indeed having the contractions I’d been complaining about. And a quick pee test confirmed that yes, my waters had broken too. We now had the evening to get this birth deal going or I was coming back to hospital for an induction in the morning.

Now…I had considered natural birth at home or hospital. I’d even considered the possibility of a caesarean, especially as a close friend of mine had delivered that way just 2 weeks earlier. But I’d not thought about an induction – primarily because I’m pretty impatient to get things done as soon as possible. So it hadn’t occurred to me that my body would do birthing any differently.

Wednesday night was spent in the shower. We’ve got a big shower fortunately, because Ewoud was in there too, rubbing my back, offering words of encouragement and generally just being an amazing birth partner. But after hours of showering, condensation dripped from the bathroom ceiling and paint threatened to peel off the walls and I heaved myself (yes, it was glamorous) from my sanctuary and rocked around the living room with the most welcome distraction of Modern Family playing in the background.

By this time (after midnight), I had to focus on breathing deeply through the contractions. I had also had little sleep in 2 days and timing the erratic breaks between each one was now just frustrating. I paced the hallway, wailed loudly to Dinosaur Jnr songs (yes, even more slightly off-key wailing than J. Mascis) and finally called the hospital at 7am to let them know we would be going in for an induction.

The thing about an induction is the contractions come on really strong, really suddenly and you’re hooked up to monitor, so your movement is restricted. Doesn’t that sound fun? At home, I could walk around or change position when the pain got too much. Now I was limited to wriggling on the bed, so pain release came by way of swearing…loudly. The induction began at 10am on Thursday – day 3 of “labour”. By 11:30 I was demanding painkillers, cursing doctors and telling Ewoud that our daughter would be an only child. All those cliched “comedy moments” came true, without the accompanying laughter track.

By 13:30 I wanted morphine, an epidural – or just someone to do anything really, because I wasn’t sure I could carry on doing it on my own anymore. Ewoud had long since realised he should give silent support, but was right next to me, a total trooper. The doctor had been reluctant to check my progress until then due to the high risk of infection after such a long labour. Finally at 14:15, she checked for dilation and announced that I was in fact 10cm dilated and still had a full bag of water there, which she promptly burst – covering herself, a nurse, my husband and our surroundings in the contents.

Immediately I wanted to push. I’ve never wanted to do anything so urgently before in my life and it felt so natural I just went for it…but…I was doing it all wrong. Is there a right way to push? Yes, yes there is, and I wasn’t doing it. So there we were, the Doc shouting orders, the nurse repeating them, Ewoud holding up my leg and encouraging me and me getting pretty pissed off with all of them and myself for not being able to just do it.

The Doc told me she was going to perform an episiotomy to make more room. This was something I’d definitely decided I wasn’t into – scissors should not be allowed anywhere near that area. But by then, I couldn’t feel anything and could care even less. At 14:40, 58 hours after the start of labour and without pain relief, our baby girl slid out into the world as a squirming ball of fury and placed on my chest.

I laid back exhausted, relieved and totally shocked that she was finally here, staring up at me; her initial angry cries quieting to a murmur…and then silence. Just us, staring at each other; eyes saying “wow, so this is you…I know you.”

Lola's Birthday

After a good cuddle with our baby girl, I handed her to Ewoud and the doctor stitched me up, whilst giving a commentary of how it would take a while so she could do a perfect job and the recovery time would go quicker. Yes yes, thanks for that – moving on…And then we were finally left alone, together, to bond as a family and eat the traditional Dutch Beschuit met muisjes.

We hadn’t told anyone when I went into labour in case it went on for a while (erm, premonition?), so I called my mum in the UK to let her know that she was now a Nanna a week earlier than expected and enjoyed the bewilderment, surprise and then excitement on the other end of the phone. And then I called my Nanna Margaret to tell her she was a Great-Grandma and that Lola’s middle name was Margaret. Hearing her cry, telling me how proud she was, I finally let myself cry too and congratulated myself and my little family as I looked over at a proud father with his daughter.

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