Luc is exactly 11 months old today, and I’m proud to say that I’m finally ready to share his beautiful water birth. If you’re not into this kinda thing, which I totally get, you may want to skip this post.
Did you know only 4% of pregnant women gives birth on the actual due date? I wrote my pregnancy recap on my due date (read more here) because for some reason I could feel our little boy wouldn’t keep us waiting much longer. And you know what? That night my water broke and 8 hours later I held a beautiful baby in my arms. Only 10 hours after the expected date of arrival.
And although I wrote my birth story in the first weeks after Luc was born, I am only now, exactly 11 months later, ready to share it. First of all for our own archives, because I want to remember all of it. And because I love reading birth stories myself. Probably because giving birth is one of life’s last raw and real experiences. No matter how hard you try to plan it, a baby comes when it comes.
I also wanted to share my story because I think we could use more real birth stories. Luc’s birth was so incredibly beautiful and magical, and I really want to cherish my positive natural birthing experience. Even though it wasn’t all smooth sailing, because yes, there is pain, and it is raw, and there is blood. In my case a lot. Like a lot a lot. So much (roughly half of my body’s blood) that I ended up in the OR. And it took me a while to accept that this is only a small part of our story. And it is true what they say: soon (okay kinda soon) after bringing a beautiful baby into this world the memory of the pain and all that blood starts to fade away. And what remains is the image of an incredible empowering experience. It’s for sure the hardest and most beautiful thing I’ve ever done. And without a doubt my proudest achievement. So here I am, sharing our beautiful baby boy’s beautiful water birth.
31 October 2017 2pm
My official due date. At my 40 weeks check-up our midwife could feel that my cervix was already 1 cm dilated. I felt excited and relieved; I’d been having weekly acupuncture session as of 36 weeks so I was happy to hear that my body was preparing for labor. We decided to try membrane stripping, which means that the midwife tries to separate the amniotic sac from the area around the cervix. This is a very natural way to induce labor and in some cases this leads to contractions within the next 48 hours. As our baby was already growing slightly above average we thought we’d just give it a go and see what happens. After the stripping I was 2 cm dilated. Nice, I thought, at least I got those 2 cm for free :). After our appointment we took some (final?) bump shots of my big baby belly, because well, you never know…
31 October 2017 11pm
I was afraid to say it out loud, but I could feel that it would be go-time that night. I had been having practice contractions (Braxton Hicks) for weeks and after the stripping session the cramps got even more intense. But I also knew it could mean false labor (yes, that’s a thing) so I took two paracetamol and went to bed, as I promised our midwife I would try to get as much sleep as possible. Because that’s pretty much the last night of decent sleep for the rest of your life. Kidding. Not really though. Okay kinda.
1 November 2017 2am
Like every night for the past weeks I woke up because I needed to pee. And like every night I got up slow and steady in case my water would break. Nope. Nothing happened. Slightly disappointed I went to the bathroom. As soon as I got back to bed, and turned over to my left side, I felt it. WATER! So much water! To give you an idea: it’s like holding a bottle of wine upside down and then uncork it. Yep.
One of the main things the husband remembered from our hypnobirthing class was that you can (and should) go back to sleep after the water breaks because it can take up to 48 hours for actual labor to start. So after we confirmed that the water was pink, we went back to bed. FAIL. Not even 5 minutes later I had the first real contraction. You have no idea how many times I googled “how do you know when real labor starts?”. And the answer always was: you just know. And even though this isn’t a satisfying answer when you’re trying to figure out if your Braxton Hicks are the real thing, it is so very true. I instantly knew this was it. It was happening.
Only a few minutes later the next contraction caught me by surprise. Uhm what? And then another one. And another one very quickly after that. Damn, this was going fast. Labor usually starts slowly, with a contraction every hour or so, and then it gradually increases in intensity and frequency. We had prepared all sorts of distractions for those first few hours. I’d saved up a bunch of movies and documentaries on Netflix, I had 4 new books waiting on my e-reader, we had card games, and we even bought ingredients to bake cookies since I heard someone really liked baking as a distraction during early labor. Well, we didn’t need any of those things since my contractions were coming one after another, with barely a minute apart. We didn’t even need the contraction timer app. It was crazy. None of my practiced birthing positions were helping me and I basically had no idea what the hell I was doing.
1 November 2017 4am
After two hours of dealing with these intense nonstop contractions, we decided it was time to call the midwife. The first thing they want to determine is if it’s still early labor or if it’s already active labor. The husband handed the phone to me and our midwife immediately realized it was crazy town over here. After she arrived to our house she suggested to get in the shower so the warm water could relax my body for those short moments between my contractions. Luckily it helped, and I was able to get into a trance-like state of mind. I only half recall sitting there with a soaking wet towel on my shoulders for hours.
In the mean-time our midwife got in touch with the OLVG birthing center, trying to secure a room with a birthing pool for me since I really wanted a water birth. And as I feared (there’s a serious shortage of delivery rooms in Amsterdam hospitals) – they didn’t have a spot with a bath available. Damn. The only other hospital in Amsterdam that has birthing pools: full. Our final option was a hospital in Amstelveen. And since I was basically on another planet I’m happy that the husband decided against that. Uhm sorry, but our son is not going to be born in Amstelveen ;). Thankfully, when she called the birthing center again they had a room with a bath opening up in a few hours. They still had to clean it (yes please), so we had to stay home a little longer. Okay fine. The only thing that mattered to me was that I could get into a warm birthing pool shortly.
1 November 2017 7am
The car ride over to the birthing center was actually not that bad (thank god for heated car seats!), and when we arrived I realized this was where our son would be born. I remember getting some good luck wishes from a guy in the elevator, and I suddenly felt really ready to do this thing. Let’s have a baby!
My optimism got a kick in the balls when the midwife checked my dilation and I was only at 4 cm. What? How was this possible? I’d been having super intense ánd basically non stop contractions for 5 hours and it only gave us 2 cm?
The warm water of the birthing pool really helped me. It was dark in the room; there was only a soft light in the birthing pool, giving everything a calm and peaceful vibe. Add the hypnobirthing affirmations that were on repeat during my entire labor and you could say it was actually quite zen in there. Exactly how I wanted (hoped) it would be. Our midwife took a beautiful picture of me floating in the birthing pool, with the husband leaning on the edge of the bath. I’m so happy that we have that picture because it shows that I was completely in my own bubble, and I was handling everything quite well. I feel very proud when I look at that picture. Giving birth is so beautiful and powerful and that picture represents that for me. Since I’m completely naked I won’t share it here but I’m forever grateful that she captured that special moment.
1 November 2017 8:30am
When the midwives changed shifts it was time to check my dilation again. “It looks like you have been waiting for me” she said. “You are fully dilated, it’s time to push!”. Wait what?! In an hour and a half I went from 4 cm to 10 cm? Crrrrrrazy. I guess that storm of contractions I had been battling started to pay off. I suddenly realized the pressure I was feeling on my tailbone was the baby’s head getting deeper into my pelvis (fun fact: I actually thought I had to do a number 2) . It was time to get this baby out.
But it turns out that the pushing stage is no joke. I can hear you think: no shit Sherlock. But it really caught me by surprise. I’d been practicing the different breaths I learned in yoga and hypnobirthing class on a daily basis. I totally mastered all of it. But the particular breath that is used during the pushing stage is not something you can practice at home since you can’t really practice pushing a baby out. Obviously. So it took me a while to change my mindset from the dilation stage to the pushing stage. If you’ve ever given birth, you know what I mean.
1 November 2017 9:15am
I’ve heard a lot of stories of women who got very frustrated in the pushing stage since it’s basically two steps forward, one step back. Or sometimes even two steps back. Especially when it’s the first time a baby exits your birth canal. I was very mindful not to panic because I knew it could take a while, and it wouldn’t help if I got in my head with frustration and anxiety. I focused on my breath, and when it was time to push I would take a deep breath in, and slowly – but forcefully – breathe out with each push. And in between pushing contractions I tried to stay calm and catch my breath. I was completely in the zone. In my own world. Relying on the strength of my body and my mind.
Just like I asked there wasn’t anyone screaming in my ear like a sports coach on steroids. It was quiet, except for the sweet compliments from the husband and the calm encouraging words from our midwife. I’m so happy we did that hypnobirthing class, and that I meditated throughout my entire pregnancy. It 100% helped me to stay calm and in my own little bubble. It also helped that my husband and midwife told me they could see our boy getting closer to the exit so I knew I was on the right track.
But at some point the progress seemed to slow down. Probably because the little man was getting stuck around my full bladder. I can tell you it’s no fun when you have to exit your warm birthing pool and lay down on a bed so they can put a catheter in your bladder. DURING YOUR PUSHING CONTRACTIONS. Luckily it did the trick because as soon as I got back in the water for the next push I could feel our boy getting deeper in the birth canal.
At some point the midwife told me it would only be another 20 minutes and he would be here. I would hold our baby in my arms in 20 minutes. I remember thinking: “okay 20 minutes, I can handle 20 more minutes”. Yes, it was brutal but I also felt extremely strong. And our boy did so good; his heartbeat was super strong and steady. Hearing this made me very proud: we were already an amazing team. Finally our midwife told me I probably only had to do three sets of pushes and he would be out. She explained to me what I had to do in between those sets because his head would almost be out (“pretend like you just took a big bite of an extremely hot bitterbal” which is the best labor tip ever). I can do this. I got this. I got this.
1 November 2017 10:18am
With a final push I could feel his soft and slippery body come out of me and into the warm water of the birthing pool. I immediately looked down and he was actually swimming towards me. Yes for real. He was swimming! It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I wanted my hands to be the first touch he would feel, so I reached down and grabbed him. And with a little help from our midwife I put him on my chest. My husband was right next to us and our little man looked us straight in the eyes. Directly into our hearts. It was such a surreal moment. We made him. We made this perfect little human. Welcome to the world, little man. Welcome to the world, Luc.
The Postpartum Part
What happened next is what I (try to) consider to be a part of my postpartum recovery instead of a part of Luc’s birth story. Yes, it was a complete rollercoaster; it was intense, chaotic, scary, and traumatic. And it took me a while to feel okay about it all (both physically and emotionally). But I’ve decided to not let it define how I remember Luc’s beautiful birth. I don’t want to feel down and sad about an experience that was so incredibly magical. Something that has changed my life forever.
I want to look back and remember how strong I felt. That I was able to completely surrender to what my body was doing. All those hours meditating and practicing mindfulness really paid off, because I’ve never been that calm in my life. I want to remember how it felt to grab his little body and help him enter this world. I want to remember seeing him swim to me. I want to remember those big open eyes; still the number one thing people comment on when seeing him for the first time. And I want to remember those first precious moments as a family. So yes, my postpartum was horrible, but it doesn’t matter one bit, because we have him. And it’s the biggest cliche in the world, but he is all that matters ♡.
Thanks for reading my birth story – and kuddos for making it all the way to the end.