Our sweet little Lark arrived on February 16th at 8:56am in Amsterdam — four days ahead of schedule.
In case you’re curious, here’s how it all happened… (Like all good birth stories, it’s long — even though my labor was short!)Since I was induced with Prim at 38 weeks due to late-onset preeclampsia, I was hoping to avoid induction (and preeclampsia, obviously) this go-round, and was really keeping my fingers crossed to make it until at least 39 weeks.
On Saturday morning, two days before I hit 39 weeks, I started having regular contractions in the morning. They were annoying but mild and continued throughout the day. That night they got a bit more intense and closer together, and even though I didn’t think it was the “real thing,” I decided to call my midwife just to be safe. I explained that I’d been having contractions that were about a minute long, five minutes apart, for the past hour and a half, but wasn’t sure that it was real labor because they were so mild. Since I didn’t go into labor naturally with Prim, I had no frame of reference for how “real” labor felt — only pitocin-induced contractions.
The midwife said I was right to call and came over to check me out. She said I was only 1cm dilated and 50% effaced, so these contractions were most likely just pre-labor or prodromal contractions. She said that they might progress into the real thing overnight, but that there was no way to really predict.
I continued to have these contractions everyday from Saturday until my next midwife appointment on Wednesday. I explained to the midwife how I’d been feeling and how I was worried about my blood pressure (as it occasionally would rise, and I had noticed that it was higher in the mornings with these continuous contractions). I was determined to avoid induction if at all possible, and asked the midwife if she could check me again to see if I’d made any progress over the past four days. The midwife thought a membrane sweep might help move things along, given that I seemed to be stalled in pre-labor, which I agreed to.
I should also note that my mom had arrived the day before my appointment, on Tuesday, but was only staying until Friday morning, so there was a big part of me that was hoping to go into labor during her stay. This would ensure that Prim would be covered while we were at the hospital and my mom would get to meet her newest granddaughter before heading back to the states — win/win.
The midwife checked me and determined that I hadn’t made any progress since Saturday night, which was a little disheartening. She performed the sweep and said that I had progressed to 2cm and my cervix seemed favorable afterwards, so we would just have to wait and see. I went home and continued to have mild contractions and cramping throughout the day, but nothing that seemed like the real thing.
After going to bed that night, I woke up at 3:45am with what I knew was a real contraction. I tried to go back to sleep, but the contractions were too uncomfortable, so I decided to time them even though they seemed pretty far apart. I timed them for an hour and determined that they were coming regularly at 9 minutes apart. I knew they were too far apart to bother the midwife, but couldn’t sleep through them, so I got up and headed downstairs at 5am. My contractions immediately started coming at 3 1/2 minutes apart, so I decided to ring the midwife after half an hour to see what she said. I was surprised when she told me she would be over in 20 minutes and that I should get my things ready to head to the hospital, but figured she just wanted us to be prepared, so I went back upstairs and woke up KC and let my mom know that the midwife was headed over.
The midwife arrived around 6am and checked me, saying I was 3cm. I had another contraction and she stopped and said, “Well, you’re at 4 – 4 1/2 actually. I think it’s time to head to the hospital.”
One of the weird things about Amsterdam is that if you want to have a hospital birth, you have to call the hospital before heading in to make sure they have room for you. I had planned to deliver at the hospital that was less than half a mile from our apartment — OLVG Oost, not only because it was close, but because it had tubs you could use during labor. (The hospital I delivered Prim at did not have baths, but the shower was so helpful during labor that I was determined to deliver at a hospital with tubs this go-round, if at all possible.) Unfortunately, OLVG said it didn’t have room when the midwife called to see if they could admit me. I was really bummed, but tried to just let it go — the best laid plans for childbirth often go out the window at the last second. The next two hospitals the midwife called also said they had no space, so she said that she was going to call OLVG again to force them to accommodate us. She spoke in Dutch to the person on the phone, but I was able to make out snippets of the conversation where she threw in “second baby,” “5 centimeters,” and explained my prior postpartum hemorrhage (since that qualified me for a hospital birth based on necessity). She apparently got the answer she was looking for, as she hung up the phone and announced that we could head over there.
We arrived at the hospital sometime between 6:30 and 7am and the place was deserted. The check-in process was us literally breezing past a desk clerk in labor and delivery who pointed us to room 1. No forms, no signatures, no nothing.
We put our stuff down in the birthing suite and the midwife started assembling and filling a huge labor tub. I walked around and breathed through the contractions, KC put on music, and I paced around, waiting for the contractions to become unmanageable.
At 7:30am the midwife checked me again and said I was 6cm dilated. Shortly afterwards the contractions got a little stronger so I decided to try out the tub. The tub was amazing. It took the pressure off my back and hips and made the intense contractions still manageable. My water broke on its own while I was in the tub, which felt totally strange. I was still able to relax and breathe through my contractions so I didn’t even realize how far along I was until the midwife came in and told me to push a little during the next contraction if I felt the urge.
(I should note that I didn’t really even fully realize that I was in transition while I was going through it. During Prim’s birth I was on pitocin and had crazy-intense contractions that rolled together with virtually no break in between. They were so intense and so painful that I couldn’t breathe while they were happening, much less even attempt to stay relaxed. Going through transition with Lark was completely different — the contractions were painful and required a lot of focus and deep breaths, but I was able to relax through them, and there were noticeable breaks in between surges which allowed me to relax further and re-center myself.)
Trying to push while in the tub was a little tricky, as there’s no gravity and nothing grounding you (not to mention your ab muscles are just generally hard to find late in pregnancy). I used the first set of pushes as practice to find my leverage (and my ab muscles) in the tub. I figured out how to push and then quickly felt the baby crown during the next set of pushes. I will tell you this — I was terrified. Pushing without drugs is INTENSE and totally scary. I was lucky that my midwife was experienced and was able to get me to focus and breathe between contractions, but still, there was a moment where I was certain that my body was going to break in half. At this point I knew that the only way out of the pain was through it, so with the next contraction I pushed as hard as I could and out she came. I was lucky that pushing was very quick — three pushes and she was out.
I hadn’t actually gone in with the intention to give birth in the tub, but at the point my midwife said to start pushing I think I didn’t really comprehend that I was pushing for real and it all happened so fast that I didn’t have much of a chance to change my mind and move to another location. Ultimately, delivering in the tub was amazing, once I figured out how to push without the help of gravity or anyone holding my legs. Once Lark was out the midwife had me keep her underwater for a moment, as babies born in the bath don’t take their first breath until they’re brought out of the water. That moment of holding her and looking at her under the water was so surreal and is something I will never forget.
I brought her out of the water and onto my chest and promptly started panicking that she wasn’t crying. Luckily the midwife informed me that she looked perfect and pink, and that because she was born into the water she had a gentler entrance into the world, which was why she wasn’t exhibiting the startled newborn crying of a non-water birth; she simply curled up and fell asleep on my chest. I moved out of the bath onto the bed to finish the sort of “after-logistics” of giving birth, which included getting stitched up sans epidural (funnnn).
So one of the craziest things about the Dutch system is what happens after you deliver. After having Lark just before 9am, I had an hour of skin-to-skin with her where I was able to breastfeed and bond uninterrupted. Lark’s cord was clamped and cut by KC after quite awhile, as the Dutch have a general practice of delayed cord clamping.
After the hour was up, Lark was weighed, wiped down a bit (no bath here — they believe in waiting at least 24 hours after delivery to give a bath, so baby gets all the benefits of the vernix) and dressed.
…and then we were told that we could leave.
KC and I both said, “…Really?” and the midwife and kraamzorg both sort of looked at us and said, “Do you want to stay?”
So we left the hospital at 11:30am, 2.5 hours after I delivered. The kraamzorg accompanied us to the elevator, but then left us to find our way out. Again — no discharge paperwork, no assisted walk to the car. We were home before noon. Prim got to meet her new sister in the comfort of her own home less than 3 hours after she was born. It was pretty amazing… and so very Dutch.
Welcome to our family, little Lark. We love you so, so much.
My overall thoughts and some more details of the Dutch maternity system and birth model will be coming up in a later post. But for now, I’ve got two little ladies to attend to. 🙂