This story is written for you, Casper. That I may never forget how smart and brave you are. And I hope it inspires you, reader, to follow your gut feeling, always, may it be on your journey of becoming a mother or in any aspect of your life. You hold an inner wisdom that speaks to you, just listen and follow, it holds an incredible power.
The pregnancy of Casper was my third pregnancy. My daughter was born at home in the Netherlands 6 years ago as well as my son 4 years ago. If mother and baby are healthy, home has always been the ideal place to give birth for me. With the experience of two powerful home births, I went on the search for a safe home birth set up in Portugal. It was a bigger challenge to navigate in the Portuguese health system and I did not always feel as confident. But I knew that surrounding myself with the right people, was key. By knowing what pregnancy and giving birth is to me and staying true to that, I found my way. This is how I got everything set up for a home birth in Lisbon.
I was 38 weeks when I found out that I had pregnancy cholestasis, a liver condition. (https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/guidelines/gtg_43.pdf) It causes severe itching because of bile salts in the bloodstream. After itching for 2 weeks and having dark yellow urine, I told my midwife and she advised me to do a blood check. My bile salt levels were indeed much too high.
Pregnancy cholestasis is a medical indication and my midwife connected me to the most pro-natural and woman-centred obstetrician (OB) in Lisbon. My idea of homebirth in my birth pool and candlelight went ‘out of the window’. I was confused and emotional, I gave birth twice at home, that is how I birthed and had no idea how else and where else to do it. I cried, felt a deep disappointment and some anxiety. Here I was 38 weeks pregnant and going to be induced the next day. I strongly believe a baby should be respected to come whenever he is ready; ready to meet the world and breath oxygen in through his lungs. That night I laid my hand on my belly and said to my baby: “My womb is not safe for you anymore, my love, tomorrow you will have to come out” It was a short and clear talk. I slept well that night and as if a greater power had taken over, I woke up with the first cramps of early labor. I was relieved, as this was a sign for me that my baby was ready. It was as if he said to me “mom, I got the message, let’s do this!”. It made me confident that if my membranes were going to be stripped later that day, my body would pick up the contractions well and work my baby out without more interventions needed.
At midday, I talked with the OB on the phone and we agreed that I and my partner would have a COVID-Test done that afternoon and have a CTG. If my baby would show to be doing well, I would be able to go home and wait for the result of the COVID-test. I shared with her that I felt already light contractions and that I trusted labor would start soon after the induction.
At the test lab, the contractions really started to build up. I had to go into my own world, close my eyes, concentrate and breathe deeply to let the contractions come and go. It was kind of surreal when I would open my eyes again and see the bright lights and business going on. I felt so out of place. But my body didn’t seem to be bothered by that and kept on going gradually.
My partner dropped me at the hospital at 16:00. He wasn’t allowed to get in and went to pick up the kids from school. I waited half an hour for my CTG to start. Sitting, breathing, and avoiding eye contact with the people in the waiting room. I had never done a CTG ever before and had been in a hospital maybe 3 times in my life. I was doing what I had to do, but surely out of my comfort zone.
The nurse apologized for me having to wait that long and smiled gently behind her mask. I sat down on a big black chair and a belt was raped around my belly. Two little machines were measuring the heartbeat of my baby and my contractions. In my hand, I got a little machine with a button on which I had to press if I felt the baby moving. I felt a bit stressed about that last task because I knew my baby for almost 9 months now and he was a quiet boy or girl. This wasn’t going to give the result these doctors were wanting to see. So, I decided to press a few times more than I actually felt him moving to get that misinterpretation out of the way. The screen showed already strong contraction peeks and the nurse was saying with a surprised tone: “Oh but you have contractions!” And I confirmed with a smile. “but doesn’t it hurt then?”. “It does”,I said calmly. She seemed confused as if she couldn’t rime me sitting there silently breathing my contractions away and the mountain-shaped peeks, she saw on the CTG-scan. Apparently, the result of the scan made her worry and a doctor came in to take a look at it. She also said firmly “I wouldn’t let this woman go home”. Meanwhile, I was apping with my OB who was still at home and asked her if the results were really that bad. She said they were not, but she asked me to do echography to check the amniotic fluid.
In the corridor waiting for my next check, I walked slowly back and forth, finding a quieter corner where I felt the freedom to sing. Quietly I hummed the song I learned from my daughter that is about courage. I was singing to my baby, telling him that everything was ok. And I was singing to my own heart, to hold my ground, feel the trust.
I went into another room where a kind male doctor welcomed me. He was in a good mood, telling me it was all going to be fine. I internally knew that, I just really wanted to go home. He made some unharmful jokes of which I thought they were not funny in the state I was in. There seemed to be no awareness for the mood of a laboring woman. The echography showed a healthy baby, with a strong heartbeat, in a good position and swimming in a good amount of amniotic fluid. “everything is fine, this baby just has to come out soon” said the doctor as he guided me out of the room.
There I stood again in the corridor of the hospital. “And now what?” was my thought. I called my OB again to discuss our next step. We agreed that I would go home, and she shared to feel more comfortable if my midwife would stay with me until we would meet in the hospital. I agreed with her and took the elevator down. There was a sense of relief coming over me, finally, I was going home. As I stood on the pathway in front of the hospital, ordering an uber, it was then that the contractions really kicked in. I walked back and forth waiting for the Uber that seemed to take ages. The pressure in my pelvis was building up, the battery of my phone was almost dead, and I could feel the time was getting very close to birth my baby.
I got into the Uber and in this 20-minute drive I was holding myself up on the handle. Breathing long and deep. Talking to my midwife and telling her I felt pressure she drove as fast as she could towards my home, going through red lights. Finally, I arrived home, walked to the door and starting my way up to the 3rd floor. Halfway I felt on all fours, breathing through the biggest contraction I had so far. My body was shivering, and I was very hot. I continued my journey up and stopped in front of my door to go through another contraction. I found my keys, went in and my daughter came happily, running towards me. “Hi, mom!” She said. “Hi dear, mom is super tired”, I replied. And she walked back to the living room where my friend and her daughter were to take care of her and my son. I took my shoes off and walked through the corridor towards the bathroom. And another contraction caught me on the way, a big growl came out of my mouth. Finally! I could sound out what my body was going through. I stumbled on towards the bathroom, took my clothes off. What a relief, being naked is all I wanted. Freedom! Freedom to make sounds, free of clothes.
Sebastiaan walked in, turned on the light and said: “or do you want them off?” “off!!!!” I said. And shortly after: “the baby is coming now!”. “Now? Now?”, he said. “now!” And I asked him to turn on the water for the bath. As I was standing, leaning over the sink and breathing deeply. A big pushing contraction came over me and I felt the pressure on my butt. This feeling made me realize he was really coming out now. With my legs wide open holding firm on to the sink. It was followed by another push and my water broke. A huge splash of water fell on the floor, as an explosion, drops jumping all over. Sebastiaan took my phone and messaged our midwife. “baby is coming now”. With another push, his head was born. And my body paused. Gently I stroked over the little wet hears and started to talk quietly to him. “It is all good, I am here, you can come out my love”. Another push and there he was. I felt his wet little body slipping out of me. Sebastiaan stood behind me and caught him by the buttocks and I caught him by the shoulders. As I wanted to bring him up to my chest, I noticed I couldn’t get him higher than my belly. I bend over and checked him. I saw the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. With ease and an internal knowing, my hands made a quick and confident move that unwrapped the cord and I could bring him to my chest. He made 3 little, healthy, wet cries. Sebastiaan and I laughed, looked at each other with big eyes saying “what the F*ck!!”. Being so relieved this baby seemed totally healthy and this crazy adventure was over. As we realized we didn’t know the sex yet, Sebastiaan shone some light and we saw that it was a little boy. What a joy, another boy!
I stepped in the warm soothing water of the bath so comforting and warm. I squatted, waiting for the placenta to be born. I was feeling marvellous and super excited. As I sat there our midwife came in. Out of breath. She saw everything was good and smiled along with us. She listened to the lungs and the sound was reassuring.
As I gave a little push, I felt the placenta leaving my body. But with my hand, I felt one part was still connected with my womb. I told my midwife and she said the gravity would pull it down once I would stand up. I came up slowly and the rest dropped out. Sebastiaan got a bag in which we placed the placenta.
Curious and careful my daughter and son appeared, followed by my friend and her daughter. I welcomed them with a big smile. That these 3 children were witness of this moment of birth was golden to me. This image is engraved in their hearts. They grow up with the memory that this is birth.
I stood up and walked towards the bed where I lay down. Casper was crying continuously all this time. I was so overwhelmed and out of myself from all that happened, that I kind of forgot to be present for him. I became aware of that at that moment on the bed. I closed my eyes, concentrated on my breath and centred myself. I was able to relax and so was he. He stopped crying and I felt him release. Quickly after he started to look for the nipple and by supporting his feet, he found his way and started sucking powerfully.
I will never forget these wonderful hours after birth. This moment was sacred, so much love and joy was felt
by each one of us. I am my midwife forever grateful for the care she gave us in these hours. The rituals, the tenderness, the truth and serenity meant the world to me.
Deep gratitude I feel for having gone through this experience, all of it from beginning to end was worth it.
Welcome to this wonderful world, Casper Mathias!