Before she was even pregnant, Sanna had always pictured of having her children in her native country, Finland, and preferably via Caesarean section. Finding herself expecting a baby in the Netherlands hadn’t been a part of the plan, but she welcomed the upcoming challenge by deciding to learn everything there is to know about the pregnancy and giving birth in the Netherlands. Just like many first time mothers, she went online to look for information, only to find herself freaked out about the horror stories. This is a story how she turned her fears into strength. Welcome to Delft MaMa Blog’s new series called POSITIVE BIRTH STORIES.
Sanna was 31 years old when she saw the two stripes in a pregnancy test. She and her Italian husband were about to become parents. She had been living in the Netherlands for many years and was familiar with the Dutch health care system when she decided to look for more information online. “You hear that home births are common and pain relief is rarely used. Coming from a different culture, I was very nervous: I was afraid of having to give birth, the pain and the whole process – and all I could find were terrible experiences. I got even more scared. In my brain it all translated to “I’m going to have to have a home delivery without pain relief.” The information I could find did nothing to help alleviate my fears.” she explains her initial feelings.
Sanna was pointed to the nearest midwife office by her general practitioner and she had her first appointment within a week. “I was thinking I would have to wait for a long time.” she points out surprised and continues: “They were very friendly and welcoming. Everything was in English.” It was a relief, for sure, even for her husband who had had some doubts about being allowed to attend the appointments. Contrary to his expectations he was wholeheartedly welcome. Whenever questions rose, Sanna talked to her midwife and they were always glad to help her. She was feeling extremely sick in the beginning, vomiting every morning, sometimes even in the middle of her sentence. When she told her midwife she can’t wait for her next appointment, they rescheduled her a week in advance, just so she could drop by sooner. Looking back, Sanna can only say she’s very pleased about the prenatal services she received in the Netherlands.
Getting rid of her fears
As a person with an appetite to understand, Sanna turned to books. She found comfort in a book by Janet Balaskas called “New Active Birth”. But the book wasn’t enough to satisfy her need for information, so Sanna and her husband decided to attend a Childbirth Preparation Class in Rotterdam by ACCESS given by Ria Wiertz. Only after talking to her midwife and attending the class, she realized the information she had found on the internet wasn’t the whole truth. “Whatever fears I might have had before that, when I got the information on what happens during the labor, what I can expect from midwifes, the hospital, what are the most common complications, and so on, I found a sense of calm take over me; “we can do this”. Being a mom in a country that is not my native country, I wanted to know everything, but then I realized there’s nothing I can do about it – I’ll just have to take it as it comes. This changed my mindset: the best I can do is to change my attitude about the whole thing.” Sanna sums up her method of conquering fears.
Ready, set, Go!
One week before the due date Sanna all of a sudden felt an urge to move, just like her mother had thirty years before. Living in Rotterdam, Sanna went out and about the city all day with friends. After burning up her energy, something notched. “I was so used to the feeling of Braxton Hicks contractions that I didn’t realize it was the delivery that started.” she laughs about it now. At 8 in the evening she felt a bit of pain, but she had learned during her birthing class that many women get false alarms. “I kept thinking this was not the real thing. In fact, I thought at first that I was having a food poisoning, because I was running to the toilet.”, which in retrospect is a train of thought that makes her chuckle. Around midnight she finally had the epiphany that this was probably it. She continued making herself comfortable at home, moving around the flat and bouncing on an exercise ball. By 4 o’clock in the morning the contractions were so painful that she decided to take a shower to relax and count her contractions. “I was told that after counting twelve contractions in an hour we should call the midwife.” This finally happened around 5 in the morning and Sanna woke up her husband, who called the midwife. The midwife arrived only to tell the soon-to-be-mom wasn’t dilating. Meanwhile Sanna tried easing her pain using TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation), which supposedly numbs the sense of pain during contractions. “It didn’t work for me, though.”she laughs.
“I was on the floor on all fours, swaying and bouncing. Contractions were becoming stronger. At the time I wanted my husband to massage my sacrum – it was a real lifesaver.” The midwife came back to check her every few hours. By 11 o’clock she suggested to go to the hospital, although having strong contractions there was still very little dilation. Sanna has only good things to say about her midwife, who helped them in the car, made a call to the hospital explaining the situation and wished them good luck. As a real life cliché, on their way to the hospital, all the traffic lights were red and at the railroad crossing the longest train made them wait.
Their midwife met them up at the hospital only to give her patient over to the gynecologist on shift. The rush of excitement had done little to speed things up and out of the ten fully dilated centimeters Sanna still had nine more to go. The gynecologist suggested an epidural to help this tired woman sleep. “Initially I was against it and I was afraid of the procedure, but I realized I needed something. Besides I was told the epidural usually speeds up the delivery.” Finally at 2 o’clock in the afternoon she got the epidural. “It was so uncomfortable. Not because of the needle, but because I wanted to sway and move during the contractions, but I had to stay absolutely still for the procedure. Luckily, it was over fast and I fell asleep right away.” Sanna was in and out for a few hours. Gynecologist came over every once in a while to take a peek. Three hours after the epidural, he was worried it was taking so long and as a precaution the gynecologist suggested breaking Sanna’s water. “I was hoping it didn’t have to come to that. I was mentally preparing myself; breathing and telling my baby she could come out. It helped me to relax and by the time the gynecologist came in to break the water at six in the evening, I was suddenly 3.5cm dilated. After four centimeters the labor started to speed up so that no interference was needed in the end.”
About five hours later, eleven o’clock in the evening, Sanna took a trip down the memory lane of her first trimester by emptying her stomach nonstop. The nurse told her this was probably a good sign as it often meant the mother was fully dilated. Sanna’s own mother showed up at the hospital, although they never planned it that way. Turns out if things are going slowly, you can miss a plane and catch another one from Finland and still make it to Rotterdam well on time to witness the birth of your granddaughter. At 9 centimeters Sanna suddenly felt a strong urge to push but wasn’t allowed to. However, it didn’t take long until she was fully dilated. “It was the best feeling in the world to be allowed to go with the flow! Initially, I was most afraid of the pushing part of delivery, but it turned out to be my favorite part. The urge was so strong, I only had to follow. Before I had thought the pain was going to be unbearable. It was not. Compared to the feeling I had when I wasn’t allowed to push, now THAT was unbearable. I used breathing techniques I learned during the childbirth preparation class to deal with the pain – they were very helpful.” When the baby was crowning, Sanna had a moment of doubt and just as most mothers, she suddenly felt she couldn’t do it. The gynecologist was very encouraging and suggested Sanna to touch the baby’s head. “At that moment it felt like a good idea and it immediately connected me back to the moment.”
A baby and a mother are born
“Oh, baby! There she is! She is beautiful!” Sanna describes the moment her daughter was born. “She looked like a doll: Gorgeous baby with dark hair, and she was crying. She looked at me, I got her on my chest and she stopped crying. We just looked at each other.” The rest just happened without any complication: Sanna’s afterbirth was fast and easy. She considers herself very lucky in all of these matters. And lucky she surely is: she is now an energetic mother to a happy daughter who helped her grow as a mother even before she was in the world.