A cosy little mess | Birth Photography Belgium

Ries geboortefotografie belgie

I like to call them my favourite Belgians. 🙂 Hanne and Yannick are sociable, relaxed and easy to get along with. It’s easy to feel very comfortable with them, very quickly, which is unusual in Belgium. I met them 2,5 years ago when they asked me to capture the birth of Minne with my camera. The third daughter in the family, and Yannick’s second daughter. Many of you will remember the photos, because a number of them are still firm favourites.

It was so great last September to receive an email requesting me to keep a spot free for a birth in March. Hanne was pregnant again! The fourth baby. And even better: this time she wanted to have a water birth, at home, preferably with her 3 children nearby. The Netherlands is known for being ‘home-birth friendly’, but that’s not the case in Belgium, so I was excited to experience this, and even more so with the children being present!

They came to Zeeland for an afternoon with 2 of the 3 girls, to talk about the birth. They did not know the gender of the baby – it was going to be a surprise baby. The birth would take place in Hanne’s mother’s home where they were currently living while waiting for construction on their new home to be completed. “My mother’s home contains a lot of wood, everything is made of wood. And it’s full of stuff, and all the stuff is hers, so you don’t need to take any detail photos of that.” Hanne said during our meeting. Their house would unfortunately not be ready in time for the birth, and although they were very happy that they could stay there, it wasn’t their home. The next ‘problem’ was that Hanne tends to give birth very quickly. The last time I got stuck in traffic, and it was absolutely nerve-wracking on the highway ring around Antwerp. So she was not allowed to give birth during rush hour. 😉

In the period which followed she sent me regular update. The baby in her belly was nicknamed ‘Kroketje’, and they were all looking forward to meeting him or her. With all her other births, Hanne had her membranes stripped at 39 weeks, and gave birth shortly afterwards, but this time she wanted to let nature take its course. Nature decided to let her due date (27-03-2016) come and go. They were all impatiently waiting for Kroketje to arrive. Hanne made all kinds of predictions, but none of them came true.

On the 31st of March Hanne thinks about having her membranes stripped, but because another mama of mine is having contractions it seems like a better idea to wait a little, if she wants me to be at the birth. Because she was having doubts anyway, she decides not to do it, but they do see that she is already dilated to 3cm. Kroketje should be arriving soon.

In the wee hours of the morning on April second, I receive a phone call. It’s 2:35am. It’s Yannick, who tells me “the contractions have started.” I was awake because I was just nursing my daughter, so I finished that and then dashed to the car. There is no time to lose, but luckily in the middle of the night the roads are pretty clear, and at a little past 4am, I step inside their home.

The living room and open kitchen are full. Full of people and things. There’s a large table near the entrance, where 5 women are sitting: Yannick’s mother, Hanne’s mother, 2 midwives (which is required by law at a home birth in Belgium) from Geboortehuis de Zon, and a trainee midwife. The tub is in the kitchen, and behind the tub is Hanne, sitting on a chair with a cuddly toy in her hand (during Minne’s birth she also held a cuddly toy during contractions). I can’t tell how far she is by looking at Hanne, she’s sitting happily on the chair, and calmly turns inward during contractions. “Isn’t it great that it’s not April 1st any more? I did my best to keep Kroketje inside until April second, and until you were here, Marry.” I introduce myself to everyone, put my bag down, and breathe a sigh of relief that I’m on time, but then Hanne says, “get the children out of bed.”

What? Already? Is it already time? It’s 4:13am. I grab my camera and join Mammie and Yannick on their way upstairs. Mabel is awake immediately, and runs downstairs still drunk with sleep. She’s followed by Minne, and the eldest of the three, Ferun. They are all looking forward to Kroketje’s birth.

They’re not impressed by the way the room looks with all the furniture moved around, and so may people. They give their mother cuddles, and keep an interested eye on what’s happening. A potty appears for one of the girls, and she does a little pee in the kitchen. Between the pots and pans, amongst all the trinkets, in the presence of all these people, a beautiful baby will be born soon. It’s so special to be here already. It’s such a cosy little mess!

The tub is nearly full, and the midwife tells Hanne that she can get in. She’s seen Hanne have a pushing contraction on the chair, and if she doesn’t get into the tub soon, the baby will probably be born on the chair. It is 4:22 (9 minutes after the children came out of bed) when Hanne gets into the tub.

In the 6 minutes which follow, so much happens that a second photographer would have been very handy! Ferun is trying to find a good position to take photos from, but then Hanne lets out a primal roar. Ferun looks up, in shock. Yannick and the other girls are sitting at the edge of the tub. Mabel covers her ears with her hands, and Minne just looks very interested to see what’s going to happen next. Another roar, and there’s the head! The contraction is over, and Hanne feels the head. “Wow! What a lot of hair!” she says. She wonders whether it’s a problem that she has no contraction right now, but the midwife says it’s not an issue. The atmosphere is so relaxed, I can’t believe the baby’s head is already born.

Another contraction, and another primal roar. The expressions on the faces of the girls are priceless! I try to capture everything with my camera, but it’s too much at once. I wish I had 6 cameras! The shoulders give Hanne a little trouble, and she asks the midwife to help, and then, there’s the baby! Covered with vernix on its back. Ferun watches everything with a stunned expression and Mabel and Minne are watching with twinkling eyes. Yannick, who by now is used to his wife who gives birth with such ease, looks at the newborn with a huge smile on his face. Hanne has the same surprised expression on her face as she had at Minne’s birth. “That was really great!” she says. Mammie is sitting next to the tub in tears. I don’t know where Moemoeke is, she’s probably watching everything from behind me. It’s the first time that she has been present at the birth of one of her grandchildren. What a beautiful moment, but also such an ordinary moment, like ‘Kroketje’ had always been there. It’s so hard to describe, and so special to have witnessed.

Nobody has seen what Kroketje is, and full of anticipation, Hanne peaks under the cloth. “It’s a girl!” Yannick has to laugh: “I told you I can only make girls.” A fourth sister – wow!

Ferun can fetch the poster showing the name of the baby. Her name is Ries. I asked what the baby’s name would have been if it had been a boy, but it would still have been Ries. They simply liked the name. It suits them, just having one name, and keeping things simple. 🙂

The baby is closely inspected and admired, and Minne especially doesn’t want to leave her side. She says, now that she’s finally a proud big sister, “I can go to the big school now?” and “she is ours, isn’t she?”. Ferun is busy doing other things, and comes by occasionally to have a look. When the placenta is born she watched with a disgusted expression, but the placenta is just as impressive as the baby. But only for a short while, and then Kroketje (they need to get used to calling her Ries) is more interesting after all.

The midwife asks Hanne what she wants to do, and Hanne would like to stay in the tub for a little longer, so they add some warm water. The atmosphere is so friendly and relaxed, it’s very special. There’s no fussing at the baby, no obligations, and everything happens at a nice relaxed pace. I can highly recommend a birth like this! Hanne wants an ice lolly, after the primal screams which challenged her vocal cords, so a little while later everyone has an ice lolly in their hands. The children’s champagne is ready, and so is the beer (can’t miss that in Belgium 😉 ) Ries is nursing, having quickly found where she can get some milk.

In the meantime it has become clear what Ferun is busy doing. She is making birth announcement cards, and it’s keeping her very busy. She is drawing her mother in the tub on a piece of paper with Ries’s name and her birth date. The midwives are busy setting up everything they need to do Ries’s newborn checks, and doll is allowed to try it all out before Ries does.

At 5:40 Ries leaves the tub. What a relaxed first hour she has had! I take a photo of Ries with her placenta, and then Yannick cuts the cord, while the girls and their grandmothers watch. Ries cuddles with her father while Hanne takes a large drink of water out of a bottle, and looks like she’s just finished at the gym! Of course, the girls come and have a look again. Ferun has now copied her birth announcement card, and has enough to give one to everyone who will be leaving later. Wonderful!

Once Ries has enjoyed her cuddles with her dad, Hanne comes out of the tub, and Ries is checked over. She weighs 3950g, and passes all her tests with flying colours. She wants to nurse again, and that is arranged. At the same moment, the proud Bompa comes in, and Minne also wants to nurse. It’s so sweet to see her nursing, with her hand over Ries’s hand, gently stroking it. What a beautiful sight!

When Ries is finished drinking, it’s time for the omas to hold her, and Ferun is also allowed to hold her little sister. I take a photo of the whole family, and just as I’m about to leave, Hanne’s brother arrives. I turn around, take a few more photos, and get into the car.

When I get home I go to sleep, and when I wake up it feels like I dreamed it all. But the photos prove that it was real. What a beautiful birth. “Just the way I wanted,” says Hanne. “And the girls talk about it all the time, they so much enjoyed being there.” That’s visible in the photos.

Dear Yannick, Hanne, and all 4 girls: I wish you much happiness together!

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