A natural twin birth | Double the fun
Every birth is special, but this birth is extra special. Not just because it’s about twins, but because it’s about believing in yourself, in each other, in your body and in the babies in your belly. I hope that reading this story will help you to have faith in your own power, and the choices you can make before, during and after your birth.
It was fate, and it was a privilege that I could be at this birth and I hope you will enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed being a part of it, and enjoyed writing it afterwards.
Carlijn and Frans have lived in the same street as us for a while now. From our house, I can see a corner of their house. Also, Carlijn teaches yoga to pregnant women (not to be confused with pregnancy yoga), which meant we move in the same circles. In spite of not knowing them before they moved here, we did ‘know’ each other.
Years before she got pregnant, Carlijn knew she wanted a home birth, preferably in water, without any fuss. After an ectopic pregnancy, Carlijn had trouble falling pregnant again. Although they were patient, Frans and Carlijn tried to live as healthily as possible, and to see what else they could do to increase their chance of getting pregnant. This brought them to Juul Vaessen, and after a few acupuncture treatments, and the use of various herbs, Carlijn’s period failed to arrive. She was pregnant – yay!
The first scan brought a great deal of joy, and a big surprise: twins!! Wow… both Frans and Carlijn needed a little time to recover from this news. It wasn’t that two babies weren’t welcome – quite the opposite! But a twin pregnancy, and birth, is different than with one baby. The same applies to the first weeks after birth, breastfeeding and more. And then we haven’t even thought about wanting to get into babywearing, or co-sleeping! Suddenly that water birth at home looked difficult, if not impossible, and twins are often born prematurely, with all the complications that can bring. So this news took time, and tears, to process.
But Frans and Carlijn wouldn’t be Frans and Carlijn if they didn’t immediately start to think in terms of possibilities instead of limitations. Was a home birth really off the cards? What were the risks? Would there be a midwife willing to do this with them? If it had to be hospital birth, how could they do it as naturally as possible? Would there be a tub, for a water birth? Could their own midwife assist them at a hospital birth? Would they even be able to have a midwife, or would everything have to go through a gynaecologist? So many questions, and not so many choices in Zeeland. But from the beginning they had unshakeable confidence in each other, the babies, the power of the human body, their intuition and in nature.
At the beginning of the pregnancy they came to me to talk about birth photography. With so much still uncertain, they decide to take time to think about it, and will get back to me later. I know that I will have the time for them no matter what, since I take on far fewer clients now that I am a mother. So that gives them the time to think about it. Carlijn’s due date in mid-December, but of course, she may not get that far. She has a very strong feeling that the babies will arrive on the 6th of December, at which point she would be 38 weeks and 2 days pregnant. In write the date in my diary, just in case. 😉
In the following months we don’t see each other, but because we are in a lot of the same Facebook group, I can follow the progression of her pregnancy. There are a great many choices to be made, and things to consider, and during this process they are able to be cared for by their own midwife. After a few tense weeks in which the twins do not grow as they should, calm returns after 30 weeks of pregnancy. They now know that they are expecting a boy and a girl. Their son is lying in front (with his head down – yay!), and their daughter is breech behind him. One thing is certain: Carlijn is going to try and give birth to them naturally. I haven’t heard anything more about them wanting a photographer at the birth, and I’m not sure whether I should bring it up. I would love to be at a natural twin birth, but because Liv (my daughter) does not go to sleep without me, I cannot guarantee that I can be there. There are also a lot of workshops planned, and if she gives birth on one of those days, then I would not be able to attend, because I’d be giving a workshop. So perhaps it’s better if they don’t want a photographer…
Then, when they are 33 weeks pregnant, I receive a message from Carlijn: “Frans and I can’t remember whether we had sent you a message or not, but we would love to have you there when the twins are born!” I pop by to visit them that weekend, and explain all the potential issues. Carlijn says that she will stay at home and labour until she reaches 6cm, and will be treated as a ‘normal’ pregnant woman during that time. Once she reaches 6cm, they will go to the hospital, where her own midwife will be able to attend the birth, if all goes well. Because we live so close to each other, I can always pop home to my daughter if it is necessary. We make sure there is a good back-up photographer lined up, and then it’s up to fate to decide whether I will be there or not. If everything goes the way they hope, I will be able to photograph a natural twin birth for the first time, and a natural breech birth – two items from my bucket list! I am looking forward to it, and even if things do not go as hoped, I think it’s amazing how they have prepared, and the trust they have in the birth of their twins!
6 days after our conversation, on 11 November, Carlijn is 34 weeks, 5 days pregnant. I wake up in the morning and read the following message: “Hi Marry… 34+4, and my waters have broken. Midwife has been. Heartbeats are fine. No contractions, but I think I may end up on bed rest in the hospital due to the term, so we’re on our way to ADRZ. Very calm. Have faith! We’ll keep you up to date from now on.” The message was sent at 2:50am, and I’ve had no update in the meantime, so I assume all is well. It’s nearly 8am, and I send her a message to ask how things are. She says the CTG results were great (the ADRZ has a wireless CTG monitor these days, so Carlijn will have freedom to move, while still following hospital protocols of continuous monitoring during labour). There was some uterine activity, but Carlijn can’t feel it at all yet. It seems like their son’s waters have broken. If all stays calm, they’ll leave the twins where they are, and monitor them on the CTG twice a day to check how they are doing. It’s now 8:15 and Carlijn writes that she is feeling some mild cramping now. Who knows – maybe the date 11/11 fits them, she writes. At 10am I send a message saying that hope that they stay where they are for the foreseeable future! And then I make plans for my day.
I don’t feel like much will happen today, and I hope I’m right. The twins are their first babies, and if labour starts now, then the chance that I will be able to photograph the birth is small, since they would probably be born during the night. The average labour with a first baby is 12 hours; that’s the average, and there are 2 babies in this case.
Then I receive another message: “I’m not sure when I should update you, but, uh… we have contractions. Need to breathe them away every now and then.” It’s 11:50. They’ve not had any internal checks done yet (Carlijn wants as few internal checks as possible) and she writes that she’s finding it quite hard knowing that the twins really are coming now. I decide to phone her. Frans has popped home, she says, but he’ll be back soon. When she has a contraction, she does have to breathe through it, so it’s seems like labour really has begun!
At 12:30 I receive a message from Frans, who is now back in the hospital. He says Carlijn is having contractions every 2 – 3 minutes, and that the midwife, Hendrikje, and Juul the acupuncturist are on their way. Juul is joining them for support, since acupuncture and acupressure can help when dealing with contractions, and Juul can also possibly help with shortening the time between the birth of the first baby, and the second baby. Carlijn and Frans want to avoid any medication being used to induce contractions between the births of the two babies, and first see if nature can bring the contractions on. Juul can help with this. I ask Frans whether he wants me to come now, or wait until Hendrikje or the hospital midwife say that I should come. Frans replies: “You shouldn’t wait too long.”
With the information I currently have, it seems like it’s too early to start driving, but if I’ve learned anything, it’s that people who are so well-prepared, and so good at listening to their instincts usually know what they are talking about. I’ve just put Liv in bed, so in that regard the timing is perfect. Goes is not far away so I can always return home if necessary. I grab something to eat, and head to the car. I call the back-up, because unfortunately I think it will be necessary that she comes. But, she’s at a birth, and I have to call the back-up’s back-up! Luckily we have a great network! I joke that it would of course be best if the twins were born really quickly, the second one breech, and in the caul (Carlijn and Frans want to avoid deliberately rupturing the membranes), because then I can tick off 3 items on my bucket list, and put Liv in bed this evening. When I say this aloud, it suddenly feels like tempting fate, so I add: “I just hope they are healthy, and that the birth goes the way their parents hope it will go.” Of course you can’t get everything you want in life. 😉
Or can you?
At 13:15 I’m at the hospital, and Carlijn is contracting well, but the contractions aren’t very long. That’s not always necessary, but things can go any way now. I can’t tell how things are from her behaviour how things are going. She’s very alert between contractions if it’s necessary, but she’s really just concentrating on the contractions. There’s a great atmosphere in the room. Everyone is calm and aware of the birth plan. Carlijn and Frans are like a well-oiled machine, and a short while after I arrive, Carlijn’s mother pops in. I know from talking to Carlijn that her mother gave birth very quickly. Now that she’s here, Carlijn’s mom mentions that she hopes Carlijn will also have a quick birth. The contractions are getting more intense now. Carlijn is also feeling a bit dizzy and nauseous. She tells Juul, and she puts in a needle to give Carlijn more energy, which also reduces the dizziness. Carlijn is given a seasickness wristband to help with the nausea.
At 13:45 the hospital’s midwife (a great woman) comes into the room. She wants to do a scan and check how baby 2 is positioned, because she keeps twisting away from the CTG. She also wants to do an internal examination to check how far they are. Carlijn tells us: “That fucking hurts!”, meaning the internal check, which she found extremely uncomfortable. When the midwife leaves the room, I follow and in the corridor I ask how it’s going. I can’t believe her reply: 9cm!!!
A rush of adrenaline flows through my body! 9cm! Carlijn, you rule!! Hendrikje has just arrived, and now the room slowly fills up with nurses, a paediatrician, interns and the gynaecologist. Including Frans, I count 11 people in the room. In spite of having so many people there, the room is still calm. At 14:00 Carlijn is standing in the middle of the room. She looks so serene, and says, “I don’t think it’ll be much longer.” Frans looks at her lovingly and says, “Follow your instincts, they haven’t let you down yet.” His words are rewarded with an enormous smile. If someone saw this moment, they would never guess that they were looking at a woman who was dilated to 9cm, and about to deliver twins. It’s magical, and I have trouble keeping the tears at bay.
A short while later, the first urge to push comes. Carlijn squats next to the little table. She listens to her body and does what it tells her to do. It’s beautiful to watch, with everyone in the room “letting it happen”. Because it’s not easy to maintain a squat for a long time, someone goes to fetch a birthing stool, but before they get back Carlijn moves onto her hands and knees. On the ground, this is anything but comfortable, and it’s now very obvious that she’s feeling the urge to push. Someone suggests getting into the same position, but on the bed. Carlijn is still very alert when spoken to, and she agrees to get onto the bed and stay on hands and knees there. Then she starts to push with all her strength. Frans is constantly coaching and encouraging her, and applying acupressure to her lower back. The gynaecologist has arrived, and has his gloves on – just in case – but is sitting in a chair, watching. I, knowing how things usually go in a hospital, find it incredible how much trust is being put in Carlijn, Frans and their midwife. Everyone is respecting their wishes.
After a few more pushes, the CTG is not looking great, and the midwife asks Carlijn to get into another position. She says he needs to be born quickly. Carlijn turns onto her back, and pushes with everything she’s got. It’s a bit of a switch, and after the contraction, Hendrikje gives her some instructions. Then Carlijn looks at Frans. They exchange a look, and I don’t know what he says, but they smile at each other, and I know: he’s coming… The next contraction Carlijn gives it her all, Hendrikje and Frans stand next to her and give all their encouragement, and the grandmother-to-be moves behind the curtain, to give everyone space for her first grandchild to be born.
And then – there’s the head! Followed in lightening speed by his body! He is born!! It’s 14:24 (14:24, can you believe it?!). He is immediately pink, and letting his voice be heard. Wow, he’s so beautiful, he looks so good. His umbilical cord is short, so he can’t be placed higher than Carlijn’s belly, but it doesn’t matter. He’s fine there, and they can see him. They get a little time to enjoy him together before Frans can cut the cord. He’s put a little higher on Carlijn, and her mother comes in to admire her first grandchild. Everyone in the room is still standing or sitting where they were, except the paediatrician, who is having a look from a distance to see whether all is well. Carlijn did this all by herself, just like she wanted to, and now we hope that the second baby will go as well as this, because of course that one is still on her way!
Baby 1 is checked by the paediatrician after he’s been cuddled for a few minutes. In the meantime, Carlijn’s contractions are starting up again. She does not want her waters broken because she has read that the rush of moving liquid can cause the baby to move into a transverse position, and make a caesarean section necessary. This is something she really wants to avoid. She starts to push again, while baby 1 is being completely checked over. He is doing wonderfully, especially considering the term of the pregnancy. He is wrapped up warmly, and now it’s very handy that his grandmother is still around, because she gets to cuddle him!
Carlijn is pushing hard to bring their daughter into the world. Baby 2’s CTG looks good, so there’s no rush. The room is once again completely calm, and everyone is once again waiting patiently. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – it’s amazing. Between contraction Frans is talking to his daughter in Carlijn’s belly. I don’t have to be able to understand what he’s saying: you can feel it in the room. Carlijn is lying with a smile on her face. This little girl can come.
During the next contraction the midwife decides, after consulting with Frans and Carlijn, that she’s going to rupture the membrane after all. There’s a little ‘bang’ of amniotic fluid, and then… a foot! And another foot! I was so prepared to see a little bottom, that I have to do a bit of a mental switch. It makes no difference, but it’s a strange sight! 🙂 Before I have time to worry about how the rest of the body and the head will be born, she’s already out! Incredibly fast! As if it was nothing at all! It’s 15:56. The first strong contractions started 3 hours ago, and now two babies have been born!!!
Everything that can be different about Baby 2, is different. She has a long, thin umbilical cord, instead of a short, thick one. She has chubby cheeks, and she’s a lot less pink than her ‘big’ brother. She seems to have more trouble getting going, even though her CTG was always good. They also look completely different. She is doing well enough that she can stay with Carlijn. Again, Carlijn and Frans are given time to enjoy their new baby. After a few minutes the cord can be cut, and the scissors are automatically given to Frans, but Carlijn asks, “Can I cut this one?” Frans agrees. “Handy having 2 babies, isn’t it?” Carlijn says, and with a big smile she cuts the cord.
Baby 2 is checked by the paediatrician. She’s having a little trouble breathing, so he wants her to go to the paediatric unit so that she can be monitored, and put into an incubator. You could be forgiven for forgetting it, but they have been born at 34 weeks, 5 days, and are therefore premature. But before this happens, they are wrapped up warmly together. While this is being done, the placentas are born. Or more accurately, the placenta. They’ve fused together, and it’s an incredible organ! The babies are given to their papa, and he and Carlijn are given some time to enjoy their beautiful babies. We are told their names: Guus and Niene. <3 When they have had their moment together, Frans puts them in the incubator, and the proud father heads off down the corridor with his babies. Carlijn is lying in bed with a huge smile from ear to ear. She will be checked, and then she can also go to the babies.
At the children’s unit each baby is put in their own bed. Frans isn’t sure which baby he should stay with, and tries to give them both his attention. They are attached to all kinds of monitors, and their blood glucose levels are checked. As the paediatrician had already told them – they are doing well. They do have low blood sugar, and so they need supplementary feeding. Carlijn wants to breastfeed, but her milk is not in yet. They have in their birth plan that they want to give donor milk, but they do not have it with them. During our first meeting we talked about it, and I offered back then already, and now I offer again: I can pump milk for them, if you want. They agree.
A short while later Carlijn arrives in the wheelchair. Once in the unit she goes to Niene, where Frans is standing. It’s unbelievable that she had two babies in her belly just a couple of hours ago, and now she’s standing here, so normally. After Niene they go to Guus, and then they can hold both babies, and try to offer the breast. Guus drinks briefly, but Niene is not interested. While Carlijn tries to nurse, I am pumping. Opa and Oma also come and take a look at the babies. They are so proud!
After they’ve been put back in their beds, they are both given the pumped milk via finger feeding. It’s so special that I could do this for them.
I take a few more photos of the placenta, which I hadn’t had time for before, and then I go home. We agree that I will come back later in the week for more photos. The babies need some time to recover, and so do Frans and Carlijn.
At 18:00 I walk out of the hospital, less than 5 hours after walking in. The only reason I can believe it, is because I was there!
Compliments must go to ADRZ, for respecting the parents wishes, and for everyone who made this beautiful birth possible.
One week later I return to the hospital. By coincidence, this is the day one which they are told that Guus and Niene can move to open cribs. They are progressing at great speed! They both nurse for short periods every day, and thanks to the efforts made by Carlijn, and Frans’s wonderful cooking, the breastfeeding is going well. I take photos of them all together, and of the moment they get to dress their babies for the first time. Now they just have to wait until they are allowed to go home.
Dear Frans and Carlijn, thank you for letting me be a part of this beautiful, free birth. Thank you for showing how it can be done, and how trusting your body can result in such a beautiful conclusion. Enjoy your beautiful babies. Luckily I live around the corner and can come and look in on them now and then. ♥