An international miracle | Birth photography Rotterdam (and a little Uganda)

Geboortereportage rotterdam2

In May I have contact with Michaela for the first time and on the introduction forms she writes: My partner is Ugandan and lives in Uganda. Hopefully he will have a 3-month visa to be in the Netherlands for the birth.

Many years ago I had a relationship with someone who lived overseas and in that period I participated in an online forum for women with international partners. I know how the Dutch system works and how difficult is can be to get the father of the baby here, even if it is just temporarily and for the birth of his child. It’s unimaginable to have to give birth alone just because the Dutch government refused to grant a visa…. So her story immediately touches me and I write back that she’s welcome to come and chat about what the possibilities would be. She writes that if he can’t be there, the photos are of course of even more importance, so that Steven can also ‘experience’ the birth afterwards.

We finally meet each other in June 2014. A lovely, cozy, friendly chat! She tells me that she met Steven when she went to work in Uganda, that they fell in love and fell pregnant shortly afterwards. 🙂 Once they discovered the pregnancy, they decided that it would be better for Michaela to be in the Netherlands during the pregnancy because of the risks, which could be associated with a pregnancy in Uganda. So Michaela came back to the Netherlands and her belly grew and grew while Steven was in Uganda. He really wanted to come here, but his tourist visa had to be approved. Luckily Michaela heard – just one day before our meeting – that his visa was approved! At the beginning of August, Steven will be coming to the Netherlands. Her due date is the 27th of August, so if everything goes well, Steven should be at the birth. What a relief! Steven is also a photographer/ cameraman, so he likes the idea of having a professional photographer at the birth. We already exchange some emails about cameras and lenses!

August is a very busy month and in fact I can’t have another birth in the planning. I tell Michaela honestly that the other births will have priority, but that I will do whatever I can to be at the birth of their baby.

At the beginning of August things get a bit nerve-wracking, because the corrupt officials in Uganda don’t want to let Steven get on the plane! It causes stress, tension, tears and costs money, but finally he succeeds in getting them to let him come here! What a relief and how wonderful that they can be together now! All the tension does cause some Braxton-Hicks contractions and even some more intense ‘practice’ contractions. It briefly looks as though their little girl is going to put in an early appearance, but luckily it’s a false alarm. From the moment that Steven arrives, there is less contact between Michaela and myself but that’s fine. I hope they’re enjoying their time together!

The due date comes and goes. As it often does. Steven’s presence has obviously created calm. 😉 Their little girl is happy in the belly for now. On the 2nd of September I receive a message saying that they’re going to start an induction the next day. We arrange that I’ll be kept up-to-date via What’sApp.

The day dawns and Michaela messages me that she’s nervous, but looking forward to meeting her little girl and is ecstatic that Steven is with her. At 10:22 I receive a message that the balloon has been inserted and now it’s a waiting game (that could last for days). The day creeps past without any news. In the afternoon we speak to each other on the phone. I’m worried that once the contractions start nobody will remember to call me and I could miss the birth. A birth is exciting for any daddy-to-be, but for Steven it’s the first time he’s been out of Uganda, his first time in chilly Holland, his first time at a birth (in Uganda men do not attend births) and he speaks no Dutch (but very good English). I can imagine that he has enough on his mind and may forget to call me. 🙂 Michaela and I recap everything. A friend of hers, Lara, will also be coming to the birth and she can also call me. In the evening there are some contractions, but nothing that turns into established labour.

The next day Michaela’s waters are broken and at 8:00 she’s hooked up to the IV. I send a message saying that I’m ready to go and ask whether they can please also tell the nurses about me, because I’m still so afraid that I’ll be forgotten! I tell her to call me when she’s been having good contractions for at least one hour and I think that’ll be around 11:00 or 12:00. But you never know – it can take longer. It all depends on how quickly they turn the IV up and how the body reacts to it. The last thing I hear at 8:00 is that Michaela will let Lara know and then the waiting begins.

I hear nothing and I’m really worried that in spite of all my preparations, I will be forgotten. I debate: should I start driving anyway? But at the same time there’s a good chance that there’s not much happening yet. I decide to go to the supermarket to get something for lunch and if I haven’t heard anything yet, I’ll start driving after that. I’d rather sit there for hours than miss the birth! While I’m in the supermarket my phone rings and it’s Michaela’s number. I’m relieved that they’ve remembered me! That relief disappears quickly – it’s Lara and I can hear Michaela in the background…. and it doesn’t sound like the contractions have just started… Lara says she’s dilated to 7cm and things are progressing quickly!

I don’t need to hear anything else. I’m on my way! I hang up, give my shopping to Denny and start running. I run all the way home, grab my equipment, which was standing ready and jump into the car. You’re NOT going to tell me I’m going to miss it, after all this?! Luckily the roads are quiet and the journey goes well. Half an hour before I get to Rotterdam, Lara calls to give me the room number. I ask whether Michaela is pushing yet, but Lara says, “It’s not going that fast,” and I’m relieved once again. In general a mother pushes for about an hour to birth a first baby and I don’t have that long to drive, so I should make it in time.

And yet, while I’m driving I make sure that my camera is ready to go. You never know…. When I arrive in Rotterdam the parking garage is completely full. It’s 14:10. I see that I missed a call from Lara at 14:09 and I start rushing again. While I walk as quickly as I can towards the entrance I call her back and once I’m in the lift she answers: “Where are you? Michaela’s pushing!” I’m in the lift! I’ll be there in one minute!” I fly through the corridors, look for the room (the one at the end of the corridor, of course) and step inside! I’m panting, the camera is hanging around my neck, I have 2 bags in my hands and my camera bag on my back and I can hear Michaela crying. I think this is because pushing is hard, but then I realize what I’m looking at.

I stepped into the room at the exact moment that the baby was born! It’s 14:14. I see Lara crying and saying, “She’s just arrived.” Michaela is crying, with a beautiful baby girl in her hands and Steven is staring full of amazement at Michaela and their baby. I drop everything that’s in my hands and start taking photos!

Can you say “perfect timing”?! What a moment to meet Steven for the first time! 🙂 In the meantime, Lara is still crying and Michaela and Steven are just enjoying this moment. Then suddenly Steven looks at me and grins from ear to ear. I feel tears in my own eyes, because it’s just so wonderful that he’s here, that the baby’s here, that it all went well and it’s an extraordinary moment to meet him and his daughter. Her name is Felien. <3 Wow…

So much emotion… such a perfect moment…

Then it’s time for Steven to cut the cord. I can see that he’s very nervous, but he’s going to do it. But first he has to turn the scissors around, because he’s holding them upside down. 🙂 Then he wants to cut far too quickly, out of nervousness, but the intention is that he only cuts the cord, nothing else! 🙂 Michaela says, “Just breathe! It’s your turn to puff now!” Her sense of humour is back! He takes a deep breath and then it’s time! Once he’s cut that cord, the emotional release is huge! He doesn’t quite do a dance, but the scissors are held up in the air and Steven is doing a lot of joyous shouting! It’s not just that he cut the cord, it’s everything: everything that has happened, everything that is going to happen and this little international miracle. What a perfect moment….

Lara can’t stop crying and is standing with a tissue, watching from a distance. Steven gives her a huge hug and shows her that Felien has his hands and fingers. It’s so touching to see how he compares his hands to her tiny hands. She looks so much like him in so many respects, not only her hands!

Slowly I hear the story: that the contractions came quickly and were intense; that Lara immediately took on the role of doula when she came in; that the delivery floor was very busy and so the nurses didn’t think of calling me either; that an epidural was placed, which didn’t work; and that Felien, to everyone’s surprised was literally ejected in just two pushes! Nobody had expected that! What a birth! Felien is very alert and lets everyone know that she’s hungry. They try to get her breastfeeding and in the meantime Steven calls his mother in Uganda. I can hear her ululating in joy through the telephone, as only African women can! She’s so far away! Such a pity that we can’t just grab her through the telephone and pull her to us. Felien has latched perfectly and while Michaela speaks to her mother-in-law, Felien drinks and drinks.

I finally have the time to say a proper hello to Steven and to congratulate him on the birth of his beautiful daughter! As a fellow photographer he’s immediately interested in my camera and because I know he loves taking photos, I offer him one of my cameras and he’s off! I have an assistant!

The ‘beschuit met muisjes’ (traditional Dutch crispbread, with candied aniseed in pink or blue, eaten in celebration of birth) is brought in now. Steven has never eaten this before. I explain to him where the tradition comes from and then he takes a bite. It’s immediately obvious: he doesn’t like it! Hahahaha! He then says, “Do I have to eat this every time a visitor comes and we give it to them?” At first I want to tease him and say that yes, he’ll have to eat it every day for a week, but I don’t. “No, Steven. Just giving it to other people is enough!” 🙂

After Felien has had a long drink from both breasts, she joins her daddy for some lovely skin-to-skin cuddles. Then the midwife comes in to do baby’s checkup. She’s small – she weighs just 3050g. Because she’s a little cool, she’s allowed to go straight back to daddy after her checkup and she falls asleep immediately, with a beautiful cloth from Uganda covering her.

Once her temperature is where it should be, she’s dressed and I take some photos of the whole family. I was a little late, but it was so special to be there and I’m so glad I could take photos of the most important moments!

Dear Michaela and Steven, I wish you all the joy in the world with Felien and I hope that you will all be able to be together forever somewhere in the world!

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