The Birth of my niece!! | Birth photography the Netherlands

Birthphotography the Netherlands

This is a birth story with an extra something special, because it’s about the birth of my own niece – the daughter of my brother Floran, and his girlfriend Sarina. I was there as more than just a photographer. Sarina also asked me to be her doula. In other words, I would support her during the birth. As a photographer I document what happens during a birth; I’m not a part of it. But this time it was different…

Let me start at the beginning… I come from a family of 3 children. I am the oldest (I’m now 34), then my sister Anne (she’s 33), and our little brother Floran (who is 28). Our wonderful mother passed away 3 years ago in August, due to a brain tumor. She was far too young, at just 57 years old. Since then I’ve had an extra appreciation for that moment when grandparents come in to admire their new grandchild, and often find myself wiping away a tear.

Last summer I was doing a photo shoot on the beach, and when I got back to the car I had 5 missed calls from my brother. I was worried, because I thought something might have happened to our father. I phoned back immediately, and my indignant brother said, “You always answer your phone!” I replied, “I was on the beach. I didn’t hear it. What’s going on?!” And then he said it: “I’m going to be a father, Sarina is pregnant!” It was completely unexpected, although I knew that Sarina had a strong desire to be a mother. I also knew that Floran was planning to surprise her in the winter (I was part of the surprise, since I had to take a photo for it) by telling her that he really wanted to be a father. But now she was pregnant, even though she was on the pill, and when she went for the first ultra sound she was found to be 10 weeks pregnant already! It was so exciting! My father would be a grandfather for the first time, and Anne and I would be aunts!

My gift to them was obvious: if they wanted me to, I would do the maternity, birth and newborn photo shoots, with love. And they definitely wanted that… wonderful, and exciting!

Sarina is a no-nonsense person. She didn’t go to pregnancy gym, because she didn’t feel she had any need for it, and towards the end of her pregnancy she decided she would give birth at home. Without a fuss. That’s how her whole pregnancy was. She didn’t complain about anything, and right until the end of her pregnancy she put her shoes on and took them off by herself! 🙂 Every time we talked about the birth she would say “You will get me through it, Marry.” As well as being a photographer, I can also be a doula, but being a doula for someone so close to me felt like an enormous responsibility.

Sarina had a lovely, large baby belly, so we did the maternity session at 33 weeks, at their home. No fuss, ‘just some lovely photos,’ as Sarina said. We definitely achieved that!


The estimated due date was 11 April and my mother’s birthday was on the 17th of April, so we thought maybe the little one would be born on that day and that would be very special. I was very worried that I would miss it due to being at another birth. So if I had a choice, then I wanted the baby to come a little early and be a bit of a ‘surprise’ so that I wouldn’t have too much time to be nervous about it! 🙂

At one of Sarina’s last checkups with the midwife, at 38 weeks, they discovered that their little girl had not yet descended into mom’s pelvis. They were told that they could safely assume baby wouldn’t come before around 41 weeks. They were also told that it was important that the baby should drop down as soon as possible, because if Sarina’s waters broke there was a risk of umbilical cord prolapse. They had to come back on the 7th of April. If the baby hadn’t dropped by then, they would be sent to the gynecologist to check whether anything was blocking the way out (or the way in, depending on how you view it). So Sarina did everything you can think of to get that baby to descend – walking up and down stairs, long walks outside, eating pineapple, cuddling with Floran 😉 – anything and everything! Late on Saturday night/ early Sunday morning she woke up with cramps and thought that perhaps labor was starting, but they went away. On Monday 7 April they went back for their check and their little girl had descended perfectly! Yay! Because the midwife had said that they would probably only have the baby at 41 weeks, I started thinking about April 17th again, but things didn’t go that way…

On Wednesday 9 April, at 6am, my telephone rings. I grab it sleepily and see that it’s my brother. All of a sudden I’m wide-awake! He thinks it’s started, as Sarina has been having contractions since 3 o’clock this morning. He didn’t call me immediately, since it didn’t look so serious in the beginning, but the contractions are getting stronger and stronger now. I ask whether he’s phoned the midwife yet, but he hasn’t. They’re not sure whether that’s necessary yet. Suddenly I hear Sarina having a contraction in the background and I can hear it immediately: this is it! I tell Floran: “Phone the midwife, because it’s started! I’m on my way!” I do a little dance beside my bed. I’m completely hyper and I call to Denny (my boyfriend) while I jump from one leg to the other: I’m going to be an aunt! I’m going to be an aunt! I’m looking forward to it so much!

I take a quick shower, eat a speedy breakfast and make my way to Oost-Souburg. I get there at 7am. The contractions are regular, but they’re still manageable. Sarina says that if it stays like this, she’ll cope just fine. All women say that in the first few hours, but it does get a lot more painful….. maybe it’s a good thing that you don’t know that beforehand! Just after I arrive, Sarina’s mother arrives. She’ll be there for the whole birth.

At 7:30 the midwife arrives. Sarina is dilated to 3cm. What a great start! The contractions are getting a bit harder to cope with and I help Sarina with her breathing “In through your nose and little puffs out.” Floran adds his five cents: “Just like at the gym, you have to do little puffs out there too.” He’s so sweet! 🙂 The midwife advises Sarina to lie down in the bath for a little while. Sarina’s mother and Floran start filling the tub and I go and take a look in the nursery. It’s so strange to think that soon my little niece will be lying here. Her little cradle was ours – my brother, my sister and I all slept in it. It’s been completely ‘pimped’ by Floran, Sarina and Wilma from ‘Rok en Rol’ with new fabric and it’s so beautiful. Floran also comes and has a look and sits on the rocking chair. I throw him a cuddly toy and tell him “You can practice a bit”. Soon the cuddly toy will be his little girl.

 At 8:10, Sarina gets into the bath and Floran phones my sister and my father to tell them to stay nearby today. I know how hard it is when you know that labor has begun and you’re not there. The hours drag by so slowly! But they both really wanted to know. Floran is now lying on the bed and is looking at cars on the internet. Men are so different… I go and check on Sarina and ask her how she is. Her answer is, “This won’t become a hobby of mine!”. Well, no, would anyone call it a hobby?

At 9:15 Sarina gets out of the bath and not long afterwards she feels like she needs to throw up. The contractions are very strong and it seems like things are moving along quickly. Although she goes to the toilet to throw up, nothing comes out, so back to bed she goes. They’re lying there together now and Floran is no longer looking at cars, because Sarina is squeezing both his hands very hard! Floran is also dozing off between contractions. He hasn’t slept much and is having trouble keeping his eyes open. But sleeping isn’t going to happen, because when Sarina has a contraction, he definitely wakes up! 🙂

The midwife is back at 11 o’clock. She checks on how Sarina is doing and you can see that it’s definitely getting harder for her and she looks like she may need to push soon. I ask the midwife if she sees that too and she says she does. She just can’t really imagine it, since first babies almost never come so quickly. When she checks, Sarina is dilated to 4cm. Oh no, how disappointing. I’m immediately worried that baby is posterior, a star gazer. When babies look upwards, the contractions are always stronger and more painful, since baby is not lying in the ideal position. I share my concerns with the midwife. She tries to feel baby’s position, but isn’t confident enough to say for sure how the baby is lying. It’s too difficult to determine. She offers to break Sarina’s waters to try and speed up the process a little. Sarina doens’t even have to think about and calls, “Yes! Do it!”

After the water is broken the contractions get even stronger. Sarina is struggling and her mother is also finding it very difficult to see. It’s not easy to see your daughter in so much pain. The midwife suggests a shower and Sarina and Floran go the shower together. At 12:15 they come out of the shower. The contractions are now so strong that her whole body reacts to them. It’s getting harder and harder. I’m taking fewer photos and trying to help Sarina concentrate on her breathing and letting her squeeze my hand tightly. Every now and then I swap with her mother, so that I can also take some photos. I would almost forget otherwise! 🙂 There is no chatting in between contractions any more and you can see that everyone is finding it difficult. Sarina’s mother has got bright red cheeks and Floran has a worried look in his eyes. I don’t find it easy either, because it feels so silly to be sitting here telling her what to do, while I’m standing here with no pain, taking a few photos. Sarina’s eyes keep rolling back into her head, but she never asks for any kind of pain relief, or mentions going to the hospital. She’s clearly in great pain, but she’s not complaining about it, it’s unbelievable. I hope that the next check will show that she’s further dilated and that I can worry less about baby being sunny side up.

At one point Sarina is squeezing Floran so hard, that he has to smile, simply because there’s so much power in the squeeze (he’ll have bruises later to prove it), but even though she’s in pain and doesn’t seem to be ‘with it’, Sarina sees the smile and says ‘You’re not allowed to smile!” He immediately feels guilty. 🙂

The midwife is due to come back at 14:30, but at 14:00 Sarina says she needs to push, so I call and ask whether she can come back sooner. In the meantime I whisper a quick prayer that Sarina will be 10cm dilated. At 14:19 she gets checked… 8cm. These are all signs of a baby facing upwards. I ask the midwife again whether she can feel how the baby is lying, but she doesn’t know. A posterior baby can turn into the right position, but then the mother needs to change her position as much as possible and Sarina has no energy left to get into any new position. She also needs to puff away the urge to push now and that is so difficult! She doesn’t want to get out of bed and I motivate her to lie on her side for a while, in the hope that it will help. Every now and then I can feel the tears coming and the lump in my throat, because I find it so difficult to keep motivating her to get through contractions and giving her hope while she’s in so much pain. I’m starting to think, “What if the baby is in the wrong position and doesn’t turn and won’t come out?!” Bleh, sometimes it’s not nice to know so much. For me it’s a confirmation that it’s a good thing that I’m not a midwife, because the responsibility and the choices you have to make are too much for me.

All three of us, Floran, Sarina’s mother and I, are doing what we can, but I can see that Floran and Sarina’s mother are finding it more and more difficult. At 15:00 Sarina throws up. I hope it’s a good sign, because it often happens when you’re close to complete dilation. Soon after that, Sarina suddenly says, “Where’s that woman now? I need to push!” This is first time she’s said anything mean during her labor and I think it’s a good sign. She really needs to push! I fetch “that woman” (she’s a sweetheart and Sarina thinks so too, but not right at that moment, haha!) from downstairs, where she’d gone to sit because there were too many people in the room. At 15:24 she checks Sarina again: 10cm dilated, hallelujah! The baby is still very high up though, so her advice is to start with passive pushing. This means giving in to the urge to push, but not yet actively grabbing your legs and pushing hard. Actively pushing costs a lot of energy and if the baby is still so high up, it’s better to conserve that energy and push passively until the baby is lower down the birth canal. Come on, Sarina! You can do it! Floran is pushing his fist into her back, because this can help ease the pain. Initially he’s afraid of hurting her because he’s pushing so hard, but she doesn’t even seem to notice it. She pushes passively on the bed for 20 minutes and at 16:10, she can start pushing actively. To get a little help from gravity, Sarina moves onto the birthing stool. She pushes with everything she’s got, but is struggling to get baby moving. She asks, “Can you see anything yet?” and when the midwife answers that she can’t see anything, but that the baby is moving downwards millimeter by millimeter, Sarina is very demotivated. For the first time she says, “I don’t know if I can do this, if I can keep it up.” Oh sweetheart, I understand so well. You’re working so hard and there seems to be so little result, but you’re not doing it for nothing! At 16:45 she gets back onto the bed and continues to push passively for a while, since it’s costing her too much energy for too little result. At this moment the atmosphere has changed. Jolanda, the post-natal carer from Embrasse Kraamzorg has arrived too. I see Floran and Sarina’s mother go into the hall. They’re both finding it very hard. Luckily Jolanda encourages them and I encourage myself too. We’ve gotten so far and we’re going to succeed! I see Sarina look at the midwife a few times and her look says ‘Do something,” and I get the feeling that she thinks that midwife can, or must, do something. So I say out loud that there’s not much a midwife can do at this point, she can’t stare the baby out, unfortunately. Because the baby is doing well, there’s not need to intervene, but if that does become necessary, then the hospital would be the only option. This is the moment that Floran asks about their options and the midwife says that she thinks the baby can be born at home and would like to try for a little longer. Then, if it’s still not happening, they’ll head for the hospital. These words encourage me and I ask whether there’s a different position we could use, to give that extra boost (or to help baby get into the right position to be born). She suggests ‘hands and knees’. It takes a lot of effort to get Sarina onto her hands and knees, because she really doesn’t want to move any more, but she does it! The next few ‘pushing’ contractions are dealt with in this position and she pushes with them where she feels she can. I completely forget to take photos at this point and just sit on the ground and puff with Sarina, encourage her and get her from one contraction to the next.

At 17:00 the midwife asks her to push actively one last time and if it doesn’t work, then we’ll transfer to the hospital. I tell Sarina, “Open your eyes and look at me.” She looks at me with tired, suffering eyes. I swallow my own tears away and say, “You’ve come so far, you’ve done so fantastically well and you can do this last little bit! You don’t want to go to the hospital. You want to have your daughter here, in this house, in this bed. With the next contraction, give it everything and show us that you can do it. You can do it, really!” With the next contraction she lies down and I don’t know where she gets the energy from, but she pushes like never before and yes – we see hair!! We’re all ecstatic and the atmosphere changes dramatically once again. Come on Sarina, you can do it!! My brother is all nerves and has no idea what to say. I hear him say “Put your chest on your chin” hahaha! He can also see the hair now and has a smile on his face. Sarina’s mother looks like she’s forgetting to breathe and I’ve picked up my camera once again.

At 17:32 we can see the head and 8 minutes later, at 17:40, she is finally born!! Floran is smiling from ear to ear, Sarina’s mother is crying uncontrollably and Sarina is infatuated with the baby at her breast. She’s here, she’s finally here!

What a beautiful moment. <3

They name her Jazlyn Izaira and they are both so proud! I thought that my tears would flow, but right now I’m alright (although they do flow as I write this!). I’m simply so proud. Jazlyn does well from the start, has not had any trouble with labor and birth and looks into the world with clear eyes. She’s soon searching for the breast and Jolanda helps to get her to latch on. She needs to practice a bit, but she’ll manage it fine. She’s so sweet! And so small! <3 I’m interested to hear what she weighs.

During the whole process I’ve been keeping my father and sister updated (it felt like I constantly had my telephone in my hands) and now I almost forget to let them know that she’s here! Floran goes to phone them. Then he comes back and says, “I want to hold her now.” and he picks Jazlyn up from where she was lying with Sarina. So lovely to see! Most new fathers hardly dare to touch their baby in the beginning and usually the carer has to help and give them the child, but not Floran! He can do it himself! A born father, I can see that immediately (and I’m not just saying that because he’s my brother 😉 )! It’s so beautiful to see them lying together in the bed. They did so well and I’m a very proud aunt!

 While Sarina is being stitched (which she found worse than the entire labor and birth and My women would agree with her), Jazlyn has a cuddle with her grandmother. Then she’s weighed and checked. She weighs 3050g and really is a little thing. After the checks Floran dresses her and he doesn’t have to be shown how to do this either. 🙂 Sarina has a shower and Floran goes and sits on the rocking chair with Jazlyn. Incredible to think that a few hours ago he was sat there with just a cuddly toy in his arms…

When I get back into the room, the TV is on. I don’t understand who would want to watch TV at a time like this, but I leave it. Later I understand from my brother that someone bumped the button and turned it on by mistake. When Sarina has showered, Anne, her boyfriend Joram and my father and his girlfriend Leona arrive (with the TV still on in the background, haha). My sister comes in first, with a smile from ear to ear and can hold Jazlyn straight away. Then it’s my father’s turn and I have to wipe away a tear. It’s a pity that my mother isn’t there, but I’m so glad that he can share this moment with Leona! Finally I put my camera on the right settings and ask Joram to take a photo of me, Floran and Anne and another of me and Jazlyn. So there’s also a photo of me with my niece!

 It’s so difficult to go, but I have to leave this little family at some point. Dear Sarina and Floran, it was so special to be there and I’ll be taking many more photos of my sweet niece in the future!

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5 dagen later ging ik terug voor de newbornshoot. Ik had me geen beter model kunnen wensen. Dat belooft nog wat voor de toekomst 🙂