Happy! | Birth photography Antwerp | Planned caesarean

 Geboortefotografie Antwerpen

 I’ve known Mandy for some time via mutual friends. Sometimes we’re at the same party, or you hear things about each other because you know the same people. I knew she was pregnant, but I was so pleased when she contacted me in April! We planned in an introductory meeting, but soon had to postpone it because Mandy wasn’t sure how and where she would give birth. She has von Willebrand disease, type 2, a genetic bleeding disorder. So she was referred from Goes to Rotterdam, to see what their options were. There it was quickly determined that a caesarean section would be safest for both mother and baby (because there was also a 50% chance that baby would have the disease). Kenneth, her boyfriend, and Mandy did not have a good feeling about the hospital in Rotterdam, however, so chose to go to the UZA in Antwerp, partly because Kenneth is from Antwerp.

I was busy at that time with getting permission to take photos in the operating theatre in the hospital in Goes, and I nearly had it sorted out, but now that they’d be going to Antwerp I wasn’t sure whether I’d manage to get permission there. Belgium is a lot ‘stricter’ than the Netherlands, and even here, on familiar territory, I’d had to move heaven and earth to get permission. But, as Mandy wrote to me: “I often get my way, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get it right.” In that way we’re very similar, so I promised my complete cooperation.

By now it was summer, and we made an appointment to do a maternity shoot, so that I could meet Kenneth and his two children, Douglas and Roseanne. On the day of the shoot the weather was idyllic, so we took some beautiful photos at sunset. We also took some photos in Happy’s bedroom. The baby’s nickname was Happy: at every scan he was a very busy, active baby, and twice in a row they left the hospital after a scan and immediately heard Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ on the radio, and so baby had a nickname!

Maternity photography

Kenneth was not yet convinced about birth photography, but when he saw the albums, he was sold. It was lovely to now have met him too!

After the maternity shoot, we began the attack to get permission to take photos in the OR. Mandy wrote an official letter to the UZA, and together we made sure it included all the important information. Finally we got them to agree that I could wait in the little room where the baby would be brought after the birth, and I could join Mandy when Kenneth left her side to go with the baby. So we’d take turns. It was a huge achievement that this would be allowed, so I was very happy with this result!

The caesarean section (CS) was planned for 12 September. Mandy and Kenneth had to be at the hospital the evening before, and then they would hear what time the CS would be the next day. In the evening I received a message that the CS was planned for between 8am and 9am, but that they would start with taking bloods etc at 6am. 6am! That’s an unholy time! I send a reply to say that Belgium sure is different to the Netherlands, but then I realize that it’s because of Mandy’s van Willebrand – they have to start early with checking her blood to make sure all the values are where they need to be. Logical! We agree that I’ll be there at 7am.

The next morning I drive to Antwerp in the early morning, and at 6:45 I’m following Mandy’s directions to the room. It’s so quiet in the hospital, apart from the arriving workers. Outside there are roosters crowing (which is very strange so close to a hospital, with no trees to be seen in the direct surroundings), and when I get to the correct corridor, it looks completely deserted.

Mandy is sitting on bed, completely ready to go in her theatre gown, and Kenneth is busy folding up his bed. They haven’t slept a wink all night, and not necessarily because of nerves. The IV has already been placed, and I understand from Mandy that a portion of the medicine, which should make her blood values more ‘normal’, has already been given. The room has been made all cozy and welcoming! There are bunting flags hanging in up, candles on the window ledge, and there’s a lovely ‘plant’ with baby’s name on it. Nobody knows the name yet – and the children are finding that hard to bear – and now the plant is here. It’s really nicely done. Instead of ‘birth sugar’ (which is a traditional gift in Belgium), the visitors will get a four-leafed clover, with a little card from the baby himself! It turns out that Happy’s real name will be Duncan!

Duncan has been living happily in the belly for the last months, known as Happy. The children talk about him often, and he is already part of the family. It will take some time before his name is really Duncan!

Just after I come in, a nurse comes by with the last accessory for Mandy’s theatre outfit – support stockings! She’s ready to party now! 😉 There is apparently one operation before them, but it’s not expected to take too long. That’s the advantage of being scheduled nice and early!

I take one last belly photo, while I still can. She is so beautifully pregnant! I also sneak myself into one of the photos. I happen to have a very appropriate t-shirt on! 😉

At 7am they come and take blood again. The values are checked, and if they’re good then Mandy will be given the epidural. There is a small chance that they won’t be good, and that would mean that Mandy will need to go under full anesthetic, but we’re assuming that won’t be necessary. From the time bloods are taken, we just wait until it’s time to go. We chat, play on our phones, chat a little more, and then the children phone up with FaceTime! It’s a little past 8. They want to know all about Happy, and how things are going with Mandy and Dad. Slowly the nerves start to come now.

In the meantime time ticks by. It’s after 8:30 now, but still nothing…. This makes the nerves worse! You can feel it in the room. It is beautiful to see the chemistry between Kenneth and Mandy. I’m here as a familiar face, but I’m also kind of a stranger, and the fun they have together is infectious! Just one word is enough, and there is so much laughter! I understand completely why these two people are together: it makes you happy just watching them!

We wait and wait and wait. It’s now 9:15, and still nothing. We chat a bit more, watch videos on the mobile phones, and wonder why it’s all taking so long if it was such an ‘easy’ operation before Mandy. Every time Mandy hears footsteps in the corridor she stiffens up in anticipation, but they come closer, and echo away again every time. It’s not for her. By now Mandy’s mother, stepfather and sister have arrived. They couldn’t cope with the waiting at home, and are now in the waiting room here. It is 10:00…

And then, at 10:05 – yes! Someone comes into the room – we can go to the OR! The nerves reach an absolute peak. I get a fake smile from Mandy, and she’s taken out of the room. She gets pushed past her family before she gets to the lift, and when she sees her mom, she has to fight back tears!

At 10:17 we arrive in the “OR Box” (the sign in Dutch says ‘OK Box’). Here we have to wait until it’s Mandy’s turn. Of course she and Kenneth are making jokes about the ‘ ok box’. 🙂 Up until this point I’ve been allowed to join them everywhere without any problems, and I’m wondering how the last bit will be. Kenneth has taken his camera along, just in case, and is also taking photos of everything. The nerves are still palpable in this little room, and Mandy is now given her final OR accessory – a lovely little hat. And she’s being photographed from every angle! 😉 Someone comes to do an intake with her. Double check who she is, and why she’s there, and then it’s time! At 10:25 Mandy goes into the OR. She gets her epidural, and once it’s in Kenneth can join her, and I can wait in the little room next door.

Kenneth and I stay in the ‘OR Box’. Kenneth is still not nervous. A nurse comes along to help us in our scrubs. I’m also given a set, and I secretly hope I’m a step closer to being allowed to take photos in the OR. We’ve just discussed it – all 3 of us will keep trying until the very last minute to get permission after all! After Kenneth and I have changed our clothes, we take photos of each other. You have to keep yourself busy somehow! 😛 We’re having fun, and we even take a selfie together! Kenneth sends everyone an update, and then the doors open!

We think we can go in, but no – they’re bringing Mandy back! Huh?! It’s 10:50.

What’s happened is this: she’s had to wait so long for her turn, that now the blood values are no longer what they need to be! Sigh…. they have to start her medicine again, take bloods again, get them checked by the lab, and if they’re ok, then she can return to the OR. So once again, we wait…. The nerves have been left behind in the OR though, and everyone is in a good mood! Kenneth and Mandy are having loads of fun again, and when she comes back from the toilet with her ‘handbag’ (the IV), she puts on some music just for fun. 🙂 Kenneth changes the sign from ‘OK Box’ to OK Box?’ and everyone is having fun! I’ve said it before, but it’s truly a pleasure to be here with these two people. We wait, and wait, and wait. FINALLY they come in at 13:15. Kenneth and I stay behind again, but this time Mandy doesn’t come back. This time we’re fetched.

Kenneth can join Mandy immediately, but I have to wait in the little room. I ask one more time if I can join them in the OR, and the midwife says she’ll do her best. A little while later she comes back and says that when it’s time for the baby to actually be born, I can come in and take photos! Yes! Things move quickly after that, and before I know it, I can go into the OR. I hear Kenneth say to Mandy, “Marry’s here too” and I see Mandy giving me a relieved look. Everyone is very friendly, and I have a lovely clear view of Happy/ Duncan being born! I see him before they do, and he is beautiful!

They show him to Mandy and Kenneth briefly, and from that moment onwards Mandy has an ear-to-ear grin. He needs to be taken to the little room next door to be checked over, and once that’s done he can stay with Mandy while she’s stitched up. Kenneth goes with him, and just keeps saying how much he looks like his brother, Douglas! He just can’t get over the similarity. The pediatrician checks Duncan thoroughly, and gives him a nod of approval. 🙂 He also shows us how Duncan lay curled up in the belly – amazing!

Then Duncan is taken back to Mandy, and he’s allowed to lie with her, skin-to-skin. Wonderful! As anxious as Kenneth was at first in the OR – he’s that relaxed now. He’s even watching how they’re stitching up Mandy’s belly. And oh, oh, oh, Duncan has the loveliest, kissiest lips!

At 14:45 we need to leave Mandy for a little while, unfortunately. She needs to recover until she can feel her legs again, and then she can come back upstairs. Duncan can now spend some skin-to-skin time with his daddy.

When we leave the OR, Mandy’s stepfather is waiting for us. He’s so proud! He can have a good look, but the rest of the visitors have to wait until Mandy is back – she doesn’t want to miss that moment. Luckily she’s not gone for too long, and at 15:25 she’s back in the room. She’s still grinning! From that moment on, it’s all just one big party! Because Duncan was already looking for food, he’s immediately given a bottle, and he drinks it all in one go! Then it’s finally time for the visitors who have been waiting for hours! They’re so excited!

The big brother and sister are so happy! They like the name Duncan, but do have to get used to it. For now he’s still Happy. 🙂 When all the ooohing and aaahing is over, the visitors return to the corridor. Duncan is weighed and measured, and dressed, and then everyone can come back. Kenneth pours champagne for everyone, and there’s a lot of chatting! Until at some point it really is enough.

I take a few more nice photos of Duncan and his family together, and then I head home. What a lovely, happy day this was!

Dear Mandy, Kenneth, Douglas and Roseanne: enjoy your little miracle!

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Unfortunately Mandy had to go back to the hospital due to an infection, but in the end she came with Duncan to the studio and he did great! Look at those gorgeous lips! You just want to kiss them!