With a laugh and a tear | Birth photography the Netherlands

foto's van de bevalling

Getting pregnant when you want is not to be taken for granted. It takes some people years to get to that point. For Elsbeth and Kees it took three years. It was two artificial insemination attempts, one IVF attempt and two ICSI attempts later before they were at that point, the final ICSI attempt had been a success! They were pregnant!

I first met them at the 9 month exhibition and soon after they got in contact with me: we want you at the birth of our baby, we don’t want to miss a moment and we’d really like photos of the birth! Because Elsbeth wanted to give birth at home and given that I had to make a work trip to Rotterdam anyway, we decided to meet at their house in Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht. It was a lovely meeting and I saw two people who were looking forward to the big day with lots of love for each other and for their baby! Elsbeth was a bit worried and was frightened that something might go wrong. You might think that she would prefer to give birth in a hospital, but she really would rather stay home for the birth.

On the 11th of June I get an email from Elsbeth saying that she’s spent a night in hospital. They had gone to the hospital because she was a bit worried that she could hardly feel the baby (this was partly because the placenta was low lying). In the hospital, it turns out that she was regularly getting cramps and contractions and that was why they wanted to keep her in overnight. From that moment she has to take it easy. She and Kees already had the feeling that the baby would be early and now that seems to be more than a hunch.

On the 17th of June they both come to Zeeland for the pregnancy photo shoot. We have a nice afternoon and I get a great photo shoot of a proud Mummy and Daddy! The next time we see each other will probably be when they are having the baby, exciting!

In the weeks that follow Elsbeth keeps me up to date via Whatsaap. It clear every time in the messages that she thinks the baby will be early, but the more time goes by the more afraid she is that she’ll go overdue, or as Elsbeth so amusingly puts it ‘runover’.  The 18th of July is her birthday and she’s hoping for the best present ever, but no, it’s a lovely day, but there’s no baby.

On the 26th of July, on a Friday, Elsbeth sends me another update, she writes: “I hope to give birth to our little one by Monday at the latest. There’s a good chance that the birth will begin this weekend otherwise I’ll be induced.” I’m naturally quite intrigued as to why she thinks there’s a high chance of the birth being this weekend, given that today is only the due date in theory there are another two weeks to go. She writes that she already has 2 to 3cms dilation and that the midwife has said that it probably won’t take long. So that’s that one explained! But why would she be induced on Monday? It turns out that Elsbeth is worrying too much. Because the placenta is at the front, she can’t always feel the baby well and she’s really worried that something will go wrong. Therefore, it’s her wish that they go to the hospital. If she doesn’t give birth this weekend she’ll be induced on Monday. The homebirth is scrapped, but she doesn’t mind. She just wants her baby healthy and in her arms.

All is quiet over the weekend….

On Monday the 29th of July Elsbeth and Kees have to go to the hospital in Zwijndrecht. Kees is going to keep me informed, and when the birth is well under way I’ll head over there too. That morning at 8.30, Elsbeth’s waters are broken and she is already 3 to 4cms dilated! What a start! Shortly after, at 9 o’clock she’s put on a drip to get the contractions going. They do this a slowly as possible to give Elsbeth’s body chance to get used to it and hopefully take over. At 10.15 the contractions start. There are about two or three in every ten minutes. That’s going nicely. Kees writes that everything is going well with Els and that she’s managing the contractions well. Things are going in the right direction! Kees apps me to say that she’s doing really well and that he’s really proud of her. I’m just to allowed to let on that I know that 😉 At 11.45 the doctor comes by and Elsbeth is 5cms dilated. That sounds good, I get in the car. The contractions are getting stronger, Kees writes, but Elsbeth is still laughing!

At 13.15 I get to the hospital in Zwijndrecht. It’s the first time that I’ve been here and it is a small hospital. When I go looking for the signs for the delivery rooms there turns out to be only two of them! How cosy! Elsbeth and Kees are in the first one. When I come into the room Elsbeth is on the bed and Kees is sitting on a chair next to her. In between the contractions, Elsbeth is chattering away, people are making jokes and there’s laughter in the room. I even say to her; “you’re a bit too chatty for somebody who’s about to have a baby, if you really were about too then you wouldn’t have the energy to be so cheerful in between contractions.” Soon after my arrival the midwife comes to do an examination and Elsbeth is already 7cms dilated! Hmmm….perhaps I should take back what I just said, perhaps it will be different for Elsbeth and she’ll go through the whole birth making jokes between contractions…I’m intrigued.

In the next few hours the contractions get stronger. You can see this in Elsbeth and she says so herself. She is really hot and it’s getting harder to get through the contractions. So, at 2pm she gets in the shower to make her feel a bit fresher and to see if the shower helps to get through the contractions. The first one works, but the second one doesn’t really. So, it’s only a short shower and then back to lying in bed. She still has the strength to brush he hair, which she noticed needed doing whilst she was in the shower 🙂 At 3pm she says: “I think I’m nearly there.” I hope she’s right! In the meantime she does really well and she keeps making comments and jokes. Kees says: “I haven’t experienced many births but,…” and before he can finish his sentence Elsbeth says: “this is your first, you twit” :-), Kees just keeps talking “…but you are the best at it.” Sweet.

The midwife is supposed to come back at 15.30 to examine her, but Elsbeth asks if she can come sooner. She can feel pressure and has the feeling that it won’t take long. In the end, it doesn’t make much difference to the time because the midwife comes back at 3.25. She feels, and Elsbeth is 8cms. It’s a disappointment for Elsbeth. It’s getting really tough now, she feels pressure and she really thought she’d be at least 9cms. On top of this she doesn’t know anymore how she should lie, sit or stand, nonetheless the jokes keep coming. When she’s lying on the bed and Kees is standing next to her she can still say, “I’m in a rather interesting position here, honey, ” meaning the view. Hahaha, she’s still going strong 😉

Now she really doesn’t know how to get through the contractions anymore, so she gets in the shower again. She’s is still feeling really hot even though it’s quite cool in the room. But, we don’t have to do anything, she’s putting on a top performance! It’s not surprising you’d get a bit warm from all of that. The hour that follows is really tough. The urge to push gets stronger and Elsbeth doesn’t know what to do with herself. Kees keeps encouraging her and she’s still doing great, only she really doesn’t think so herself. I can see from her body that she’s ready to push, could she have powered through to 10cms in one go?

The midwife comes back at 16.30 but she’s still only 8cms 🙁  It’s not a stargazer is it? You would think that the urge to push is there for a reason. The midwife seems to think the same so she gets the ultra-sound machine, but that shows that the baby is not a stargazer. A full bladder can also stop the last couple of centimetres from progressing, so that’s checked too. The midwife suggests waiting half an hour and if nothing has changed by then then she will discuss things with the doctor. In that half hour Elsbeth is not allowed to push, she has to try to pant through the urge. Personally, I don’t have children yet, but if there’s one thing I can say from what I’ve seen of giving birth it’s that panting through the urge to push is inhumane! Everything in your body tells you to push, your body even does this by itself, but you have to fight against it and try to relax during a contraction. It’s impossible. Elsbeth is not cracking jokes anymore, she’s not chatting between contractions and if she says anything at all it’s that she can’t carry on, that she doesn’t know what to do. Kees doesn’t leave her side for a second and tries to pant through every contraction with her. I see that it’s not going great and decide to get involved. Sometimes it’s good if someone with a bit of distance can speak to you and help. I know for a fact that this is all possible, she’s already come so far and this half hour is crucial, it has to happen now. I say all of this to Els and actually encourage her to get out of bed to let gravity work with her. She doesn’t want to, but she has to…I hope that it works and that she’s not cursing me at the moment…

She gets out of bed and leans either on the bed or on Kees. With every contraction Kees and I pant with her to the same rhythm and count down the half hour. “Come on Els only another quarter of an hour, super Els, this contraction is never coming back, pant, pant, pant, really good, ten more minutes!” This must be the longest half hour of Elsbeth’s life, but I have to say she is doing her best!

At 17.00 the midwife is back. The urge to push has only got stronger, I really hope that what she’s done in the last half an hour has helped…We wait nervously while the midwife feels and yessssss, 10cms! Great stuff!

The head needs to engage a bit more so that means that Elsbeth still can’t actively push, but she can give into the urge to push. The midwife has to pop next door. Unbelievable that in such a small hospital two people would be giving birth at exactly the same time. Elsbeth has to adjust to being able to push and she doesn’t know what to do during a contraction. She starts to panic a bit. So, I put my camera down again and give her clear instructions to try to calm her down. That fact that Kees is there the whole time and is saying sweet things to her really gives her support. She calms down and quarter of an hour later the midwife comes back and she’s allowed to actively push. She does this really well straight away too! It takes a bit of practice and a bit tense, but soon we see a head. She has lots of hair!

Elsbeth listens really well to the midwife and soon the head is born! She has the umbilical cord around her so this unravelled and with the next contractions this baby really gets launched! It’s a weird sight but suddenly she “shoots out”. The midwife can only just catch her! She was lying with both her hands next to her head!

It’s 17.58 and Kees and Elsbeth take a beautiful little girl into their arms, still covered in sebum. She’s very delicate and very alert! She’s gorgeous. The proud Daddy can cut the umbilical cord and after that Elsbeth has to really do her best for a bit longer, but 15 minutes later the placenta arrives too. Kees can’t wait any longer and tries to call his parents…but they don’t answer. Typical J So, he tries Elsbeth’s parents, who are in Norway, and despite being far away, they do answer…And then there’s a flood of emotion, with tears in his eyes he tells of his daughter Lieke’s birth. Straight after this he tries his own parents again and finally he gets them on the line 🙂

Elsbeth wants to keep Lieke next to her for an hour, so she’s weighed quickly and her reflexes are checked and then Lieke can lie snug with her Mummy again.  She stays there for the next hour. Crisp breads with ‘mice’ (aniseed seeds dipped in sugar) are brought in and Elsbeth and Kees make their way through their list, a real hand written list, of people to call. No-one knew the sex of the baby so they ask everyone; “what do you think it is?” Lots of people thought it would be a boy! Elsbeth’s parents are getting the first boat back from Norway, they can’t wait!

Lieke is already beginning to suck and search around so I help Elsbeth to get her to latch on for the first time. She gets the hang of it quickly and straight away spends ten minutes at the breast drinking. <3 Kees sits proudly alongside. After that she can have skin to skin cuddles with Daddy and, once she’s found her fist, she lies calmly with him.

After an hour and a half, Daddy can get her dressed. It always take a bit of practice with such a tiny one but he grasps it pretty quick :-). In the meantime Elsbeth gets in the shower. Once Lieke is dressed and Elsbeth is ready, we move to another room and the first visitors arrive: Kees’s parents are there to admire their 30th (!) grandchild! I make a few more photos of the other visitors and of course another shot of the happy little family and then I go home. Several visitors have got to come quite a distance so that will take a bit longer. I’ll go back soon for a new born photo shoot and then I can meet the other proud grandparents.

Dear Kees and Elsbeth: you have had to wait so long for her and you really can say that she’s a special little miracle. Enjoy your lovely little girl. <3

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