Just breathe | Hello Siep! | Home birth

Geboortefotografie Middelburg

Nearly 4 years ago I photographed the birth of Fien, a beautiful home birth! Since then, Marlous and I have been Facebook friends, and it was there that I read, on 4 March 2017, that she was pregnant again. Wonderful! On the same day Marlous posted another update on Facebook which really touched me very deeply…

Hyperemesis Gravidarum
I quote:
“Pregnant! We’re thrilled, but we haven’t really had the chance to enjoy it yet. I have HG. Not the line of cleaning products, but Hyperemesis Gravidarum. This is extreme nausea and vomiting. Nausea can be a normal part of pregnancy, but with HG it’s so extreme that it can be dangerous for the pregnant woman and her unborn child. I hope that you will take the time to read this, to raise awareness and understanding of this illness.

My pregnancy with Mees was unexpected. So was the nausea and vomiting. And not just in the morning, but the whole day through. I had never heard of HG, and I thought it was just part of pregnancy.  In less than 2 weeks I lost 10kgs because nothing that I ate or drank stayed in. My parents alerted my midwife (I was so badly dehydrated by now that I was hardly responsive) and she sent me straight to the hospital. They tried to put in an IV, but thanks to the extreme dehydration they eventually had to call the thrombosis specialists. I stayed in a single room, received litres of fluids through the IV, and was allowed almost no visitors. I felt so alone, and the days felt endless. After a few days I had recovered enough that I was allowed to go home, thankfully. There the vomiting began again. A short while later I was admitted to hospital again. In the 15th week of pregnancy I began to feel a little better, and by 20 weeks it was over.

The pregnancy with Fien was pretty much the same. Nausea 24/7, lots of vomiting (sometimes 20 times in a day), dehydration, hospital stays. This time they gave me medication. It meant that I vomited less, but it also made me very restless and drowsy. And the nausea did not go away. During the pregnancy with Mees I could spend entire days in bed alone, but now I had a toddler who also wanted attention. And I completely underestimated how hard that would be. I constantly felt guilty about Mees, and Harold, and the babysitter, and my work, and my friends. I felt that I was letting people down on every side. At my lowest point I even wished that I was not pregnant any more. Everything felt like it was under a dark, dark cloud. In this pregnancy, I once again slowly started to feel better from week 17. After the pregnancy, I still felt like my body had so much to recover from. I was exhausted, my immune system was weak, I was unfit, and found busy situations and lots of noise very overwhelming.

After Fien was born, I felt like I could close the pregnancy chapter in my life. We didn’t want to have to go through this hell again. And how would we ever manage it with 2 small children as well? But, something kept niggling. After a lot of discussion, we decided to go for it after all. But not without preparation. I went for therapy to try and lift the dark cloud I associated with the last pregnancy. And we arranged a babysitting schedule in advance with help from grandmothers and some parents from school. And a lot of cooked food was put into the freezer.

At the beginning of January, I did a pregnancy test. It wasn’t really necessary – I had felt a little ill and weak for a couple of days. The test confirmed what we suspected – we were heading down this road for the third time. Friends, family and work were alerted, and a few days later I was lying in bed, in a darkened room. And that is where I still am. The days are incredibly long, but they keep passing by steadily. Every week I see an acupuncturist, and I’ve been taking medications which are usually used for people undergoing chemotherapy, since week 6. Strong stuff, but it helps. I can count the number of times I’ve vomited on one hand! The nausea is still around, and dominates everything. So once again, I am losing weight as I struggle to eat and drink. The required trips out of the house (to the midwife, hospital or acupuncturist) are hell. I take my bucket everywhere I go. Mentally it’s also very hard. I can feel Harold’s exhaustion. He’s taken over the full running of the household, takes the children to and from school and daycare, puts a cooler with food and drinks next to my bed every morning, and still works 40+ hours per week. I can feel the helplessness of the children, when mama once again cannot read to them, for example. I can feel the isolation our family has landed in. I see the cleaning tasks which nobody has time for, and I simply cannot do them. I can only spend my time lying here, and do my best to take care of myself. When at the end of the day I manage to take a shower (sitting on a stool) and get myself downstairs to eat a couple of bites of dinner with the family, then I am ecstatic. I hope that within a few weeks I will be feeling a bit better. However, HG can last the entire pregnancy.

Why do I want more awareness for this condition? Because there are no clear systems and protocols in place for treating it. Because there is so much incomprehension. Doctors, midwives, gynaecologists and nurses – the people with whom you come into contact as a woman with HG – often have their own ideas and guidelines. It’s important to find someone who understands, who doesn’t brush you off/ I got lucky this time, with a good GP, and an understanding gynaecologist. This was not the case during the pregnancies with Mees and Fien. I was told it was psychological (how?), or that eating a piece of dry toast before getting up in the morning would help (getting up? I couldn’t get out of bed the whole day!). There’s also not always understanding from the people around you. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that. 🙂 The bedroom is full of loving post, and I frequently receive messages asking whether there’s anything I need.

What can you do to help someone with HG? Send them a card. Offer to fold the laundry, do some shopping, or cook for the rest of the family. For you it probably doesn’t seem like much, but for them it’s a big deal. ❤️ The charity ZEHG can also use help, if you want to make a donation.

If you got this far, thank you for reading this! Hopefully we’re headed for a better second half of the pregnancy, and we can enjoy it instead of trying to survive it. Because it remains something very special, a little one growing in your belly.” ?

I have so much respect for her. I had no idea that Marlous had HG during her previous pregnancies. I also think it’s very special that they make a considered decision to try and have a third child, while doing as much preparation as possible.

Sick for the entire pregnancy
In June, I bump into Marlous and Harold at the KOW pregnancy fair. I’ve occasionally wondered whether they would want me to photograph this birth, but I can imagine that they’re not even thinking about that yet. I also understand from Marlous that this time things didn’t improve from 20 weeks. It looks like she will be sick for the entire pregnancy. They’ve accepted it, but it is very hard. Not that you can tell from Marlous’s attitude, because she remains resolutely positive! I do carefully let them know that birth shoots are very difficult to combine with my daughter, Liv, at the moment.

Do you want to do it?
And then, in July I receive an email asking whether I can and will do it. I discuss it with Denny and ask whether I can visit them to discuss the options. That’s not a problem and a few days later Liv and I are at their front door. Liv is fascinated by Mees and Fien, and all their toys. I explain the situation to Marlous and Harold: Liv finds it hard to go to sleep, and panics, and I’m the only one who can calm her down. I find it hard to leave when it’s unscheduled, but now that she’s getting bigger it is a little easier. I ask whether, if the situation demands it, Liv and Denny would be able to come to me. And they’re ok with that! I don’t expect that Denny would ever do it, but it’s reassuring enough to me that I agree to take the job. We do arrange a back-up photographer, just in case, but I feel that I want to this and I’ll do everything to make it work!

Mees was born after the due date, and Fien on her due date. Considering Marlous’s health, she’s hoping that this baby (the sex is a surprise) will come earlier, but she doesn’t expect it. Mees is hoping for a boy, Fien is hoping for a girl. Marlous and Harold are hoping that when the baby arrives, it won’t matter to Mees and Fien whether it’s a boy or a girl. 🙂

Marlous does go past 40 weeks again. I realise that I am getting nervous. If labour starts at night I can’t explain anything to Liv. I ask Marlous again to please start labour during the day. 😛 She says she’ll try her best. 😉

It’s time!
On Tuesday 19 September at 14:34, Marlous sends me a message saying that she’s been having contractions for the last hour. I’m in town with Liv, and ask whether she has spoken to the midwife yet. She replies that she’s currently sitting and folding laundry. I cycle straight home to make sure I’m ready to go, and start preparing Liv for the fact that I’ll be leaving to go to work, and that her papa will put her in bed. At 15:02 I receive another message from Marlous. The midwife is on her way, and the contractions are coming every 5 minutes, so it does seem like something is really happening (her words). Harold has gone to fetch the children from the daycare and after school care. I ask whether I should come now. Marlous says that’s fine. Her parents are also there, coincidentally, because they had come over to do a bit of cleaning.

I make a sandwich for myself, and drive to Marlous and Harold. I take the car just in case – you never know whether they may end up transferring to hospital. When I arrive, the midwife is just leaving. She is going to fetch the birthing stool. Marlous is dilated to 4cm, and I receive a message from her saying so, while I’m standing there.

I go inside at 15:30. It’s busy and cozy. The children are bouncing around, granny (Oma) and grandpa (Opa) are there, and Marlous is occasionally breathing through a contraction. Harold jokes, ‘the baby will be here at 18:00, then we can eat and go to bed.’ Marlous asks Harold to take two folding chairs upstairs. I joke that it’s for the audience to sit on.

There are pepernoten (small biscuits eaten around this time of year in the Netherlands) on the table, and Fien and Mees are excited to be photographed with the pepernoten. Marlous asks for counter pressure in her back during a contraction, and there are more than enough people willing to help. Fist Mees, then Fien, then Harold, and even the midwife has a turn. Every contraction brings help from someone else. 🙂

Little doula
Marlous decides to withdraw, and have a shower upstairs. The children settle onto the couch to watch TV with Harold. It’s 15:50 when Marlous goes upstairs. She showers, while her mother is downstairs making tomato soup. After a little while Harold comes and sits nearby, and Mees takes me up to show me the posters in his room. When I go and check on Marlous afterwards, she’s in her room. Harold is with her, and Fien is her little doula. It’s so sweet! It’s now 16:30.

The contractions are getting tougher, although you couldn’t tell by looking at Marlous. She is incredibly calm. If you didn’t know better you’d think that labour would still take hours and hours, but I do know better. 😉 When Fien starts demanding a bit too much attention, I go with her to her bedroom, so that she can show me her beautiful poster too. Marlous says, ‘when the birth is over, I’m going to have a party.’ Not because labour is hard, but to celebrate the end of the nausea. Just before 5pm, Marlous is at 7 or 8cm dilation, and the midwife decides to rupture her membranes. At 16:52 to be exact.

Now it all speeds up. The contractions are very intense. I go and get the grandparents and Fien and Mees from downstairs, so that they don’t miss anything. The midwife readies the birthing stool, where Marlous would like to birth the baby. I ask her whether she thinks I have enough time to fetch something downstairs. She’s hesitant, but thinks there’s time. I run downstairs as fast as I can, and quickly get back into position. Harold is sitting behind Marlous, supporting her. Suddenly, the midwife says, ‘Marry, there’s the head already, do you see it?!’ She is also surprised, and wasn’t sure whether I was back yet. The grandparents are behind me, and Mees decides at the last moment that he wants to hide behind the bedroom door. Fien has a front row seat. She has the very best view of everyone (even better than Harold). She’s sitting to one side, on the bed. While the head presents, and Fien is looking a little worried, Marlous calmly tells her, “Mama is doing fine sweetheart’, and on the next contraction the baby is born! Marlous hasn’t pushed at all, just breathed. “Just Breathe”. It’s 17:18. The baby is a little caught up in the cord, so it’s a bit of a challenge to figure out how Marlous can best pick him up. For Fien it’s love at first sight: the look on her face is priceless. Mees slowly comes out from behind the door, and Oma and Opa are glowing with pride. When Marlous picks up the baby she looks at her mother in disbelief. The baby is here!

And then Mees asks: what is it? I keep my camera focussed on him and I hear Marlous say, “It’s a boy!” Mees starts to cheer! Fien is watching everything carefully. After 2 minutes Mees is brave enough to come closer. He can cut the cord in a little while. He gives his mother a high five, and when the cord has stopped pulsing, he cuts it! Marlous lies in her bed, and everyone comes to admire the baby. He is called Siep. A short while later the placenta is born. Mees and Fien are not impressed.

After that, it’s all just enjoyment. After Siep has spent some time with Marlous, it’s Harold’s turn. Marlous sighs, “I’m so glad it’s over now! The pregnancy! Forever!”

While Siep cuddles with Harold, Fien sits beside him lovingly. She really wanted a girl, but now she suddenly says, “actually I also wanted a boy.” Too cute! She can’t wait until it’s her turn to hold him, so she soon has her turn. It’s a moment I will not forget in a hurry. She is so sweet with her little brother that it moves me to tears. Mees has gone downstairs in the meantime, and quickly comes back up with a piece of paper on which he has written his brother’s name. Siep goes back to Marlous, and quickly finds the breast and knows exactly how to nurse. Opa brings the homemade muffins with whipped cream and ‘muisjes’ upstairs, but bumps into Mees on the stairs. So the muffins come upstairs looking a bit the worse for wear. And Marlous (who did the baking) and Opa (who did the decorating) had done so well with them! Pink (for Fien) muisjes, and blue ones. The damage doesn’t affect the taste though – they’re delicious!

It’s all so relaxed. As if Siep was always there. The midwife checks him, while the whole family watches, and then Harold has to dress him. Fien wants to hold him again, and then it’s Mees’s turn too.

Opa and Oma take Fien and Mees downstairs for a little while. Marlous and Harold enjoy this moment together with Siep, and then Marlous goes for a shower. I take some photos of harols and Siep, and some photos of Siep on his own. Marlous is doing her make up in the bathroom as if nothing has happened. I take some family photos, and clean the placenta a bit to take photos of it. The children now find it interesting. I explain a little about it to them.

And then I end the reportage in a way I’ve never done before: at the table, with the whole family, including mama, enjoying some soup! The postnatal nurse takes the photo. So special!

And, the soup is delicious!

Dear Harold and Marlous, Mees and Fien, what a tough time it has been, and it has demanded so much of you all. How wonderful that Siep is here now. He was born into a loving family, and I wish you so much happiness in the future.

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