Queens Day - the biggest party of the year in The Netherlands and the day when the city of Amsterdam goes crazy. Not an ideal time to go into labour then...
Hi, my name is Ruth and I had a home birth. Before you start thinking of me as a granola-eating, placenta saving hippie, please know this was not part of The Plan. Being an American and a first-time mom, the idea of a home birth was more than a little crazy to me.
I had heard the statistics that 30% of women in the Netherlands give birth at home, but I was concerned about something going wrong and not having emergency assistance ready. I did like the idea of trying for a birth without pain relief though, so we decided that the birth center at Sint Lucas Andreas hospital would be the best option for us.
So how did we end up staying home?
Well, my son was due the 5th of May. When the technician stated that due date at our ultrasound, the first thing out of my husband’s mouth was “What if he’s born on Queen’s Day?!” At that time, we lived on the Singel canal near the Jordaan. It’s the craziest part of Amsterdam during Queen’s Day. The streets and canals are packed shoulder to shoulder with revelers. What could we do but hope for the best?
The morning of Queen's Day my mom and I walked around the Jordaan before the crowds were out. She had only arrived the day before. I woke up that day feeling like things were different, but I wasn’t going to read too much into it since I had already been having some Braxton Hicks earlier that week. We had planned to spend Queen’s Day at home, but I didn’t want to miss out on the festivities. So we invited many of our friends to stop by our place for drinks and snacks. While 25 people were partying in our little 3rd floor apartment, I started having light contractions! Our friends left around 3 pm and by 4 pm I was having regular contractions that I could time.
At 7:30 pm my husband thought we should call the midwife. “No way!” I said. “I don’t want to be that person who calls too early.” I had been steeling myself for a lengthy labor, so I figured I still had a long way to go. Besides, my water hadn’t broke and the contractions didn’t quite meet their guidelines of when to call. My husband persisted and rang the midwife on call (which happened to be the only male midwife in all of Holland!) and the midwife said he’d come by just to check in. He got there at 8:15 pm and I was dilated 4 cm. The midwife encouraged us saying we’d have a baby in our arms by tomorrow morning. My water then broke and I went to 6cm in one contraction. By 8:40 pm it seemed like things were happening at high-speed. The contractions were almost impossible to breathe through. The midwife said that if I wanted to give birth in the birth center then we needed to leave right then.
By this time, I was laying on our bed. I started to have doubts about transferring because the contractions were so intense. I could not imagine walking down all our stairs, but I still felt like being at home was crazy talk. My husband went downstairs to discuss our options with the midwife and my mom stayed with me in our bedroom. I had a really difficult contraction and they heard me downstairs. The midwife looked at my husband and said there was no way they should move me. At the same moment, I was telling my mom “there’s no way I can go anywhere!” My husband fully supported the decision, but he did have a momentary pause when the midwife straight away asked my mom to boil some water. It was like living the Little House on the Prairie!
I took a shower while they started to get everything ready for a home birth and I could hardly stand. I felt the need to push so everyone scrambled to get the birth chair set up. The midwife used a hand-held doppler to check the baby’s heartbeat. I pushed for 10 minutes and the midwife guided my beautiful son right up to my chest as he was coming out. How can you describe that feeling?! It was such an amazing moment.
I know 10 minutes is nothing, but that was definitely the most intense, painful 10 minutes of my life. I did tear and had to get 6 stitches, but that was probably due to my son having his hand by his face as he was coming out. The midwife used a local anesthetic to stitch me up afterward.
My son was born at 9 pm, 45 minutes after the midwife arrived. We had taken all these yoga laboring classes and we hardly had the chance to use any of it! The kraamzorg that usually attends home births to assist the midwife didn’t make it until after he was born. So my mom got to act as the midwife’s assistant which was very special.
After he was born, the three of us laid on our bed and there was such an atmosphere of peace. We were completely oblivious to everything outside of that bed. I remember having this completely zen moment as a new family in our quiet room and then hearing the party boats blasting house music outside! Oh yeah, we remembered, it’s Queen’s Day!
People are always concerned about the mess with a home birth, but there wasn’t much. We had the kraampakket from our insurance company, which includes everything needed for a home birth. While my husband and I nuzzled our new son in bed, the midwife and kraamzorg quickly cleaned up.
It was so restful being in our own home. As soon as I put away my pre-conceived (no pun intended) notions of how labor was supposed to be managed, I felt completely safe and comfortable. I definitely was not planning on having a home birth, but it turned out beautifully. And now I couldn’t imagine doing it any other way.
The accompanying picture was designed by Ruth's husband for the birth announcement.