The Expatish Mama, Heather, tells her story of IVF to mamahood. Including a cautionary tale on the effects of prune juice during birth… Not for the faint-hearted.

My name is Heather, I’m 39 years old (but I have the elbows and knees of a teenager) and I live in Amstelveen with my (very) Dutch boyfriend and our daughter.

Let me start at the beginning… I met my man when I was 36 and convinced him that we should start a family. We tried for six months and nothing happened, so I went to my huisarts (doctor). She told me that it was their policy to only investigate after 12 months of trying to conceive. Yet, I knew something was wrong, that my hormones were changing. I had to take some action. So I promptly changed doctors, told my new doctor that we had been trying to conceive for 12 months and she referred us to the VU hospital.

After many tests for both of us and a fortune spent on pregnancy tests, it was found that the lining of my womb didn’t build up during my monthly cycle and I was promptly put on hormones.

Well…screaming banshee? Hysterical woman? Weeping nutcase? All were very appropriate terms to describe the affect the hormones had on me. My poor man. And of course during all this bonkers time we were supposed to be having sex like rabbits!

After an awful lot of false hope and tears, it was decided that the only way forward was to have I.V.F. So we went on the waiting list. Say what you like about the Dutch health system, but the fact that we could have 3 attempts on our insurance was a weight off our minds. It was coming up to Christmas so we decided to relax and enjoy ourselves. I threw away the vaginal temperature charts (oh so glamorous), took a break from counting my fertile days and got drunk!

Wait, let me explain… I had been constantly reading about which foods and drinks would promote fertility. I also bought a cervix-relaxing crystal (no, I’m not joking), prayed, chanted and tried every other radical remedy I could get hold of. It didn’t leave much time for enjoying myself so, of course, I hadn’t been drinking very much, if anything, at all. Which is a pretty massive sacrifice for a working-class British girl!

Off I went to my man’s office Christmas party and I left feeling very ‘relaxed’. So much so, that I fell asleep in the taxi home. I went to see my family in the UK and became even more ‘relaxed’. Wow, I really ‘relaxed’ on New Years Eve…

But the whole time, in the back of my mind, I knew my period was late. I put this down to the hormones I had been taking. I had done so many pregnancy tests and cried so many times at the negative result that I simply couldn’t face going through it again. I ignored the nagging in the back of my head, tried to do everything I could not to think about it, so I wouldn’t have my heart ripped out again. But I just couldn’t put it off any longer.

So on the 1st January 2011, I waited for my man to go out (I hadn’t told him my period was late) and did the test. Blooming Nora, it was positive! I actually fell off the toilet seat, gasping. I kept putting the test back in its box and pulling it out again, to see if it would change. I called my man, who fell off his bike.

For the first couple of weeks I couldn’t believe it. Then I started to feel sick and it became real. I felt my baby move for the first time whilst watching a film at the cinema, and it was amazing. Hearing her heartbeat for the first time was, quite simply, stunning.

By the way, my top ‘don’t’ when building a relationship with your midwife… Don’t, when she says ‘congratulations on your pregnancy’, reply “and congratulations on yours”… because she just might reply “actually, I had my baby six months ago.”

I dragged the man along to birth preparations classes, which he hated. They were a bit of an experience. Very, hmmm, ‘organic’. But I did come away feeling far less frightened about giving birth than when I started. I had this vision of myself striding into the hospital, looking beautiful with my swollen belly and breasts and waving my birth plan. I would then rock a few times on my yoga ball and serenely and, without pain medication, squeeze out my baby. I have a vivid imagination, right?

My contractions began at 3am. They were very mild and I thought, “I can do this, it’s a doddle!” I woke the man at 6am and called the midwife. I was a little surprised to hear irritation in her voice as we’d woken her up. Maybe the fact that we’d also woken her baby had something to do with it. She told us to call back when the contractions were five minutes apart.

As our birth preparation lady had said that we must keep upward, forward and mobile during labor, I went for a walk to Albert Heijn and squatted next to the fruit and vegetable section whenever I had a contraction. The staff still give me funny looks when I go in now… 

At this point, I feel like I should mention prune juice… I was unreasonably concerned about going to the toilet after the birth as I had this idea that it would be terribly painful, especially if I had stitches. So when my contractions started, I opened a bottle of laxative prune juice.

The midwife came around 3pm. I was 3 centimeters dilated. She said she would come back at 7pm. So I rocked on my yoga ball and continued to walk around the neighborhood, squatting and grimacing with the contractions. The midwife came back and as I hadn’t dilated any further, she decided we should go to hospital and go on a drip, to see if that would move things along. When we left the house at 9pm, I had finished the bottle of prune juice…

We got comfy in the hospital. I went on the drip and waited. The contractions began to get really heavy and I asked for advice on whether or not to have an epidural. In typical Dutch fashion, I was told if I wanted an epidural it had to be done NOW! as the doctor who does them wanted to go home!

In the end I had remifentanil through a self-administered pump. It was fabulous. I told everyone that they were delightfully attractive and that I loved them. I started to fall asleep and only woke to have the contractions. But then, the prune juice started to take effect. Big time!

My sweet, squeamish, totally non-medical man had to deal with the most terrible, terrible diarrhea! Then I began to vomit, which is a side effect of remifentinal. During all of this we were left alone as there was a fairly intensive labor going on in the room next door. So the man was running around trying to find sick bags, bed pans, plastic bags or even the odd cup to try to stem the flow!

Eventually, slowly, all the drama stopped and we settled back into snoozing and waking for contractions. At around 5 am, I could feel something distinctly pleasurable happening and said to the man that I thought I wanted to push. By this time I was tired and fed up and wanted it all to be over, so when the two midwives came in I told them to grab my legs, I was getting this baby out!

And out she came. It wasn’t painful, I only had one small stitch. Unfortunately I don’t think that one of the midwives will be welcoming me back. As she was going to stitch me up, I asked “you will use anesthetic, wont you?” She replied that there wasn’t any point as putting in the anesthetic would be as painful as doing that one stitch. But as a gut reaction, when she put the needle in, I took a swing at her and narrowly missed giving her a black eye. It was a knee jerk reaction. Honest! 

I now have my beautiful, awe-inspiring, grumpy, amazing daughter. She has a deeply powerful character, though I can’t for a minute think where she got that from! We are now on the most challenging, tiring, fun and rewarding journey. And I am thankful every day for our daughter.

photo credit: David Verdugo via Flickr cc

Heather McParland

Heather McParland is the Expatish Mama, living in the Netherlands so long and with a Dutch partner, she's really only a little bit expat now!