Lara’s Birth Centre Story
Birth and breakfast, a little too literally.
Choosing for a home birth in Belgium is overall not a very supported choice. The majority of woman give birth in hospitals. Mostly with epidural anaesthesia and thinking it’s a very common thing to get an episiotomy. The idea of choosing a home birth or a birth centre is painted off as dangerous and irresponsible. But after informing myself about the knowhow of birth I decided to give birth in a birth centre.
I was followed up regularly by 2 midwives. Sadly, by the time I was due, the midwife I had the best connection with, fell out and was replaced with another midwife whom I simply did not feel comfortable with. I didn’t respond openly about this because I assumed my birth would be guided by the midwife who had followed up my pregnancy from the start. I was 39 weeks and I was sure I had already experienced some contractions (after having 2 kids I am now sure that I did) But the midwives said it was probably just Braxton Hicks contractions. I asked whether there was a possibility I might already have some dilation. Knowing my friends got internal exams every visit during the last few weeks I thought it was a bit strange to not have any internal check-up. The midwife said that if I really wanted to, she would give me a check-up but that it was not really how she worked. Feeling almost ashamed for asking, I dropped the matter. My mom was getting fed up with the incompetence of my midwife and could no longer witness her daughter feeling so insecure, so she called her own midwife and asked if we could come by her practice. At the practice I got an ultrasound and an internal check-up. The midwife told me all looked normal, I had 2 cm dilation and had started getting contractions. By her observation she guessed I would have my little boy by next morning. She offered to have my baby at her practice. Even though I really wanted to, I felt obligated to go back to my former midwives who had followed up my entire pregnancy. I still regret that choice up until today!
By the time I got home my contractions were getting pretty constant and intense. I called my own midwife and she told me to head down to the birthing centre, she mentioned she had a bad toothache. The replacement midwife would take care of my labour and she would join by the time I had to give birth. My boyfriend and I arrived at the birth centre with contractions being 3 mins apart. We had to wait 45 mins before the midwife showed up. I had no idea how to properly cope with the pain and didn’t receive any support on the matter. She offered to get into the bathtub to take some of the pain away. Spending some time in the water surely helped a bit. However, I still didn’t get any guidance as to how to breathe or what position to get in or what to do or not do.
The midwife spent a lot of the time on her phone standing in the back of the room. When my boyfriend (thank god he was there!) mentioned the water was getting cold, she reappeared on the scene. Something was wrong with the heating and freezing water came out of the faucet. Instead of holding the showerhead into the attached shower she just kept adding cold water in the tub. By then I was shivering. My boyfriend took the showerhead out of her hands and ordered the midwife to try and fix hot water elsewhere. She got up and instantly lit all the lights in the room not knowing how to dim them. Again, my boyfriend stepped in to fix dimming the lights. She managed to find a water cooker and boiled some water to heat up the tub temperature.
After a while I asked her if she wanted to check my dilation to see if any progress was made. She wasn’t very keen on doing so because it could be disappointing and not help my motivation. I insisted. I was 6 cm and went back into the tub. By that time the frequency of my contractions had gone down to 15 mins apart and later almost 30 mins apart. I was knackered and fell asleep in the tub with my head resting on the side, she was on her phone again. I woke up because the midwife asked me what I wanted to do since my contractions were almost gone. Of course, I had no idea what to do and completely panicked. I got nauseous and had to use the bathroom and as I did my water broke. After that I instantly went into pushing contractions. I was on all fours experiencing the most primal instinct in pushing down. The only thing my midwife contributed was `No!‘, `Its not good’ and ‘don’t push!’. I was crying and repeatedly begged her to tell me how I should manage not to push. But all she did was repeat not to push.
Luckily a bit later the other midwife entered the practice. She guided the contractions with breathing exercises and instead of repeating how bad I was doing she told me I was doing a great job. About 3 hours later, early morning, I was holding my son! My son and I got cleaned up and we all received breakfast. I envisioned to have stayed in that room the rest of the day. To enjoy my boy and our new family bubble and to make sure all was going well with me and my baby and head home the next day. However, after breakfast the midwives asked me when I was ready to leave because they were tired too. I felt so unwelcome, and we left right away. That was the start of a 2-year postpartum depression. I have long doubted whether the care I got during my first birth was normal or not. Since it was my own choice to go to a birth centre, I felt guilty and responsible for the lack of connection with my son. Today I can say that it wasn’t good care! When I was pregnant of my second child, I went back to my mom’s midwife.
I felt respected, I felt taken care of and supported. Not once did they make me feel embarrassed, all aspects made me feel like it was all normal. They guided me in all my contractions. Telling me how to breathe or not breathe, using hot and cold compresses to ease my pain, using massage on my back, telling me which positions to get into to progress the labour, vocally enforcing me… The midwives made me feel confident and I can say I had a beautiful birth! On top of that I was able to stay in my newborn bubble for as long as I needed. They even recommended to stay until the next day. For such a long time I was afraid to talk about my first birth. I didn’t want to discourage other woman to give birth in a birthing centre or at home. I am still a believer of non-medical settings for birth. But this led me to not share my story. It is a shame that even in a good setting the care can be inadequate. However, I am happy and lucky to have had the beautiful experience I hoped for in the end.
My story shows the importance of speaking up and following any inner feelings. If it doesn’t feel right or makes you feel out of place, speak your mind! Women can’t redo their birth. Too often do we feel like we need to adjust to our surroundings. If any moment in our life our surrounding should adjust to us, it’s when giving birth!
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