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Exactly 9 weeks ago, our beautiful baby girl Alma Sophia Aoife Maria was born on July 8th at 2.48 am in the loving presence of our wonderful midwife Madelaine and Morla, midwife of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street.
Yes, after months of mental, physical and emotional preparation for a home birth, I had to eventually give in and give birth in the hospital as my blood platelet count was too low and unstable for a home birth. I had tried everything- diet, homeopathy- to increase the blood platelet count and was quite at a loss and confused why it kept dropping and so was Madelaine. But, as we both knew: everything happens for a reason and that reason was revealed to us all 10 hours after an intense, beautiful, even magical and all natural birth without any pain relief whatsoever and with just one single small tear/ stitch.
I was very keen on staying out of the hospital. Also because I was considered a high risk pregnancy due to my age (I turned 44 on June 23rd), which meant an induction if I went 6 days over my due date. That didn’t seem fair to me as I was feeling really good and was very healthy without any serious pregnancy issues. I wanted to be treated as an individual. Furthermore, I missed having one person to confide in, who was there for me as a support during the rest of the pregnancy and who was also medically trained. I was longing for a doula and a midwife in one, whom I could trust completely and who would have my back no matter what throughout the pregnancy and during labour.
And then Madelaine was sent along when we discovered Private Midwives Ireland through a friend. Madelaine has been absolutely wonderful. Her dedication, her service to us, her other clients, and all her expertise and experience as a midwife. But what struck me most about Madelaine is her wise and intuitive nature.
I felt very safe and very seen by Madelaine. She helped me ground here in Ireland (as I just moved in April 10th from The Netherlands), in my body and in all that was going on in the hospital by her presence, her uplifting, empowering words, her honesty and straightforwardness and by her Bach flower remedies.
Once it became clear that a homebirth was not possible we all had to surrender to that fact and even grieve it. My partner and I decided to set up the birthing pool Friday anyway and have a little pool party. I had started to have a show that morning, so the first signs of labour were there.
That night in the pool was amazing. My contractions started spontaneously while we were bathing! It was such an intimate and sacred moment being in the water together, surrounded by candles, looking at the moodboard Madeleine had encouraged me to create and at all the pictures of my female friends with whom I had created a sister circle for the time of delivery. I went to sleep and the contractions subsided somewhat, but came back stronger again the next day. I had a big bloody show, like a clot that Saturday afternoon and Madelaine advised me to go to the hospital to have it checked as she suspected it might be meconium. Again I was being fully assessed and monitored and it took 6 (!) hours. Madelaine was there with us which was a great relief. By the time we were finished it was midnight. The doctor wanted to induce me the next morning and since labour was already well on its way with contractions getting stronger and more frequent anyway we decided to go with that. I didn’t sleep a wink that night because of the contractions and was a bit worried to start labour at the hospital whilst so fatigued, but there was nothing I could do about it. This was it.
We were shown to the ‘induction ward’ at 8 in the morning and there I was, lying with 8 other women on the ward who were all being induced that day divided by just blue curtains. You could literally hear every moan and sigh. By now I knew the drill. A monitor for the baby was put around my belly (the straps were actually Dutch: made by Philips!) and I could see and hear the heartbeat of my baby. I was there for a few good hours breathing through the contractions and vocalizing them with certain sounds and mantras (I am a singer) as I had read in Ina May Gaskins book: a guide to Childbirth. If the mouth is open the uterus mouth opens. It’s the law of the sphincters. I started to become really inward focussed. I entered a different zone. As I was so tired I dozed off into another world it seemed after every contraction. I was very present in the physical experience and yet I was far far away on a different level at the same time. It was unlike anything I had experienced before. My senses heightened greatly. I could hear another woman cry fearfully somewhere on the ward and my compassion went out to her. I would sometimes look at Madelaine who was sitting on a chair in the corner like an anchoring energy looking at me and remember feeling really seen and supported by her shere presence. My partner was mostly beside me and I would sometimes hold or squeeze his hand. At one point the baby’s heart rate dropped quite fast and everybody around me panicked but Madelaine calmly but firmly told me to lie over on my left side and breathe really deep. The heart rate went up immediately and I was able to stay focussed and not panic thanks to Madelaine.
The only induction intervention that was agreed upon was breaking my waters. There was meconium in the amniotic fluid, a second sign that I was meant to give birth in the hospital. The third sign was that I had strepB and had to be given two antibiotic (temporary) IV’s.
Madelaine helped me and my partner to do the right things to keep the labour progressing steadily. So we walked up and down the stairs sideways while my partner was pressing my hips, I took a shower and I ate food even though that was the last thing on my mind. I needed the energy to keep going.
Around 10 pm active labour was established and I was hurried down the corridor in a wheelchair to labour room number 9. It so happened to be the room I had seen during the antenatal class tour of the labour ward and the only room with an ensuite shower. We were warmly welcomed by Morla, our midwife who seemed to have been informed about the birth plan I had carefully written and had even discussed with the Head of Midwifery of the NMH a few weeks before. She respected all my wishes: Madelaine and Tero had the lights dimmed, decorated the room with my moodboard, pictures and ledlit candles and thus created the loving, serene atmosphere that I would have had at home.
I understand now why they call it ‘active’ labour because boy was I active! I was on all fours on a mat on the floor, on the birthing ball, on the birthing stool, pressing against the wall, sitting on the toilet, up on the bed while my partner was pressing my lower back and hips or working some acupressure points on the instruction of Sinead, the other hospital midwife who came in at some point when Morla was taking a break. After 4 hours I was fully dilated and could feel the head crowning. A strange sensation that almost took me by surprise. Madelaine saw and felt that and said exactly the right thing at the right moment to me: ‘’now it’s time to surrender and let go, don’t be afraid of it. She urged me to lie on the bed on my left side, and put a medium sized ball between my legs. I will not forget these words as they helped me give birth to Alma in 4 pushes that were orchestrated by my body. Madelaine encouraged me to reach down and feel the head coming out, it was an amazing feeling. At 2.48 am our little angel was born and put on my bare chest. My partner was crying tears of joy and I was just smiling and feeling euphoric! I was so proud of myself and my body. Madelaine helped Alma latch on for her first breastfeed. We stayed in that room for almost 3 hours. Even though I did not give birth at home, it was a very good and positive experience in the end. I gave birth the way I had imagined and hoped for. I was grateful for the hospital staff and for Madelaine and felt that I had somehow bridged the two worlds in some significant way.
I was transferred to the postnatal ward around 6 am and joined 7 other women and their babies there. Alma was sleeping and I was wide awake feeling so happy and proud. My partner had gone home to sleep as he was not allowed to stay on the ward and returned around 11 am. I noticed that Alma was getting a bit cold and jittery and I tried to feed her, but she did not really latch on or respond so much, she was just very sleepy. Being a first time mom, I did not know what was normal or what to look out for and as I was still high on adrenaline from giving birth, I did not realize something serious was going on. I just knew something was off and I asked the nurse to have a look. She said that Alma was breathing a bit fast and was also a bit cold and that she would take her down to the doctor to get checked. Next thing we knew, she was lying on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, all ‘dressed up’ with tubes and patches and surrounded by beeping sounds of monitors. Oh how a mother and father heart can break. The doctor explained that she had had a dangerously low blood sugar of 0,1 upon admission at NICU and she had to be put immediately on an IV of glucose in order to prevent brain damage. Furthermore her right heart chamber was slightly enlarged and she was breathing too fast, so she was also put on extra oxygen. A tube going into each nostril, secured by two patches on her cheeks, which we later called ‘her angel wings’. We found out that her condition was a rare one, called ‘Hyperinsulinism’, which means an overproduction of insuline, breaking off her sugars. Bloods had to be taken and sent to a special lab in the UK to determine any possible genetic causes. It could also be transient, meaning that she just needed more time to adjust to life outside the womb. She spent 2 weeks on NICU and was then transferred to Crumlin Children’s Hospital where she was put on medication (diazoxide) to which she luckily responded very well. So well that she was discharged after 2 weeks. Now we are home with her since 5 weeks and we are thrilled to say that it was transient and not genetic and that they have weaned her off the medication completely since 1 week! This was very unexpected as usually children with this condition stay on medication for 1 to 2 years before they outgrow it. So we are very grateful and happy! Madelaine has been checking in on us in the hospital and after when we got home with Alma. Giving us mental and emotional support during those challenging times. She helped me greatly with getting Alma properly latched on as she had to learn that again after having had continuous feed through an NG (nosetube). No more pumping and now exclusively breastfeeding, yay!
What a journey it has been, Alma has taught us all a lot. We are very proud of our girl and looking forward to all her other adventures in this thing called life.