Savannah Grace

Expat Home Birth in the Netherlands

This story is much different from my usual travel posts.

Today I am 37 weeks pregnant with our second son which means anytime in the next 5 weeks I can deliver at home. The countdown has official begun and I still haven’t shared my first home birth story! So much has been happening, you can hardly blame me. From June until end of September Tripp, Kees, Mom and I were hopping about the globe and for these past couple of months I’ve been focusing hard on settling down and preparing for our newest traveller to arrive this Christmas. 

This post has been sitting on my desktop for about a year now. It’s hard to believe how fast everything is happening. Tripp has just turned 15 months and continues to surprise me every day, his latest feat is somersaults!

This is an extremely long post so if you want the SUMMARY, this is what I shared on Facebook shortly after Tripp was born August 28, 2017.

“Everyone always starts their first baby posts with how amazing it is, but let me start with the truth, yesterday from 2:00-8:30am were the most horrific hours of my entire life. Giving birth is the WORST thing EVER! Thank gosh it didn’t last a minute longer and it ended with this adorable sweetheart named TRIPP ALEXANDER KLEEF weighing in at 7.4lbs, born IN his amniotic sack (estimated to occur in only one in every 80,000 births !!! Many believe it’s a sign of special destiny and psychic abilities, or good luck) at 8:28am on 8/28/2017. Bright eyed, calm and content from the first second. We are truly blessed.
I am SOOOOOOO happy I was able to have the home birth I imagined! HUGE thank you to Terrie for being the best midwife and friend a girl could imagine, Kees for being my HERO and satisfying my every demand during the most challenging time of my life, Dutch midwife Judith for assisting in a great home birth and Mom who was woken by Terrie at 9cm saying “We’re going to have a baby, do you want to come catch him?” and for going through the same HELL with me 27 years ago!”

I’m not writing this to offend or to prove anything, as I’ve noticed this can actually be quite a touchy subject. So please don’t be offended or think I’m trying to make a point or that one way is right and wrong. And I am in no way AGAINST other choices when it comes to this matter and caesarians are a true medical blessing! What I aspire to do with this is simply share the magic I personally experienced with a home birth, inspire others and perhaps even challenge them to think outside of the box and see things in a different way.

When I first came to Netherlands and learned that home births were entirely normal and even considered “gezellig” (Dutch for cozy) I was shocked. “Out of their minds”, “Cavemen”, “No Way”! all came to mind, especially when I heard that giving birth was fully covered by insurance in The Netherlands EXCEPT if you go to the hospital – unless of course you have a reason to go to the hospital (as if birth wasn’t reason enough!) otherwise you simply stay home. There was zero chance these “backwards” people would convince me to give birth at home. Never! Fat chance. No, no, no. And that was final.

Fast forward nearly a decade and there I am giving my husband a lecture on why he should allow me to give birth to our first child at home. I grumbled at him as he rejected my wishes. “Blood and guts all over our ceiling…No way! Why don’t you just go to the hospital?!” And he’s the Dutch one.

My decision to have a home birth was not made overnight. It was a seed that had been planted many years earlier by Terrie, a Canadian midwife who I’d met on a two-week European road trip. She had just been reunited with her first love from 20 years earlier who happened to be a good family friend of ours and who happened to propose to her on a gondola ride in Venice on that very same trip…but that’s another story for another day.

Hours were spent talking in the car as we drove across France, Germany, Austria and Italy. Terrie inspired me with her endless thread of spectacular and heart-warming home birth stories. We nearly fell over walking the tilted steps within The Leaning Tower of Pisa, dipped our toes in water fountains in Florence, climbed the holy steps of The Vatican, came face-to-face with tombs of popes and yet it was her stories that had me mesmerized.

My deeply ingrained negative connotation of home births shifted after my time spent with Terrie. I was officially converted. Hugging her goodbye in the airport as she headed back home to Canada we whimsically agreed that when/if I had a baby, she would be there to catch.

Seven years later I was standing in the very same airport, highly pregnant, awaiting her return. That night I crawled into our plastic covered bed and my husband Kees said something I’ll never forget. “So you basically just flew in a complete stranger to deliver our baby…”

“What?! No!! I know Terrie! For like seven years. She’s a really close friend.”

“But you’ve been living here for almost ten years. How well could you know her?”

In that moment I realized we’d been almost 100% out of touch; only corresponding a few times since the road trip. He was right. I’d flown a perfect stranger across the world to deliver our baby – not in the safety of a hospital. I couldn’t help but laugh and in a meager attempt to convince him otherwise, “It may look that way… But we are SOUL people.” He gave me that look, where I know he is simply accepting my twisted view on things, before pulling me in for a cuddle.

Amsterdam canal cruises, Dutch villages, dozens of kilometers underfoot, an exciting football match in the Amsterdam Ajax stadium and a short road trip later we needed to extend Terrie’s stay as I was now two weeks overdue! I was feeling great, energetic and positive, even saddened by the idea of the pregnancy ending.

The most panicked I’d felt leading up to the big day was Sunday knowing that I only had until Tuesday before doctors would step in to have me induced in hospital. My dream for a home birth would be over. I spent all of Sunday moping and stressing, as I watched the window of opportunity closing on me.

Monday at 01:00 I woke with sharp pains. Is this it? This must be it. Excitement, curiosity and PAIN shot through me.

Terrie’s number one rule was not to wake my helpers AKA my husband or her until morning if labour started because I needed them to save their strength. I spent the first hour texting my good friend Sandra (you may know her from my first book, “I Grew My Boobs in China”) and my sister-in-law, Anita, with a mix of terrible cursing as they helped time the contractions. By this time Kees had come out to check on me.

“Shouldn’t we wake up Terrie?!”

“No! She said not to. That was rule number one,” I said, stopping him as I rolled in agony already on the couch.

“Okay.” I could hear the panic edging his voice and they started to wear off onto me. “But isn’t that why she’s here?”

My entire life, the idea of birth was terrifying! But as soon as I was pregnant that fear disappeared. I never felt scared during my pregnancy about the inevitable end, curiosity of “how painful” always outweighed any fears. Even now with my second baby on its way, and this time knowing how painful…either women are extremely stupid and/or forgetful or nature and hormones are an incredibly powerful thing.

Around 02:00 I went upstairs and knocked on Terrie’s door. “I’m not sure if I’m breaking rule number one but…it hurts!”

“Oh, girl friend,” she said, smiling with sleepy eyes.

“Am I breaking it? I broke rule number one didn’t I?”

“Yes,” she smiled, so full of love. And joy.

“Are you sure? ‘Cause it hurts like…..*moan*…. hell!”

“Yes. You wouldn’t be talking like this or acting like this if you were close.”

“Ok. You. Just. go…. back to bed then…”

“No way, girl friend. Now I’m too excited to sleep. You’re having a BABY today!”

In the comfort of my home I paced the halls, kneeled by the couch, floated in the bathtub all the while moaning from the pain, each contraction hitting me like a crushing compactor. Despite the pain, I never once felt scared, and even asked myself, “if I could have an epidural, would I do it?” and the answer was still no. There was something about being 100% in control and present yet outside of my body all at the same time that was so magical. Though I’ve never had it myself I suppose its like a “runners high”, I literally got a pain high. I screamed in agony, only somewhat conscious of the fact that neighbours might be hearing this horror film in the middle of the night, as my body was ripped and bent out of shape and my bones cracked and grinded. Okay. Maybe bones didn’t crack, but sure felt like it.

Terrie used her muscles to put pressure on my back as contractions hit even harder near the end. Just when you think you’ve experienced the ultimate, most excruciating pain, yes, it gets WORSE. It was like a blunt sledge hammer wrapped in sand paper was being scraped up and down the inside of my spine. But okay, no words can capture the pain and even now as I sit here 8 months pregnant with round 2 in my belly, I have no idea what I’m getting myself into.

Having not slept well for two days because I’d skipped a night of sleep to watch McGregor vs Mayweather on tv with a group of friends the night/morning before, and contractions started at 1am, my body ached with tiredness before it even began. Terrie kept coaching me, “sleep between contractions”. I don’t know what planet she comes from but two minute naps are not my thing and the pain between contractions never subsided as I’d been told they would.

Laying in the bath I heard Kees say, “Shall we just go to bed” the way he does so casually and comfortingly almost every night. All I wanted was to go to bed (sleep!) so we moved to the bed and I’m so thankful we did because this is where Kees became extraordinarily useful. Holding me tight in a spooning position I had him anaconda squeeze my upper body with every contraction. A huge relief to feel pain somewhere ELSE on my body. This routine helped SO much in grounding me, otherwise I’m sure I would’ve flown off into space. I’m pretty sure his arms ached the next day.

The world around me was a blur as I shouted out demands and kept asking, “How much longer?” Of course I knew this was an impossible question to answer and Terrie consistently responded with, “you’re going to have a baby today.” (Note, this was at around 4 a.m….so I’m thinking I have another 20 hours of this to go!)

I don’t care about the bloody baby. Just make this stop! Of course I didn’t say that, haha but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think it. I’m not sure when, but the Dutch midwife, Judith, who was there throughout the pregnancy arrived a few hours before he arrived, as planned and discussed.

I went into a spiritual trance as I had to search deep within to muster every bit of strength. It was a moment between my baby and me where we so deeply connected. Despite a room full of people we were the only two who existed, and we had to go through this together.

When I was 9cm Terrie asked if I wanted to call Mom, who lives next door, in to witness her first grandchild enter the world. I hadn’t discussed it before but knew Mom would love to be there and at that point I couldn’t have cared less if a marching band came in, as long as that baby came OUT.  Mom was there for the final hour and helped so much. When it came time for the catching, after Terrie had asked both myself and Kees if we would like to (to which we both said NO WAY!), Mom accepted the duty of catching our baby.

With Terrie and Mom busy with catching, this left Judith (Dutch midwife) with her hands free to take photos. Despite Kees feeling like, “Why the heck are we taking photos at a time like THIS?!” I am so grateful to be able to look back at those moments which I was too busy to enjoy. I was left with incredible photos that reignited moments I had forgotten during labour.

Tripp was born at 08:28 on 08/28/2017 after an intense 7.5 hours labour (considerably short for a first time mother) in his amniotic sac (meaning my water never broke and he was born like a puppy), a rarity that only happens in less than 1 in 80,000 births. In superstition, it is considered a sign of good luck and possibly supernatural gifts in many cultures.

He was bright eyed from the moment he was born and though he did briefly cry I don’t recall hearing it. A highly important and normal procedure we had skin-on-skin contact for the first hour, lying in the comfort of my own bed as midwives and kraamzorg (a Dutch in-home caretaker service provided to every mother for the first week after birth) cleaned the surprisingly small mess, made me something to eat and prepared everything for Tripp.

 My heart was born that day. And I met my true soul mate.

I can not thank Terrie enough for what she did for me and for giving me the most beautiful home birth imaginable. She became more than a soul person to me that day. She was an angel.

It took me a good two or three days to overcome the shock and trauma of what I’d been through physically and emotionally and mentally but after that, I only look back with fond memories.

I get such a deep sense of joy knowing that our son was born in the warmth of our own home surrounded by people who love him unconditionally.

The birth of my first son was so magical and could not have been more perfect. As horrific as it was with zero pain relief, now that I’ve done it this way, there is absolutely no other way I would want to do it. And no one else I want by my side. I know not everyone’s goes this way so I feel extremely fortunate and I can not rave enough about the exceptional care given to me in The Netherlands and there is no way I will be having a baby in any other country. I was extra blessed that my grandma came to visit when he was just two weeks old, one of my aunts and uncles visited when he was just a week old and sister Bree came and stayed with us a few months later and Ammon and Sasha visited in the first few months too. Despite being far from my family, it was incredibly heartwarming to have them come all that way to welcome the newest addition. The house was filled with so much love as family and friends and loved ones came for weeks after his birth. Thank gosh breastfeeding worked out for me as it was pretty much the only time I had him to myself with all the visitors coming and going fighting to snuggle him.

For those who WANT to try a natural or even home birth, but are too AFRAID to try, I hope I can inspire them to follow their inner voice. It is YOUR choice as a mother how you want to experience this life changing event, so listen to your body, your heart, your soul and your baby. Your body knows exactly what to do and it’s something to embrace not to fear.

So, tying this into a travel-related article, ultimately, I consider giving birth in a foreign country a wild travel experience. Without travel, I never would’ve become an expat, had a change of heart when it came to this cultural norm and I never would’ve met my incredible midwife. I owe so much to travel in my life, but this experience and my husband who I met in Ghana, West Africa are definitely the two biggest gifts travel has given me.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT MY DUTCH HOME BIRTH:

– 10 group meetings with the midwives and other pregnant ladies which shared so much information about pregnancy, birth and baby care. This is fully covered by normal Dutch insurance and you can choose to have private or group meetings. I enjoyed the group because it gave me a great supportive community and the ladies and their babies have become good friends to Tripp and me.

– Very friendly and engaged health care throughout entire pregnancy.

  • Mom’s way or the highway! Whatever your wish, you are the queen when you’re pregnant, during and after birth.
  • Kraamzorg – 8 days of in-house care after the birth. A lady is there to help teach and care for the baby and you after the birth. Diaper changes, house cleaning, help with nursing, breakfast in bed…
  • Don’t need to leave the comfort of your home. Having problems with nursing? Need to have the heel prick and ear test? Baby has a tongue-tie? They come to you to fix and do all these things. You don’t need to leave the house. And trust me, I didn’t want to for that first week or even month!
  • And the most amazing? It’s all COVERED!!!

I can only pray that my second birth will be as magical and smooth as the first. Wish me luck!!

PS. Due date is December 24th. Contact me if you want to put a $5 bet on a date to put in the pool.

3 replies »

  1. Well, I don’t think anything you said would convince me to have a home birth (I am 67 so not happening anyway). When I got to the hospital they asked what I wanted and I said knock me out—glad I did—I squeezed my husband’s hand so hard he had to get his ring off after it cut into him—saying that it took you 2-3 days to recover—I wouldn’t have been able to handle that—I was probably in labor 7 hrs—and thankfully don’t remember much of it. You go girl

    Like

  2. You are the most beautiful woman I know and your story is both stunningly unique and emotionally moving. I hope you include it in book #6 (or wherever it falls on the travel timeline of your journey) as it is a one of a kind “travel epic” for sure.
    Pamela Vernon

    Like

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