How Valentin came to us

– Sibylle, Matthias and Bruno in Uccle, February 2009 –

Tomorrow it will be six months that our second son Franz Valentin was born, and we will celebrate his first spoonfuls of carrot – so it is high time to finally tell the story of his birth.

On the evening of February 26th, Valentin slipped into a big puddle of water in the birthing tub at St. Elisabeth. There had not been enough time to run a full bath. As Patty fished him out of the water and placed him onto my tummy, I could not believe he was already there and the lightness of it all. Matthias, Valentin’s father, and I were both breathless with joy and relief. Patty’s main work was to take many fotos of the moment. The hospital staff had hardly realised yet that I was there. I was so unbelievably glad. I had a tiny, cheese-covered baby on me. The birth of my first son three years before had been very traumatic for all three of us, mum, dad and baby. The last dark shadow of that experience dissipated there and then. I am forever grateful for the lightness and joy with which Valentin came to us. Valentin’s character is starting to show by now, and it was already all there in the way he came to us: happy, calm, easy, cooperative, curious, very focused, and with a clear sense of timing.

On the morning of Feburary 26th, I woke up to feel something different in my lower back. No pain, but a hint of change. I was only 37 weeks and a few days pregnant with our second son, so I did not take it too seriously. However, I had been chasing everyone around the last two days with nesting chores, cleaning our bedroom to the last grain of dust and generally behaving as though birth was immanent. I had been waking up in cold sweat for several nights, thinking “what if it started now, all the things that I still have to do”…One thing was to register in the commune of Uccle where we had moved a few months before. Somehow I feared my son would never get a birth certificate if we weren’t registered. At least, feigning first contractions I managed to jump the endless queue at the foreigner’s office.

As I was getting ready to take my lunchtime nap, I started to feel slight contractions. They were very slight, but enough to stop me from sleeping. The big-brother-to-be, Bruno, had a play date that afternoon in Anderlecht. I thought long and hard but ended up cancelling it. Just in case these contractions were serious I did not want to be caught in a traffic jam… I called Barbara who recommended a bath to check whether these were “real” contractions or just trial ones. Alas, the bath did not change a thing, they were there but stayed slight. I called Matthias, just to inform him, but he was very sweet to come home from the office all nervous and supportive, I was really touched.

We spent the afternoon on the playground with Bruno, I went to the supermarket with a massive craving for red meat and bought lots of it. I stopped every now and then to feel a contraction and to breathe. I was glad all this was happening in the daytime when there are things to do to keep you busy and not too focused on this slow process of opening up

Only during diner I started to think that these contractions were here to stay and starting to get stronger. OK: to work everyone! I had yet to pack my hospital bag, the baby bed was still not fixed, the washing still on the line… It was in fact Bruno who turned all the screws to put the baby bed together. My parents were there, luckily, so no need to worry about a babysitter for Bruno in case it got serious.

I noticed that this was the real thing when I exploded at Matthias for nothing: I had told him that I was recharging the batteries of our camera on his desk and that he should not forget them in case we were to leave suddenly.  Half an hour later he told me he had accidentally found the recharged camera on his desk… I BLEW up on him for not having listened earlier…. I remembered that losing your sense of humour is the safest sign for serious contractions. So I called Patty at around 8 pm, she had just taken over her shift. For her taste, I still sounded very relaxed: “This could be the beginnings of labour – call me when you need me”, she said encouragingly. That’s what I had been doing… but alright. That’s what they like me for at work: I sound very calm in the face of total adversity. It is not so helpful in convincing midwives of the progress of labour…

So I stayed in our bedroom, breathing and moving through the contractions; and in between I was, very profanely, untangling a very knotted-up mobile to hang over the baby’s bed. Matthias was taking Bruno to bed and I heard him read out “Peter and the Wolf” very dramatically, and for what seemed to me a very long time. At 9.30 pm – Bruno finally asleep and Matthias with me, I dared to call Patty again – with heavy contractions, I wanted to be in the hospital tub NOW. But as I could still talk through them, Patty was still not quite alarmed: “ok, will be there in 45 minutes.” By 10pm, the contractions were very intense and successive, I felt a lot of pressure in the pelvis, and I really wanted to get going and meet Patty in the hospital. Luckily we live just down the street from the St. Elisabeth. This time, I made Matthias call her to tell her as much, and I could not believe him when he agreed to wait as Patty was already near our house… When we called again, she was already at the door. When she examined me, I was so relieved when she said I was about 7cm dilated and my waters about to burst. At least the heavy work of the last hours had been real, not just slow and pointless pain. I had been thinking that if this kind of heavy labour was to go on all night, I would consider an epidural. If I had known how close I really was to giving birth, I could have opted for a home birth instead!

Patty warned Matthias to put a thick towel onto my car seat, and from the moment we got into the car I did not notice much any more, I was basically starting to press. Through the haze, I heard Matthias joking: “It is 22.22h, isn’t that a great time to set off for the birth of our second son”. He tells me that it only dawned upon him that the birth was very immanent when he saw Patty literally running to meet us at the emergency ward. I managed to kneel onto a wheel chair and continued to give in to powerful contractions. In the elevator I was sure the baby’s head was already coming, but it was my waters that broke with a huge splash. What a wonderful gift of nature, to experience a little mini-birth just before the real thing, warm and soft, clearing the way for the baby.

Patty and Matthias pushed me into the “Salle Nature”, and Matthias started to run a bath immediately. I had been dreaming of a water birth and somehow still expected to be spending hours in there. In fact, I only just managed to climb into the half-filled tub and lie down for the very last contraction. Matthias cheered, somewhat incredulously: “The head is there!” Patty encouraged me to push again and there he was, this little beautiful slippery bundle, our beloved son.

The first weeks together were wonderful. We went home the same night at 1pm. The next morning, when Bruno woke up, he came over to be amazed that overnight his brother had arrived. He held him and marvelled at his tiny hands and feet. We had prepared a little present from Valentin to his big brother Bruno was stunned and asked whether he had the present with him when he was still in my tummy…

Patty came every morning to check in with us, helped me so much to make the breastfeeding very easy and painless this time, Valentin drank well and gained weight quite soon. As for me, the few stitches to mend the first degree tear were the only nuisance.

I – we – stayed in bed. Matthias was spoiling me, us, wonderfully. My parents extended their stay with us to take care of Bruno. It started to be spring outside, the sun was out, I rested and cherished the way time stood still to let a little new person arrive in this world.

I want to thank Patty and Barbara so much. They were so supportive during the pregnancy, taking all my fearful questions seriously and building trust in them, but also in myself. Patty was so calm and focused during the birth, and so reliable and wise in the first days after. Tank you so much for all that!!

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