She’s here! Frida Stéphanie was born one day after her due date, on the 12th of August at 7 lbs 6 oz (3390 gr), 19.5″ (50 cm) long. Her second name comes from my grandmother, the one who taught me to sew, with an accent on the ‘e’ so the French know how to pronounce it.
It’s been just wonderful to finally have her with us. We’re adjusting well to our new life, although this new low energy level takes some getting used to. I’ll also share a bit of her birth although (fortunately) it’s not as spectacular/scary as Erin’s birth story. She lived all pregnant moms nightmare when her little girl was born in the car on the way to the hospital. We were slightly worried something like that might happen to us, since our hospital was a 1hr15m drive away, but we needn’t have worried – she was still 9 hours away from being born when we got to the hospital.
Giving birth in France was something I was a bit hesitant about. Coming from The Netherlands, there is such a big difference in how pregnancy and birth are viewed. In France, you’re considered a patient when pregnant. There are monthly blood tests and three ultrasounds. Giving birth is more of a medical procedure than a natural process. In the Netherlands we have a very different history. We have a system that is geared towards giving birth at home (although only 30% of the women give birth at home now) which is rare in France (only 1%). It’s also not standard procedure to have an epidural, though that number is rising: 22% choose to have an epidural these days, versus 80% in France. I think pain is seen as part of the process, something you just have to endure. It’s also seen as something you can handle, if only you put your mind to it.
Most French people I speak to seem to find this ridiculous (although fortunately the word they used with me during labour was ‘courageous’ :)). Their opinion: why would you choose to have pain when you don’t have to? I don’t judge anyone who chooses pain medication, as I have no idea of knowing how much pain you’re in, I’m just stating the differences in views. My reasons for not choosing any pain medication were a mix of the reasons above, plus a general aversion to medication. Fortunately I found a hospital in the area, at a 1hr15m drive, where they accommodate women who want an ‘accouchement naturelle’.
In the night after my due date I woke up at 2 AM to regular contractions. When we arrived at 11:30 AM at the hospital the midwife checked: only 1 cm dilation. Normally they’d send us back home, but because we live so far away and I was having good contractions, she let us stay.
The next hours the contractions got a lot stronger and closer together. It seemed like progress, but by 16:30 PM, 14 hours in, I was only 3 cms dilated. It became increasingly difficult to handle the contractions because I was so tired. I contemplated an epidural at that point, but the midwife knew I didn’t really want that, so she promised me I would be allowed to take a bath in one hour. She said it would help me manage the pain, and with that prospect I convinced myself I could handle just a few more. I hadn’t really thought about using the bath beforehand, but it was such a relief. Really, if you have access to one, use it! It speeds up the labour as well: I went from 5 to 10 cms in 1,5 hours.
The pushing stage after that went well and it felt great to be able to do something and to be encouraged by Stef and the midwives. I was so surprised when I first saw our baby, haha! Somehow it only became real at that moment. It had taken me 19 hours on just a couple of hours of sleep, but meeting our girl was so special I was completely awake again. I’ll never forget the feeling of that wet, warm and soft baby bundle on my chest.
We stayed in the hospital for three days, as is customary in France. I quite enjoyed it, I could just ring every time I had a question or needed help, and I could take all the time to get to know our little girl. All in all it was a really good experience – maybe the hardest thing I have done in my life, but it isn’t called labour for nothing, it really was hard work. Stef was a great coach too, I don’t think I could have done it without him.
We’ve been home for two weeks now. I was a bit nervous about leaving the hospital, but it has been going really well. She’s quite a relaxed baby as far as I can tell. We’re making it work by dividing up the tasks – I take on night feedings & changing diapers so Stef has more energy to do the household chores. I’m usually able to catch up on sleep at some point during the day. Breastfeeding was challenging those first days but both me and Frida are getting pretty good at it now. (Tip: cracked nipples can heal when you’ve both figured out the right technique, so don’t give up too quickly and use these or similar, they work wonders.) The mornings are the best – the three of us just cuddle in bed. Right now I’m typing this with a sleeping baby curled up on my chest, our favourite way to hang out together. She’s getting more alert and awake by the day though, so I’d better enjoy these moments.
Living in the yurt with a baby is working out well in general. Except for the fact that it’s really hot right now, so during the day we’re in the house where it’s cool. I’ve mentioned this last summer, how the heat is much more of a problem than the cold. But the days are flying by, and I can’t believe summer is already coming to an end. If things go as planned we’ll only be living in the yurt for about 4-6 more weeks, after which we’ll move into a cute little house in the woods for the winter. We’ll be sad to move out and pack it up, but I’m happy to have some solid walls around me when the weather turns. We might have even more exciting news coming, but I’ll save that for the seasonal update!