Abe’s birth, a new journey to motherhood!

So Cocoon doula and mum of 4, Julie Denil, shares the story of the birth of her son, Abe — baby no. 4 and her first boy! Health complications in late pregnancy meant that Julie's care providers recommended an induction. Read about how having the right support around her (her husband and her trusted friend, doula and colleague Sophie), and a doctor she trusted, meant that Julie was able to keep Abe's birth as close to her dream birth as possible, despite challenges.

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Birth story - the village - Julie and newborn Abe

Julie’s story starts the day before Abe’s birth:

Wednesday November 6th – 12pm

I am leaving the Maternal Intensive Care unit of my hospital. After weeks of wondering where I will give birth, hoping for an all-natural childbirth at a birth center, we finally settled for an induction the following morning.

How do I feel? Relieved. Scared. Happy. Surprised… but most of all I am not ready at all.

These last weeks have been pretty hard on me. My liver, as for my previous pregnancies, isn’t working well, resulting in pruritus [Editor: itching]. I am itching all over my body, especially at night. I am over tired. I am sooo done with this pregnancy.

My last blood test wasn’t too good. I am now in the ‘pathology’ zone and for my relief and the baby’s safety, my OB/GYN and I have just decided to induce.

How do I feel? Relieved. Scared. Happy. Surprised… but most of all I am not ready at all. This is my 4th kid. I have been pretty relaxed about getting things ready for him. I have everything at home, somewhere in the attic. In the past weeks, we slowly started to organize the house for his arrival. I packed our suitcases 3 days ago… But there is still so much to do! And so little time!

Almost time …

I jump in my car (well as much as possible with my tired over-weight pregnant body) and drive to school to pick up my 3 girls. My husband, Arnaud, is at work finishing all he has to do before his paternity leave.

In the afternoon I organize the next days. My parents arrive, they will be in charge of the kids while I am at the hospital. I buy the few last essentials for the childbirth… I also contact Sophie, my doula, my colleague, my friend. We decide on the timing for her to join us the next day and we take a few minutes to discuss the induction. She makes sure this is what I want. I feel ready. It is my decision. I’ve discussed it with her, with my husband and with my doctor. Let’s do this!

Thursday November 7th – 6am

We are leaving for the hospital. Surprisingly, yesterday evening went smoothly. Not too much excitement in the air. The kids went to bed early. Only my oldest one was a little stressed out. She would have loved to come with us to be at birth. But after reflexion we decided against it — also hospital policy doesn’t allow kids in maternity ward anyway.

There are birth balls in all sizes, a modular birthing chair, a scarf hanging from the ceiling and lots of space. I feel ok.

We arrive. We go through the ER entrance because it’s still early. Up to the second floor. We meet a first midwife. She asks us to wait a little in the hallway because they are super busy, lots of women are in labor this morning and they are preparing my room.

I ask for one of the “natural childbirth” room – where there is a large bathtub and a special modular bed, etc – but both are already taken by other couples. I feel a terrible disappointment. I feel sad. I cry a little. Arnaud tries to reassure me.

Finally we access our room and it’s not sooo bad. There are birth balls in all sizes, a modular birthing chair, a scarf hanging from the ceiling and lots of space. I feel ok.

The midwife introduces herself. She is really nice. We give her our birth plan and we discuss it a bit. She is really ok with everything, even not cutting the baby’s umbilical cord for the first hours. I feel heard and happy!

I realize it’s a beautiful day! I listen to my hypnobirthing track and the contractions are there. Not very strong but really regular.

Also we talk about the induction itself. We agree on a first slow move: a very low pitocin [Editor: typically known as syntocinon in Belgium] dose.

Usually, with classical induction, they raise the amount of pitocin every 20 minutes. But in my case we’ll just start slowly and we hope my body will take over… We are trying to stay as close as possible to natural childbirth. That’s our goal. And we believe it’s possible because my cervix is already open and thinning. Also, I’ve been contracting a lot those last weeks.

So it starts.

Arnaud and I stay alone in the room and he arranges all the personal items I took with us. My birth affirmations, the cards and drawings my friends gave me during my blessingway. I feel supported and confident, I feel those great women are there with me. I’ve changed my clothes and I am now proudly walking around in one of Arnaud’s grey t-shirts and some panties. I am also wearing my special necklace made from my friends’ and family’s beads, also from my blessingway. All their wishes and sweet words are here with me. I realize it’s a beautiful day! I listen to my hypnobirthing track and the contractions are there. Not very strong but really regular.

Julie wearing one of her husband’s t-shirts and a necklace made up of beads from family and friends, that she received at her ‘blessingway’.

My eyes are closed most of the time. I eat some candies from time to time and I drink a lot.

As planned, Sophie joins us around 9.30 am. We are happy to see her arrive. Around this time the midwife increases the Pitocin amount for the first time. Every time the Pitocin will be increased it will be after discussing with us.

We talk with Sophie, explaining what happened so far – well not that much I agree! I remember Arnaud and her talking and joking about the contractions. The atmosphere is really light. I am in my bubble. I am really flying away already…

My hypnobirthing track helped me a lot to disconnect with reality and I am already in my birthing vortex. My eyes are closed most of the time. I eat some candies from time to time and I drink a lot. At some point during the morning, Sophie massages my lower back and my legs with some essential oils. They smell so good. It’s mostly cinnamon and I love it.

I spent most of my time up close to the bed, slowly moving my hips from left to right. Balancing my body. I feel the contractions. They aren’t very painful but they are a bit intense. I breathe them out. Sometimes I sing an “Om” or two. Other times I am on the floor, my upper body on the birth ball. Arnaud is close to me.

Around 12pm, the midwife checks my cervix. And we are still at 2cm. Well that’s where we were when we arrived this morning… I feel disappointed because it seems to me that my body is responding pretty well. So why isn’t it opening? Also my 3 previous childbirth went pretty fast. After 4 hours my babies were born already or I was pushing them out… I remind myself that the previous times, it went so fast that I needed an epidural. We are going for natural this time! We have time…

My OB/GYN comes by at some point during her lunchtime. I don’t remember talking with her, I was really somewhere else. But I remember Arnaud, Sophie and her saying that I was real champ and doing it super well. I remember feeling super proud of myself!

She comes to my room really often and asks to check my cervix to see how it is going… And every time she pops my bubble and I have to start all over again.

A bit after that, the afternoon’s midwife arrives. The time has come for the medical team’s shift. She introduces herself and she isn’t very nice or friendly. She immediately tells me that this is taking too much time. I am a bit annoyed by her complaint but I don’t really care.

And then it starts. She comes to my room really often and asks to check my cervix to see how it is going… And every time she pops my bubble and I have to start all over again.

I complain about being in pain, because the surges are strong and regular. But all that seems important to her is that my water isn’t broken yet. She wants to break it to speed up the birth. I am against it. I know it will be more painful once the water is broken. Also once it is done, you can’t leave the hospital anymore. And as crazy as it may seem I want to stay free …

Sophie is a great help then. She only asks us one question “what do you want for real?”. And our answer is clear: we don’t want to break the water.

During all the time, Sophie and Arnaud are taking care of me. Mainly being there with me, breathing with me. Not much more. Just what I need. I feel supported. I move as much as I can to help my baby getting down. I talk to my baby a lot in my head.

At some point — maybe around 3pm — we ask to decrease the amount of pitocin because we think I am finally in active labor: contractions are very regular and quite strong. Unhappily the contractions almost stop once the Pitocin is injected in smaller amounts. Then the midwife tries to force me to have my water broken. At this moment I am sad and confused.

It’s almost 4pm and there is no progress. I feel a mismatch between how I feel in my head and how my body is effectively responding. We are under a lot of pressure to break the water so we ask for a private moment to weigh our options. Sophie is a great help then. She only asks us one question “what do you want for real?”. And our answer is clear: we don’t want to break the water.

We want my body to have the possibility to jump in the process. I want my almost natural birth. I don’t want to start all those procedures and risk an epidural. When the midwife comes back we ask to see my doctor. She never talked about breaking my water and I am sure she will support my choice.

When she arrives, I explain to her — with lots of tears in my voice — that I feel pressured. I am sure that I could do it if they only give me the time and possibility to stay in my bubble. So she explains to me that I am not in active labor yet. I can’t stay like this forever. But she understands my need of quiet time and asks for the medical staff to not come to our room and disturb us for the next 2 hours. If things are still the same at 6pm we would have 2 options: either break the water or go back home and wait for a more appropriate time to induce. Yes she is that cool… They put back the Pitocin and leave us alone in the room.

I am ready to be the mom of a boy. And for the first time ever I really — REALLY for real — believe it. Boy or girl, I don’t care.

At this moment I am super sad. I feel depressed. I cry and sob. Sophie and Arnaud ask what is going on. My answer is short — “The midwife is mean to me” — but inside, there is so much more going on. It’s a real storm.

I doubt my decision to go for an induction. Was it worth it? What will I do in 2 hours? Will I really pack my things and go home? And the girls? How are they doing? They must be disappointed? They are waiting to meet their little brother…The day must have been so long to them.

And most of all I cry because I am sorry. I ask my baby to forgive me. Yes I was disappointed he is a boy. Yes that was bad. But now I don’t care. I don’t care at all. I am happy to have him. I am ready to be the mom of a boy. And for the first time ever I really — REALLY for real — believe it. Boy or girl, I don’t care. I just want him to be safe in my arms.

I eat one or two crackers and once again the hypnobirthing track is on. The contractions come back. Strong. Regular. Very strong. Very regular. They get intense and the pain changes. It’s not only pain. It’s a real pressure around my belly. I feel like I am away, at the same time inside and outside of my body.

I stand up close to the bed. Arnaud is on the other side. I hold his thumbs. Sophie is behind me. Every surge I crush Arnaud’s hands and Sophie pushes on my lower back. Every time she reminds me to breath in her hand. This is a great help. I need them, absolutely.

Everyone is happy and excited. I am questioning them being there. Well surely they came for nothing because I am not in active labor. I feel sorry for them.

I need to feel Arnaud, my anchor in this intensity. I need Sophie to guide me through the pain. Time goes fast. I try to not look at the clock. I try to not pressure myself. At 6pm the midwife comes back. She checks my cervix and… I am at 7! I can’t believe it. And I don’t. I am sure she is wrong. I am in such a denial. I move to the floor and the birth ball to help with the intensity. At some point I vomit my crackers.

After 45 minutes the midwife comes back and I am at 10. Maybe Arnaud or Sophie called her… This part of the birth is even foggier than the rest of the day. I remember going to the bathroom. I sit on the toilet alone and feel so stoned, not believing this is happening.

When I get out, there are some nurses and maybe my OB/GYN too. Everyone is happy and excited. I am questioning them being there. Well surely they came for nothing because I am not in active labor. I feel sorry for them. Contractions are pretty intense and I try to find some relief. I help myself with the long scarf attached to the ceiling.

Standing up, I pull on the scarf during the contractions. I breathe the contractions out as much as I can. I try to stay calm. Suddenly I cry. But it’s tears of joy. I feel like I am flying with swallows and I see my little boy sitting on a tree, waiting for me.

There is a big silence and I think “wow I just pushed my baby out easily” and also “I hope they caught the baby”. But in fact, my water just broke.

This brings so much joy to me… I can’t stop crying lightly and saying “he is coming. He really is coming”. I guess the people around are just smiling. I finally get it. Birth is happening. I remember feeling lots of love and joy around me. Arnaud, Sophie and the medical staff are around me but not too close. Nobody is touching me.

I decide to go on my knees because I feel the need to push getting stronger. So during every contraction I push. My doctor encourages me with a few words. “You are doing good”, “It’s perfect”.

Sophie and Arnaud also keep telling me I am doing a good job. Soft voices, soft words are coming from everywhere around me and I feel like I am doing it well. I am super proud of myself once again. They ask me to push stronger to help the baby getting really down. So I try to really push. At some point I think ok, this is it Julie. No matter you are totally naked and people are looking at you, get this baby out.

I don’t know how I really said it, but for me it was like I got out of my body and told her with my most annoyed voice “well girl there is no pressure so I won’t push”.

And I start to really let my body push for real. My doctor tells me this is better. So I let go and during the next contraction I feel a big noise inside of me and no intensity at all anymore.

There is a big silence and I think “wow I just pushed my baby out easily” and also “I hope they caught the baby”. But in fact, my water just broke.

There are one or two contractions but no need to push anymore so I don’t push. The midwife is super close to me trying to get my baby’s heart beat with the monitor and she screams “PUSH PUSH PUSH” at me. I don’t know how I really said it, but for me it was like I got out of my body and told her with my most annoyed voice “well girl there is no pressure so I won’t push”.

In reality it must have been much more of a murmur. But I said something because my doctor replies that I am right. I should not push if I don’t feel the need. Although there was a tiny bit of blood when my water broke.

Baby needs to come out NOW” so I scream out loud “GET THE BABY” and I push with all my will while screaming like a lion. AND OUT HE IS!

The baby’s heart beat is great but maybe I should change position if there is nothing happening anymore. And I agree. I mean what else can I do. I am in this now… I am giving birth and this baby must come out.

So they propose to go on the bed to lie on my side and see what will happen. I get up. Probably with some help but I feel so empowered that I probably think I don’t need anyone. I get on the right side of the bed and there is a huge contraction. I can’t do anything but feel my body pushing. And there it is: the ring of fire. Baby is crowning. I feel a terrible pain down there. I know this is it.

In a fraction of second, all is clear in my head. I quickly tell myself  ”Man it’s so terribly painful. The head will come out. Then baby will rotate. At the next contraction baby will be out. Oh man this is too painful. Baby needs to come out NOW” so I scream out loud “GET THE BABY” and I push with all my will while screaming like a lion. AND OUT HE IS!

I remember two thoughts “this is over” and “there must be just a huge hole down there, I may lose all my blood”. But I am not scared. I did it.

Arnaud and the doctor try to give me my son but I need a few seconds to land. I ask them to wait. They help me to get on the bed and then give me my son. And I feel so much love. It was so true I don’t care anymore that he is a boy. He is so handsome. He looks like his sisters. All of them. He smells good. He cries a little.

I am telling everyone “there really was a baby in there” I seem surprised. But his skin is a bit too dark so after a few minutes Arnaud cut his cord. It wasn’t beating anymore because there was a knot on it. They take him under the light, lots of people are coming to help him get a good oxygenation.

My doctor and Sophie stay close to me, I see they are trying to reassure me. But I am not scared because I know my baby is fine. After a few minutes, baby is back on my chest. He is ok. I knew it. My doctor checks and I don’t need stitches. I even haven’t a scratch on my perineum. Perfect. We are both surprised, her and me.

Sophie getting ready to make a placenta print and tincture

The room becomes really calm. People are leaving, congratulating us. Sophie goes make some calls, allowing us to stay alone with our baby. The nurses and midwife clean some stuff but we are in our bubble. We are so happy.

Soon, Arnaud will call the kids to announce Abraham’s birth. Sophie will come back to make a placenta print and prepare some tincture. This will be lots of fun… We will laugh and take pics… I will share those moments with Arnaud and her. I will welcome my older kids to meet their baby brother. And at the same time I’ll be in my bubble. Wrapping myself with this new emerging love.


It’s been 3 months today, as I finally put a final point to this birth story. Some days are tiring. But I feel so happy, so proud of what I did. This birth was magical. I’ve reborn as a new mother, a new woman. And I love my family.

I am thankful to my husband for this journey we took. I am also thankful to the people that supported us during our last baby’s birth. Sophie, our wonderful doula. My doctor for believing in us and supporting our birth plan. And the hospital staff for being open to our project of a soft induction.

Well of course I’ve been mad at this midwife with the water breaking project but I’ve let it go. I mean, it’s her story, not mine. And the other people around me protected my bubble and gave me the opportunity to write my own story as close as possible to the birth I once dreamed about!

Julie Denil is one half of doula wonder-team So Cocoon. Together with Sophie Fraschina, they offer a wide range of services to expectant and new parents.

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