Siobhán McGonigle, founder of the village, has three boys, all born in Belgium. This is the story of Jack, her second son, born in December 2009.

Tell us a little bit about the pregnancy …

I have Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and needed to take Clomid to help me get conceive, so we felt extremely lucky that I fell pregnant so quickly, and that there would only be a gap of just over two years between Jack and his older brother, Eamon.

I loved being pregnant, and had been able to stay very active for the whole pregnancy.

We’d been renovating a house and moved in about three months before Jack was due. As with many renovations, we were well behind schedule, and even by the time Jack’s due date came around, we were still missing some key elements … like the sliding doors across the back of the whole house! And it was a COLD winter!!

Were you having your baby when you expected? If not, was it earlier or later than your estimated due date? How did the timing affect your feelings leading up to the day? Were you more than ready to meet your baby, or did the whole event take you by surprise?

39 weeks 3 days

Like his brother before him, two years earlier, Jack was in no hurry to be born. His due date came and went with not even a Braxton Hicks contraction.

I’d already come to believe that my body didn’t really understand how to conceive and birth a baby without help, and had resigned myself to the fact that I would probably need to be induced.

But since his big brother’s birth, after being induced, had been such an overall positive experience, it didn’t scare or sadden me. I was just eager to meet my little boy!!

How did the birth unfold?

As Jack showed no sign of coming by himself, my gynaecologist had scheduled by induction for Friday, 11 December, ten days after the estimated due date.

I was confident that by mid-afternoon we’d have met our little Jack … something I shouldn’t have taken for granted!!

We left home in plenty of time for our 08:30 ‘appointment’ at the hospital, and had even stopped off at Pain Quotidien at the Cimitière d’Ixelles on the way to pick up a ‘merveilleux’, which was to be my post-birth treat.

I was confident that by mid-afternoon we’d have met our little Jack (his big brother Eamon was born at 16:30 on the day I was induced, and I knew it’d go faster this time) … something I shouldn’t have taken for granted!!

We rang the buzzer at the entrance to the ward, and were told that all the labour/delivery rooms were busy at that moment, but that they’d come and get me as soon as one was free. and so we went to the waiting room … already a little nervous, but not overly so.

Half an hour or so later, we heard movement in the corridor, and a couple arrived at the door to the ward … the man buzzed, and explained that his wife was in labour and was having contractions every five minutes. Still no rooms free, so they came and sat in the waiting room with us for another 20 minutes or so. It’s obviously completely normal that she got priority over me, so when the midwife came to take her in, we just sat tight and hoped there’d be another room free soon.

…we’d started to come to terms with the fact that I would most likely not be having a baby that day

But after another half and hour or so, same story, another couple arrived at the door, buzzed and were taken in after about half an hour (I was surprised how long they left these labouring women alone before even coming out to check on how they were doing, but I think it was because they were literally thrown off balance by the sheer number of labour going on!).

And an hour or so later, same again … by which time we’d started to come to terms with the fact that I would most likely not be having a baby that day.

Our fear then was that they’d have to reschedule for Monday as I didn’t think they’d schedule inductions over the weekend. However, at about 11:30, a midwife ran over to us, still in bloody surgery garbs, apologised that they hadn’t been able to take me in and suggested that she call my gynaecologist and see if she could reschedule for the next day.

Much to our relief, she came back 10 minutes later to confirm that my doctor was fine with that, and that we should be there the next morning at 8:00. Apparently there were already two other inductions scheduled, but she said that under the circumstances, they’d fit one more in … at which point my (then) husband and I made a mental note to be there at 7:00 😉

Next morning, a little later than planned, we arrived at 7:00. And I almost couldn’t believe it, but the first woman who’s ‘skipped’ in front of me the previous day was sitting there in the waiting room!!! I couldn’t help but think to myself “if you’d just let me in front of you yesterday I could have guaranteed that I’d deliver within a few hours … and because of you I had to go home and re-psych myself up for this delivery” … but of course I just smiled and politely asked how she was doing.

Turned out that her labour stalled on the Friday (or maybe she never actually made it to being fully in labour … and they prefer not to give the syntocin/pitocin unless labour has to be completely induced), and they sent her home, but that he waters broke early on Saturday morning. Anyway, she of course got the next free labour room, and DH were sitting on tenterhooks just praying that they’d admit me before the next woman in labour would waddle up the corridor.

But admit me, they did. And I can tell you that I ran into that admission room, and closed the door behind me as fast as I could ; )

The midwife confirmed that my cervix was a good 4cm dilated, and soft and long, and once I was in my lovely hospital gown, got me hooked up to some machines to monitor Jack’s heartbeat and my contractions … or lack of.

As I tested positive for Group B strep infection a few weeks previously, I knew I’d receive antibiotics during the delivery, and was a bit worried that they weren’t giving them to me straight away (they give a dose of antibiotics every four hours, and despite receiving one and a bit doses during Eamon’s birth, he still caught the infection and was quite poorly for the first week of his life. And this time, I imagined things going even faster, so was worried I wouldn’t receive enough antibiotics).

I was having a few contractions [from the syntocinon], but to be honest, sometimes even had to check the reading on the monitor to be sure it was a contraction.

But they seemed determined to monitor Jack’s heartbeat and (lack of contractions) for a good 45 minutes first.

Anyway, they finally started the IV antibiotics and syntocin at around 10am, and despite regularly upping the dose, not a lot was happening. I was having a few contractions, but to be honest, sometimes even had to check the reading on the monitor to be sure it was a contraction.

And so they increased the dose, and increased it again, and still not a lot. At about 13:00 the midwife (having admitted to me that the amount of syntocinon I was received was already considered high) phoned my gynaecologist and they agreed to break my waters at 14:00 if nothing much was happening by then.

To try to get things going, the midwife swept my membranes and that helped a little (I’d gotten to 6cm at this stage, despite crappy contractions, which must still have been helping a bit), but I still only had about two moderately painful contractions in the following hour.

No sooner had she broken the waters than I was having some ‘oh my god I can’t move / breathe / think’ contractions…

And so, there was nothing left to do but break my waters. And then, boy did things get going!!!

No sooner had she broken the waters (when he was born, you could still see two little marks on Jack’s head where the hook scraped his head) than I was having some ‘oh my god I can’t move/breathe/think’ contractions, and they continued to come very very regularly.

I started pacing up and down the corridor (dragging the horrible IV sacks and all with me), but soon realised that the contractions were coming too fast and that I’d be better back in the comfort/privacy of the delivery room.

I found a comfortable position leaning over some cupboards at the side of the room and basically didn’t move from there.

At about 14:30 (or maybe it was even later) I was starting to panic because I really felt like I needed to push, but I was worried that I surely wasn’t fully dilated yet and should be trying to hold on.

So my husband ran to get a midwife, and when she examined me (standing up, because I couldn’t even contemplate moving over to the bed) she confirmed that I was already at 10cm, and so could in theory start pushing.

I’d hoped to give birth standing up, taking advantage of the wonderful force that is gravity, and all that, so I was in exactly the position I wanted to be in.

Right then, my physio arrived, and a few minutes later my gynaecologist (who basically jumped into her garbs as fast as she could).

To be honest, I’d hoped to give birth standing up, taking advantage of the wonderful force that is gravity, and all that, so I was in exactly the position I wanted to be in. And I knew my physio would be all for that, and that my gynae wouldn’t object.

And so, after three big pushes (I remember that I was sipping on a carton of orange juice the whole time!), Jack was born! I’m not sure any of the people present deal with many standing births, as there was a little bit of confusion as to (1) how to hand Jack to me and (2) how to get me back on the bed, which was on the other side of the room.

I think it took everyone present (husband, gynae, physio, midwife, and trainee midwife) to help me waddle backwards to the bed, me kind of cradling Jack between my legs.

Once the cord was cut, they put Jack right on my chest, and we just lay like that while I was given an injection to deliver the placenta, and get a few stitches (just a small tear, nothing serious), and after about 10 minutes he started breastfeeding like a little champion.

Overall, was your birth experience different from what you imagined it to be? If yes, how was it different?

The overall experience was even better than I had imagined. While most of the labour felt frustratingly long, with little happening (since the syntocinon wasn’t giving me strong contractions), the active labour and Jack’s actual birth was just as I’d hoped.

All in all, I only had a good hour of full-on pain so was feeling great after the birth (i.e. not physically exhausted). Even my husband couldn’t believe it … after my first son’s birth, I looked like my eyes were literally going to pop out of my head and I was all puffy from holding my breath to push. But this one was a walk in the park compared to that!

I’d stayed upright, felt assertive, in control and in tune with my own needs. I wasn’t wondering ‘how should I be doing this’? I was just listening to my own body, and it was such a great feeling to have that confidence and trust.

Had you done anything to prepare for labour and birth, e.g. prenatal classes, yoga, hypnobirthing, doula support? If yes, what did you do? Do you think it helped? Looking back, would you have made any different decisions about your care or birth preparation?

The only preparation I’d done was going to regular prenatal physiotherapy classes in the last three months or so before the birth.

My physio had inspired such confidence in me when I was pregnant with baby #1 (it was actually she who helped me entertain the idea of birth without epidural), and by the time of Jack’s birth, I was feeling even more confident in my own coping skills and mental and physical strength.

Even though my physio only arrived just before Jack was born, just knowing (during labour) that she was coming helped me feel confident and supported.

How were the first hours and days after your baby’s birth? How would you describe your recovery? What support did you have during the first weeks after the birth? Is there anything you wish you had done differently / known about the early weeks?

My husband’s parents had looked after our first son, Eamon, on the day of the induction, so they brought Eamon (and his cousin, Eloise) to visit us the same evening.

Eamon looked like a giant compared to his baby brother – I guess it kind of made him grow up overnight.

My parents came to visit from Ireland a few days later, eager to meet the new addition, and help me as best they could.

How was your experience of feeding your baby? Did you breastfeed? If yes, did you have the support you needed to get breastfeeding well established?

Breastfeeding Jack was really straightforward. From right after his birth he breastfed like a champion!

But the experience made me realise that both mum and baby need to establish that unique feeding relationship and discover what works – just because you breastfed one baby does not mean it will be effortless to breastfeed their sibling!

Any closing thoughts:

Towards the end of the pregnancy I’d been getting a little worried about how I could possibly love another little being as much as I loved my first son Eamon. But once Jack was born I could see that there wouldn’t be any issue there.

I remember a friend telling me not to worry. She said your heart doesn’t split in two when you have a new baby, but rather doubles in size … and it was true!!