Please tell us a little bit about yourself: where are you and your partner from? how many children do you have and which birth are you sharing with us here?

I am American and my husband is Irish – I was 6 months pregnant with our eldest when we moved to Brussels. Our second child was also born in Brussels and my kids are currently 7 years old and 3.5 years old.

This story will be about the birth of my oldest child, Una. She was born in April in Brussels at Ixelles Hospital. She was born 3.5kg, 51cm.

Were you having your baby when you expected? 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 still take you by surprise?

Una was born 4 days after her due date, so quite close to when expected. By then I was very ready to meet her!

How did labour start? How did the birth unfold?

I was already 3 days past my due date so I was expecting baby to arrive soon. I had early contractions beginning around 12noon, maybe one every 30 minutes or so.

I suspected that this was the beginning of real labor but it didn’t really impact my day much at that point (except to be excited). My sister had come to be with me around the time of the birth and I remember we still went out to lunch, did a little shopping, nothing different yet about our day.

Later in the afternoon I was more sure it was going to be either that day or the next (depending how long labor took). We had an early dinner with my husband and headed in to the hospital around 8pm. For me labor at that point was quite regular frequent contractions, but not yet very painful.

I was 6cm when I arrived and I labored at the hospital from 8pm to 2am when she was born. I was allowed to eat during labor, and packed snacks for this purpose, though I didn’t end up feeling like eating in the end.

I chose to have an unmedicated birth (no epidural) and was happy with that choice.

I had baby on my chest right after birth. I was lucky in that we had an easy breastfeeding journey – I had good support from midwives at the hospital to get started.

Who was with you during labour and birth? If you had someone other than your partner, why did you choose to have them present?

My husband was with me during the birth as well as a kiné [editor: physiotherapist] and my sister. Typically a second birth partner is not allowed – the kiné did not count as she was affiliated with the hospital – but in my case they let my sister sort of sneak in.

She stayed out of the way and it was great for me to have her present for the birth. I chose to have a kiné because though I was very fluent in French, my partner was a bit less fluent and I didn’t want to have to be dealing with questions/confusions in a second language while in labor.

By choosing a kiné in advance I knew for sure I would have someone who spoke English with me the whole time.

In the end she stayed with us through the labor and while other midwives came in from time to time we didn’t see them a lot (It was a very busy night for labor and delivery, and I didn’t really need them more given I had the kiné with). Of course by the end of the labor I had midwives there with me as well as my gynecologist.

Had you done anything to prepare for labour and birth? 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?

I attended a series of prenatal courses with the BCT [editor: Brussels Childbirth Trust] – I do think the information I got from the course was useful, especially as I was new to Belgium at the time and it was a good place to get information about how the system works in Belgium and ask questions we had.

For me one of the best parts of this was actually the connections I made with the other course participants – I stayed friends with some of these families through our whole time in Brussels. 

I also attended the group kiné sessions offered once a week at the Ixelles hospital close to my due date. I think I attended maybe 3 sessions total. I found those helpful for thinking more about positions for labor as well as just feeling more familiar with the hospital itself.

Looking back I am very happy with the decisions we made, I don’t think I would change anything.

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?

I felt I had a lot of support at the hospital, at the time it was typical to stay 4-5 days beyond the day your baby was born for a first child’s birth. 

My daughter was born on a Tuesday morning (at 2am, so labor was mostly Monday) and we came home on Saturday. 

I was very happy with the support we had at the hospital, especially regarding breastfeeding.

I feel I was well prepared by my prenatal course and the midwives at the hospital were helpful – even in the middle of the night they were happy to come help figure out getting baby latched.

In addition to doing a BCT prenatal course I was also lucky to have a local active BCT ‘Bumps and babies’ group which I joined the last few months of pregnancy. It was great to already know a few local moms with young babies and to have a regular social opportunity to get out with my little one once we we ready.

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

I’d say it was quite similar to how I imagined it to be.

If you have also been pregnant and given birth in another country, how was your experience different than in Belgium?

The first part of this pregnancy was in the US. 

The biggest differences I feel between the US and Belgium is that in the US there were far fewer ultrasounds – where the US used dopplar to hear the heart beat at a typical appointment my gynecologist in Brussels did a quick ultrasound.

Also, in the US there are many different pain relief options (medications) which is different from in Belgium but as I was interested in an unmedicated birth that didn’t change my personal birth plan. 

Finally, the largest difference is the length of stay in the hospital. I feel staying in the hospital long enough that my milk had come in and breastfeeding was well established was really helpful and I know in the US I would have been home again before the milk even came in.