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Welcome Anouk the Snanouk!
A Birthstory by Björn Stevens ... the Father

So said Chris Kliewer in his birthday greeting to you. The first mutilation of your name, will more follow? Where oh where did it all begin, with a call to Holland in a search for help with names, in Boulder last summer, or at Am Felde 2, Altona, Hamburg? At least it wasn't Barmbek.

Already three weeks ago, on Tuesday, April 7th I went to work with Andrea (aka Mama) feeling a little crampy only to return home, with haste after a call shortly after lunch, to watch Saskia while Andrea went to the birth-house. The first false alarm, or rather the first sign of trepidation? Is this world so bad? Yeah, I know we are at war (even though few people call it that any more), and civilization remains but a pretense, but as you will find out, life and this world hold some wonderful things as well.

Trepidation, Barmbek, what do we mean. Trepidation or not, it was good you didn't come on the 7th. I wasn't ready. It's funny, you already found your sister's shadow before you were born. Most thought you would be early, because Saskia was early and the second is supposed to be earlier than the first. Most thought the labor would be very quick, because Saskia's labor was so quick and the second is supposed to be quicker than the first. Along with Saskia's shadow you also found all those shadows of expectation that haunt us all. Gender expectations for instance. Most thought you would be a boy, for thousands of reasons: you moved so much and Saskia didn't move so much and boys are Fußball players; Andrea's belly was lower; Andrea walked bow legged and the Italian woman in that restaurant in Southern California took that as a pure indication; pure womanly intuition; unspoken preferences, or counter preferences (your mother and I actually both preferred another girl). Well of course, two of us, me and Ines knew you would be a girl, but for some reason, and despite a perfect record, few took us seriously.

Still Barmbek lingers without explanation.

Trepidation? Well partly it was our fault. Living farther from the birth house than we would have liked we were afraid of having the labor progress too rapidly only to be forced to have you birthed somewhere between the Altoner Fisch-Markt and the Bahnhof. So we took labor more seriously this time. Mild labor pains on Friday were checked on immediately and validated as real, already Andrea was dilated 4cm and the midwife pronounced that you probably would be born before the next scheduled appointment on Sunday. So we set about waiting. Friday night Saskia slept at Yamundao's but the labor subsided and Andrea and I spent what we thought would be our last peaceful evening in some years. Followed by a full good night of sleep. Saturday the labor got going again; although not so strong, strong enough to demand Andrea's attention now and then. But in the afternoon it subsided again.

That was tough, after sort of expecting (hoping) that things would go so quick again we began to doubt that you would ever come, and we began to worry that the labor would go on for ever. True, we knew of no babies that have stayed in their mothers through puberty, rationality was no match for expectations, emotions, exhaustion and we worried none the less. Labor got going again, in fits and spurts (which is how all but the last 2 hours of Andrea's labor with Saskia were), and we planned for Saskia to spend a second night at her cousin's, thinking things would pick up again. They didn't. For a second night we got what we thought would be our last peaceful evening and great night's sleep in some years.

Sunday morning and some special remedies brought labor back with some ferocity. It really got going after Andrea walked the mile to the birth-house with Astrid for her 10:30 appointment with Friday's midwife Birgit. Andrea was around 5 or 6cm, and the midwife leary of making any more prognoses nonetheless confirmed our notion (desperate hope) that you would be a Sunday child. After walking home with Astrid we double checked our bags, arranged for Saskia to spend yet a third night at her cousin's, and decided to leave in plenty of time (with contractions every 5-7 minutes with moderate intensity) to walk to the birth house in one of the few splendors spring days that Hamburg has offered us so far.

With a few detours to check out some nearby playgrounds, and after forcing Andrea to look at this bike I like in the bike store under the birth-house - so that our walk would span a full ten contractions (spread over the 45 minute walk) of good intensity - we arrived at the birth-house. Unfortunately, we got the small room; the big room with all the labor toys was occupied by another expecting mother. By this time the contractions were coming every 4 minutes with increasing intensity. A fact confirmed by the machine, and Andrea's periodic facial expressions. So after the exam we thought we would go for another little walk in the neighborhood (the birth-house as opposed to the hospital offers those sorts of possibilities). During the walk the labor seemed manageable so we risked going out for some Greek food, a coffee (for me) and a non-alcoholic beer (for Andrea). Perhaps you didn't like the fried eggplant and Tzaziki as much as we did, but the labor seemed to subside a bit. Only to pick up again once we left the restaurant in search of some ice-cream. By this time the wind had picked up, along with the labor, the combination of the cold and our expectations drove us back to the birth-house.

Back at the birth-house things seemed to subside again, so we tried some more remedies: Acupuncture, which neither you nor Andrea seemed to like, but I kind of thought it looked cool; an enema, which also didn't do much and which I wasn't interested in watching; and a warm bath. None of this worked, but at least the warm bath in this giant bath tub was nice, especially considering we don't have a bathtub at home. After the bath the contractions were practically gone. Trepidation? Well by this time Andrea probably was around 6cm dilated and we were beginning to think that we would have our last peaceful night in some years for the third time in a row. There seemed to be nothing we could do but head home. But before doing so they wanted one more check of Andrea's cervix, and one more look at how things went according to the machine.

Well upon being hooked up to the machine Andrea got another mild contraction, and your heart rate was low. This wasn't so bad as the fact that it took some more seconds to recover. The midwife was momentarily concerned, she checked Andrea's pulse to make sure we were really measuring your heart not hers (we were). After the heart rate recovered it remained strong and you showed no further signs of stress in the subsequent mild contractions. So now Barmbek comes in. Because the birth-house is run by a bunch of midwives, and is not equipped with all the equipment and ``expertise'' of a modern hospital, the laws of probability (and tort-law) dictate that if follow certain strict procedures to minimize its liability, or to maximize its standing in society. One of this being that under certain conditions the expectant mother must be referred to a hospital for further tests. The hospital was in Barmbek.

Because Andrea's contractions were not strong enough at the time to check for possible stress, at Barmbek they would have to induce further contractions with Pitocin to stress the mother and baby and see how they responded. Great plan huh? Anyway, the worry was that once at Barmbek the inducement (although only necessarily temporary) would send things over the edge, and force things to happen in a rather uncomfortable, unpredictable, sterile, environment. And we looked so much forward to things at the birth-house. There a stone's throw from the Hafen, above the bike store in the big double bed with the room full of candles and birthing toys. Now all we could think of were strange doctors with knives and surgical masks, intravenous drugs, and a matrix of unknowns. Disappointment was rampant. Barmbek loomed.

Before calling the cab the midwife checked once more the cervix with the hope that it would be at 8cm and things would be too far along to send us away. At this point none of us believe that the machine had any insight --- in all of our opinions Barmbek loomed only because of the laws of probability and the nature of the legal system. The cervical check revealed that the cervix hadn't progressed much (still 6cm) but that you had descended. It turns out there is something called the ``eintritt effect'' (entrance effect) whereby your heart-rate can slow (like we observed) as you descend into the birth canal. This seemed plausible enough to warrant postponing the cab and hooking Andrea up to the machine once more for further monitoring while Birgit (the midwife) consulted with colleagues and cleaned up the big room (which had in the meanwhile been vacated by the other couple).

Admits all the angst of Barmbek (actually one of the nicer hospitals in Hamburg) and while cleaning up the bigger room, Andrea's contractions picked up. You were doing great through it all, at least according to the machine and Andrea's intuition. By this time the baby was doing good enough, the contractions were strong enough, and things seemed to be progressing rapidly enough that Birgit felt warranted in using her better sense (rather than the laws of probability) and delayed the calling of the cab yet further, moved us into the bigger room, with the candles and the toys and a new machine and waited. It must have been around 20:30. The contractions kept coming, and kept getting stronger. Most of them Andrea took kneeling over the bed, or over the bouncing ball, she tried once hanging from the ropes but that didn't seem like it was yet appropriate. You were doing great through it all (according to the machine) so we got rid of the stupid machine and let things proceed without its haunting beep and rattling pen demanding an explanation for every blip and causing me all sorts of angst (Andrea seemed able to tune it out).

After a little more observation, and some pointers with Andrea's breathing (the contractions were tough enough at this point that she was verging on hyper ventilating) the midwife went to the back room to get some dinner and told us to yell if we need anything. I stayed with Andrea and tried my best not to hyper ventilate, massaging her and doing whatever it is that make fathers feel useful at these moments, and the contractions continued to increase in intensity. Barely a moment passed between them, and Andrea was shivering through out almost unbearably. My birthday was less than two hours away and I didn't know how she could possibly take this for another two hours (by that time I kind of had resigned myself to having to share my birthday). Suddenly Andrea screamed that she had to push, then Birgit (and colleague Britta, who helped Yamu being born in the same room almost exactly 2 years before this day) came running back with half chewed food, and I kept massaging.

Andrea was still on her knees kneeling against the side of the bed, she later said that the water burst in a rush just as the midwife came. The midwife trying to check the babie's progression had a hard time getting Andrea's long-underwear off. Andrea declared she was pushing, the midwife demanded that she at least wait until her pants came off. Everything was happening very fast. All I remember was that suddenly you were there in the midwife's hands, an Anouk not a Milo (although my look was so quick and everybody was speaking German so fast and so excitedly that I remained a little unsure for another 5 or so minutes).

Barmbek had been denied.

The next two hours we spent lying in the candle lit room above the bike store, with your mother telling you over and over again how cute you were. The midwifes cleaned up, finished their dinner. We made some calls, Andrea showered, your aunt came, we took some data, and made it home by 1:30 am, in time for me to realize it was my birthday, and in time still to get a half decent night's sleep.

The End.

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