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  • Writer's pictureNicole Gustafsson

Giving birth at St Luc Hospital: My story


All worth it

Here is one I have been meaning to write forever! When I was preparing for Zoe’s arrival, I was desperately searching for any information online about what it is like to give birth at St Luc Hospital (Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc) in Brussels (Woluwe-Saint-Lambert). It was almost impossible to find even the smallest scrap of information to set my mind at ease. Funny thing about being pregnant out here is that people tend to ask you, “Oh what hospital are you giving birth at?” My reply, “St Luc Hospital, have you heard anything?” “Err, no…”

So here it is, my two cents about the up’s, down’s and experience.

First came picking a doctor. I originally picked a female doctor who was on a list of English-speaking doctors. After a first appointment, it turned out that her English was not quite so good and she referred me to Dr. Graham Hutchings at St Luc.

Dr. Hutchings is a British transplant and father of four of his own. When we first met him, I felt very comfortable. He has a very nice manner, calm and clear, even funny at times. So you might say the choice of hospital was more a choice of Doctor since he works only there.

**Note that as of January 1, 2014, Dr Hutchings is working at Edith Cavell. **

St Luc is a teaching hospital which never bothered me or caused any issues. I actually like the students there. They are never in charge of your care but sometimes they will repeat an exam for practice. Also nice to hear the doctors explain what they are doing. In this way, I get to learn too! At the actual birth, students were present at the different checks, etc. but they always introduced themselves and asked if it was ok for them to observe. So no issue there.

Practically, when you have your first appointment, just make sure to register on the ground floor to get a hospital ID. They use this when you come in for future appointments. All exams are done at the -1 level and for the most part were done on time.

What can you expect in terms of appointments? Here is a schedule I received early on.

  1. Week 7 – 8: First appointment for scan, blood and urine test

  2. Week 11 – 14: Triple test for Down Syndrome, scan and blood test

  3. Week 16: Check in and listen to heartbeat

  4. Week 21 – 22: Detailed ultrasound to look at all anatomy and find out boy or girl!

  5. Week 25 – 26: Diabetes Test

  6. Week 30: Listen to heart bear and blood test for antibodies

  7. Week 34: Scan to check size and position. Blood test for anemia and clotting.

  8. Week 36: Swab test for group B Streptococcus

  9. Week 38+: Weekly checks for signs of getting ready for labour.

All this is a little more hands off than the American system but I think that is just the way it is here!

A couple of weeks before your due date you can take a tour of the labor ward (available in English). Nice that Dr. Hutchings actually did this for us so we could ask specific questions.

There is one room that can be requested if you want to try for a natural birth. It has a birthing pool and lots of space to move around. It is a first come, first serve deal so if someone is already in there when you arrive then you would go to a different room until it is free again.

One thing that the doctor emphasized in our tour is that he is happy to let us try some less traditional techniques if you like. For example, if you want to push in a position other than on your back, no problem! Also if you don’t want to cut the cord immediately, this is also fine. I think this is different for each doctor.

When it came time for Bababoo to make her entrance into the world, it was about 4:00 am on February 20. 2.5 weeks early! My water broke and so we grabbed the suitcase and jumped in a cab. It was our big moment!

When they arrived, I was put on monitoring and examined. No dilation yet and unfortunately, things did not go exactly according to plan from there.  90% of women go into labor within 24 hours of their water breaking. I am not in this 90%! Despite my best efforts, stretching, walking all around, when the day dawned on February 21, there were still no contractions.

During this first period, I was in a room that was sometimes just me and sometimes shared with one other person. There was a curtain between us so it was pretty much ok. A little disheartening when she was taken on to the delivery room and I was still reading my book and bouncing on the exercise ball with no sign of contractions. :-p

The threat of infection grows by the hour when your water has broken so despite getting antibiotics, the next morning it was time to induce labor. They put me on pitocin, which did indeed get things moving, in a serious way. I wanted to try to avoid an epidural for as long as possible. For two hours, I had intense contractions every 90 seconds. Thank god for the Bear taking desperate orders for where to rub my back and for my little pink exercise ball I could use to relieve some of the tension.

After two hours, it was time to check my progress. Exactly 0 cm dilated. What?!! All that work and no progress?! I have to admit, at that point my will broke and I started crying…for my mom. Knowing I could not take much more, I asked for an epidural, like, STAT. Unfortunately, there was only one anesthesiologist and she was in a C-section. It took 90 minutes. 90 excruciating and unproductive minutes until she could come.

During this time the Bear and the nurses where very supportive. Holding my hand, rubbing my back. I am grateful for that!

Finally some relief! I immediately fell asleep and was out for a couple of hours. When I finally came to, Dr. Hutchings came to examine me. Now it was around 2pm and the grim truth was that although my body was working very hard, there was no progress at all. It was clear that a C-Section was the only option.

So I was prepped directly. Given more pain relief via epidural made everything surreal. I won’t go into the details here but it was not much fun. I heard a cry and my little one had finally made her debut! They held her up so I could see her but did not give her to me to hold. I was too medicated and shaking like a leaf.

I am used to seeing that even after a c-section, you can hold your baby and have that magical skin to skin contact that stabilizes the heartbeat and starts bonding. That is not the process here. I was taken away to a recovery room and a very worried Bjorn handed his newborn daughter after her examination. I understand that they went to another room and watched football. I am sure I will never know the contents of that conversation.

Two hours later, I woke from my drug haze in a basement room. Asking if I could leave and how was my baby, they replied I could not leave until I could feel my stomach which was still totally numb. It took almost an hour of asking before they allowed Bear and Bababoo to come see me. About 30 minutes later, I finally got to leave. This was by far, the worst part of the whole experience.

I have since talked with Dr. Hutchings about this and he encouraged me to write to the head of the department to give my opinion. He has also been working for years to have this policy of seperating mothers and babies changed. I really hope that they do. I have also asked why I was so drugged. They do use an opiate based pain killer in the epidural (I believe this is the standard). Many people are ok with this but it seems I am extra sensitive to the opiates. It is possible to meet with the anesthesiologist in advance to request a lighter epidural.

The care we received afterwards was great. No complaints. Bababoo got to stay in our room the whole time except for some blessed hours in the deep of night when the nurse took her so I could sleep. This was very appreciated. We were lucky to have a private room which was paid for by our hospitalization insurance at DKV. If you don’t have this then it is typical to share a room.

Why is this top of mind now? I am now only seven weeks away from my due date with #2! I chose to stay with Dr. Hutchings because I like his care and understand the system now. I really hope that I don’t again need a c-section and have to be taken away to recover but hopefully meeting the anesthesiologist in advance will mean that I am able to be much more present.

The verdict: I would recommend St Luc.  Overall it was a good experience! Just be prepared in the case of c-section. Hey, it might be the same in all Brussels hospitals. If anyone knows, please share. Also if you have a review of the hospital you gave birth at, let me know. Happy to have a guest post!

Good luck mommas. 🙂

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