I have now had two babies in Germany, which explains why I haven't posted in a while! Before you read this blog, I need to make two disclaimers:
1. Both of my children were born in the same hospital, in Munich. My experiences are entirely a reflection of that limited viewpoint.
2. I haven't given birth in the US, though I was pregnant with my first son while still in the US. I also used to work as a medical interpreter in the States, and I have many friends having children there so I do have some perspective with regards to what things are like there.
When we arrived in Germany in 2005, I was 32 weeks pregnant. Fortunately, we had sorted out our health insurance beforehand, through a relocation agency. But that was as far as we'd gotten. Even more fortunately, this was our first child. This was a good thing because I didn't know how scared I should be. I was perfectly happy in our new little adventure. I had no doctor, but I figured I'd find one. I didn't know which hospital our baby would be born in, but I knew there were plenty. But despite
Sitting by the Isar with Kaan
(Kaan is in my belly still in the photo, if you haven't guessed)
having lived abroad before, I completely underestimated how differently things work in different health systems. But God sent us an angel in the form of our next door neighbor. K, as I'll call her, had a then 9-month-old son and offered herself as our personal navigation system through the German health care system. There are few people in this world who have helped me out as much as she did and only looking back do I realize that without her, we could have had a confusing, if not miserable, experience.
I need a doctor...and a Mutterpass
Not just any doctor, and not necessarily an obstetrician. Here in Germany, gynecologists are responsible for monitoring pregnancies, though they may not be the ones actually delivering the babies. K recommended her "frauenartz" (gynecologist) to me. Dr. Freitag just happened to be one of the nicest people in Germany (I have not met everyone in Germany, but I am very sure about the truth of my statement), and also just happened to speak perfect English. Her husband is even half Turkish, so we were culturally connected in that way, too. I couldn't have been in better hands.
As soon as my
The view from our delivery room window on Kaan's Bday - not bad, eh?
pregnancy was established (well, it did not take a Frauenartz to determine that I was pregnant at that point), I was given a Mutterpass. "Pass" means passport in German, and only pregnant ladies get Mutterpasses. They are little pale blue books, and all information relevant to the pregnancy gets written down in the book - the mother's blood type, all the tests and results she's had during the pregnancy, growth charts for the baby from the ultrasound results, allergies, etc... The mother is supposed to carry the booklet everywhere with her when she's pregnant. During my second pregnancy, I had to go to the hospital because I was very ill, and the nurses scolded me for not bringing it. So if you are ever pregnant in Germany, keep your Mutterpass with you. It is a fabulous idea. Of course, my doctor kept my records, but it was nice to have a copy for myself without having to request it.
I need a midwife...
So, if you're in the US, you have a baby one day, go home the next, and then... what??? What if the baby has a temperature? Is the baby growing and developing ok? What about
Learn the word for "Labor & Delivery" if you're going to have a baby here
those awful stitches some women have? Midwives do exist in the States, and their role is primarily that of caregiver during the pregnancy and delivery. Midwives do play a large part in delivery here in Germany, as well, but they play another special and equally important role as caregivers after the birth. As in, for 8 WEEKS after the birth! Paid for by insurance!!! So I had to find one of these, once I knew they existed. Of course, K helped with that. If it hadn't been for her, I wouldn't have even thought about looking for one.
My German being essentially non-existent at this point, I needed an English-speaking midwife. I found one through an expat magazine. She came and met me at our apartment, and then after Kaan's birth came as often as I needed her for the next two months. She weighed Kaan, looked after his umbilical cord stump, looked after me, made sure Kaan was nursing properly, and suggested remedies for a strange skin condition I developed. As much as this type of help, I often needed her emotional guidance because for the first few months after Kaan was born, my hormones were insane. And
That was hard work!
I had only 2 friends. At one point, I was getting close to rock-bottom, crying my eyes out because I was exhausted as Kaan had pretty much eaten the entire night, and was wanting very badly to give up nursing and just give him a bottle and be done with it. The midwife came in, took one look at me, and said "it's not always going to be this way". Of all the people around me and to whom I was talking on the phone, nobody had thought to tell me this, and it was a real turning point. Midwives are great.
Second time around, I found a different midwife, for a few reasons. The first midwife was slightly cold, I felt, and I wanted somebody with a warmer disposition. And more importantly, I wanted a midwife who had children of her own, and the first did not. I ended up having an epidural, and I felt some disdain from midwife #1 about that, because often midwives are into everything being natural and organic and so forth. But midwife #2 had an epidural and understood how it ain't as easy as it seems. Not just the childbirth part, but
the caring for an infant part. So I was definitely happier with Midwife #2.
I need a hospital...
It's not enough to say "I will go to the nearest hospital when I am in labor". Doctor Freitag was not going to be my OB, but I still had to choose a hospital or clinic in which to give birth. Once I had chosen, I had to get a referral slip and go there to meet one of the hospital's chief OBs. Not having any clue about where to go, K recommended her hospital, Frauenklinik vom Roten Kreuz in Munich. I never toured any others because she gave it such high recommendations, and I was also happy with my two stays there.
The clinic is associated with a hospital, but is in a separate medical facility removed from ill patients. It is staffed by OBs and midwives. I think this arrangement is brilliant if you want to avoid C- sections. Nobody's in a hurry to get the babies out because they don't have to stay longer than their shift. During both births, I had two midwives attend to me - the first ones both left when their shifts ended. In the first birth, the doctor came by quite often, but in the second birth I only saw the doctor once, in the last five minutes of the birth! The midwives here seem to do all the work, and they are happy about that. I am quite sure that, had we been in the States, Kaan's birth would have been a C-section for various medical reasons. But no, both my kids were born naturally (as in no C-section, but yes epidural). Like in the US, medical intervention varies from one hospital to the next, so if you want to avoid it, you need to find out about your hospital's reputation.
Also, scheduled inductions and C-sections appear to be much rarer here than in the States, so keep that in mind. My doctor recommended that I be induced two days before my due date with my first pregnancy, but when I went into the hospital, they sent me home and said they wouldn't induce me before my due date!
I said I'd do it over again... and I did
After Kaan was born, I told my husband that I wanted all of our children to be born in Germany. After having given birth here, I couldn't imagine doing it in the US! After Kaan's birth, I stayed in the hospital for a few days - and I had to ask
to leave. Doctors and nurses came in every day to monitor Kaan and I and to give us our first few check ups.
So, our second son, Evren, was born here in August. I am definitely one satisfied customer.
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