Friday, February 7, 2014

On combining the expat life + pregnancy

Mid-twenties. Adventurers. Expats in a non-english speaking country. Temporary contract; no permanent job. Terrified of babies & small children. No support network. Clueless about pregnancy-childbirth-babies. Unfamiliar medical system. 24 hour+ plane ride away from family...

All of the above combined sounds like a recipe for disaster, right? Well, that was Mitch and I when we were having our firstborn. In 2010, after 6.5 years of marriage we decided to take the plunge and start trying for a family. Mere months after moving from Australia to Northern Europe, taking with us only what we could carry in our well worn backpacks. I'm sure that if anyone close to us had known our plan, they would've called us crazy. Heck, looking back and knowing what I do now about pregnancy/parenthood, I would call myself a little loopy.

With it being my first pregnancy, I really had no idea what to expect: the standards in the Netherlands felt normal to me, because I didn't know any different. Only a few friends of mine had started having kids back in Australia and I honestly don't know that I really absorbed any details when my sisters were going through it. Despite the ordeal that was Oliver's birth and my misgivings about the hospital experience, the prenatal & postnatal care was top notch. Truly, I felt better taken care of in a country where I could only understand half the things that were said to me then I do here in the land of plenty.

In the Netherlands, pregnancy is viewed as being natural: unless you are deemed a 'medical' pregnancy (which I eventually was at 37 weeks), there is no need to see an ob-gyn. You simply go to your local midwife practice and are given the option to (a) home birth - the norm (b) birth in a birth clinic - which in our case was attached to our hospital or (c) hospital birth. All of these options were with my midwife in tow; not a doctor. After much research, we decided to plan for a home birth, while knowing that we could move to the birth clinic or hospital (only a couple of blocks away) at a moments notice. Our insurance company made it very easy for us, providing a kraampakket and of course, our team of midwives who were on call. We ended up going down the hospital path, with an unfamiliar ob as my midwife decided at 37 weeks that it was too risky for me to home birth or use the birth clinic and once the hospital agreed with her decision, I was deemed a 'medical' pregnancy. It was disappointing, but definitely the right decision and I was comforted to know that at the end of the day, the health professionals were working together to get the best possible outcome for mother + child.

Oliver's birth was drawn out; hard work, emotional, stressful. 68 hours from my waters breaking & first contractions until he made his grand entrance. I certainly don't look back on the hours leading up to the moment he was placed in my arms with fondness. It wasn't until about a year after he was born though that I really re-visited it in my mind and honestly, it was traumatic. I still feel a lot of guilt and I'm hoping & praying that we have a more positive experience with baby boy#2. However, despite my negativity towards the Dutch hospital experience, I still feel that we were in the best possible foreign country for having our first child. The best part about pregnancy/childbirth in the Netherlands? The postnatal care. Honestly, I don't think another country quite has it quite as good. Within one hour of us arriving home from hospital, our insurance company had a kraamzorg on our doorstep. It was 5pm on a Friday night; peak hour for cars & cyclists, and yet she was there. Kind, caring. *thankfully* speaking English. This amazing lady not only made sure Oliver was feeding well, we were comfortable, had dinner etc that first night, but came back every day, 8 hours a day for a week after he was born.

Our sweet kraamzorg was a trained nurse, specializing in mothers/babies. She took care of me and my post birth healing, she showed us how to take care of Oliver - changing nappies, bathing etc, she assisted with every breastfeed, she checked his weight daily to make sure he was gaining at the right rate, she cooked our dinners, she cleaned the house - toilet and all - did our laundry, changed the sheets daily. She even took Oliver into the living room every day from 1-3pm and made Mitch and I both go take a nap. You would think we'd be broke after paying for these services, but we didn't fork out a cent. Yup, the amazing kraamzorg care was all paid for by our insurance. And the best part - if she or I felt we weren't coping (for example, breastfeeding wasn't going well or I wasn't coping with post baby blues), all she had to do was call our midwife who could come and sign a piece of paper to get additional days covered by insurance.

This service saved us. Truly. Being sleep deprived new parents, in a foreign country with no on site support - well, I don't know how we would have coped until my sister arrived when Oliver was 3 weeks old. Our kraamzorg was such a blessing and I only wish our insurance here would offer the same service. I have to admit, I'd been struggling a bit with the thought of how we will manage after baby boy#2 arrives - this time with a toddler, limited time off work for Mitch and no family around. Thankfully, a few things have fallen into place in the last week and my sister is flying in a week after I'm due. I can't begin to explain how excited/relieved I am. I'm not overly stressed over having 2 boys in the long term, but just those first few weeks, you know - when hormones are raging, sleep is at an all time low and all three of us are having to get used to this new little person in our life. To have a family member around during this time is such a blessing and not an easy feat, when you live on the other side of the worl.

So, some 3+ years later, I reflect on our choice to combine the expat life with pregnancy, and I wouldn't change a thing. Which is just as well, because with baby boy#2 due in only four weeks - while we are living in the USA - we've gone down that path yet again. In yet another unfamiliar country *sigh*. With a little Dutch boy and now a soon to be American son, I wonder what nationality baby #3 will have?

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  1. It's always interesting to hear about medical care in other countries. Midwives and doulas are only starting to make a comeback in popularity here in the US. Most folks just go the hospital / doctor route.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this. My husband and I are thinking of trying to have a child while we are living in a foreign country. Hearing your mostly positive experience really helps.

    Elizabeth from

  3. There's not much support for mothers and babies, especially after the birth, in the US... it's sad. Especially if your family is 1000s of miles away on other continents! I was lucky to have my mom here when Judah was born and stay for the first month. It was a total guessing game, though, if she would arrive on time! Fortunately she did and it was SO wonderful to have her there at the birth and then for her look after me as I figured out how to look after a baby! I'm hoping something similar will work out this time around. It's also shocking how much having a baby (with minimal care before, during, and after) can cost here, even WITH good insurance. I had Judah at a birth center with midwives, and plan to do the same with this little guy... hubby is not quite up for the home birth thing :) Praying for a smooth delivery and transition for you!

  4. haha Lu, baby #2 is not yet born and you're talking about baby #3?! Let's say it's gonna be either Australia or The Netherlands again!!
    I'm not considering having a baby anywhere else than at home... ;) Good to hear your story to value our medical system. I hope your experience with your doula will be as good as with your kraamzorg back in Nijmegen!!

  5. Ok. So I was reading about home birth being the norm and was all like "I can not even IMAGINE having a home birth" until I got to the bit about the kraamzorg. That is just amazing! What I love about the hospital stay is it gives you a chance to rest up and recuperate before being thrown into the trenches, and also creates a little bit more of a special feel around the whole event. I just don't get that from a home birth (though I'm all for people having the choice!!). But if we had kraamzorgs here to come and help?! That would change everything. What a civilized idea.


Thanks for reading, your comments make my day :-)


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