By far, one of the biggest concerns I had prior to moving to Germany was about having a baby over here. We had long known we wanted to start a family, but it didn’t happen for us when we lived in New Jersey or Hawaii. A major perk for us to move overseas meant that I could take a break from my career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker to focus on starting a family and even better yet, raising a family. For us, we knew that there was no way I would be able to be a stay at home mom for any period of time if we stayed in the U.S. So, in Dec. 2013 we took the plunge and made the move to Germany.
I was shocked, and happily surprised, to learn from others that already lived here that many women actually PREFER to give birth over here rather than in the states. As it turns out, Europe in general is way more open to holistic practices and encouraging of natural births than the U.S. Once I learned of this, I decided to do a little research. I read up on this topic and watched some videos as well. I can’t recall everything I watched, but YouTube and Netflix were definitely helpful. Probably my favorite thing to watch was Ricki Lake’s documentary “The Business of Being Born” and her follow up documentary series “More Business of Being Born” where they interviewed celebrities who challenged the “American Way” of giving birth in favor of a more natural approach. If you’re interested in more about natural birthing you can also google Ina May Gaskin, she’s a midwife and did an excellent “Ted Talks” that’s worth watching as well.
One of the biggest cons to giving birth in the U.S. is the c-section rate. I can’t tell you how many friends, or friends-of-friends I know that have said they were basically “forced’ into a c-section. There’s probably a lot to blame for this: our health care system, medical staff wanting to time things to their advantage, and just the general notion in our culture to hurry up and get things done. Now I just want to say that there is nothing wrong with having a c-section. Some women really need it in medical or emergent situations obviously, and some women just prefer to have it done. Nothing wrong with that! But what IS wrong is women being coerced into having a surgical procedure to birth their child if it’s not really necessary and not what they wanted. So many women I’ve talked to have said “if they only gave me more time…”. How disempowering is it to think that a woman was in a sense cheated out of the birth they desired because medical staff or health insurance companies or both didn’t want to wait for the woman to progress on her own time. Over here in Europe, the process is not rushed. And typically, interventions, medications, and surgical procedures are not pushed for by medical staff either unless there seems to be a medical need or the patient asks for it. This mentality really aligned with my vision of having a baby and therefore, I went from being nervous about giving birth abroad to being excited!
When I met my doctor over here I liked her right away. After I got pregnant, my husband came to almost all of our appointments and we both felt safe and comfortable with her. You can imagine then, that we were shocked to learn that she would not be delivering our baby! That’s right, over here the ob/gyn only sees you for prenatal and postnatal care, and there is an ob/gyn at every hospital to delivery your baby if needed. But what’s really different in this case is that often it’s not the doctor that delivers your baby- it’s a midwife! Of course we were sad and a bit worried when we learned that our doctor wouldn’t be present at our babies’ birth, but on the other hand, the more specialized care really is a plus. I think this is a big reason why things aren’t rushed over here. Doctors aren’t getting called in at all hours of the day or night to deliver babies while they still have patients waiting in their waiting rooms at their offices. One thing that did bother us though was that we wouldn’t know anyone who would be present at the birth. And because you’re not tied to a hospital because that’s where your ob/gyn delivers, you can literally choose any hospital you want to deliver at. Here in Wiesbaden, there are 3 hospitals to choose from and a few in nearby towns as well. However, even if you decide what hospital you would prefer to deliver at, there might not be room for you when you go into labor (more on that in a bit). And furthermore, even if you did get into your first choice hospital, there was no way to meet the midwife or doctor ahead of time who would be delivering for you, because it’s all random. Being first time parents, not having any family with us when the baby would be born, and not knowing any of the professionals who would be present at the birth really freaked me out. After some more research, I came up with a plan for our problem: hire a doula.
For those who may not be familiar (and I had to explain this to a few of my friends and family who were unaware since doulas have been around for a long time but are really gaining “popularity” now), a doula is a trained non-medical professional who is able to provide support before, during, and after the birth of your baby. In short, they’re a birth coach. But in reality, they are so much more than that. And doula’s can have their own specialty as well, such as being a post partum doula, a lactation consultant, a photographer, an acupuncturist, and so on. Now when I first told my husband this idea, he had no idea what I was talking about and didn’t understand why we should hire one, but after some research and discussion, we agreed this is what was best for us and our baby. Some of the benefits of hiring a doula include: emotional support before, during and after the birth, shorter delivery times, decrease in need for c-sections/interventions/medications, and improved outcomes for both mother and baby. For more information on the benefits of hiring a doula, and how to find a doula, go to http://www.DONA.org.
There weren’t a lot of doulas in our area here in Germany to choose from when I started looking, but fortunately the number is growing! I started our search by asking my doctor for her recommendations and she gave me a short list of 3 people. One was moving away, one was already booked up with mothers for our due date, and the third’s phone number was out of service, ha! So I began asking around, and as luck would have it we had just began working with someone through a new parent program here who also happened to be a doula! Enter, Barb! We first met in early December when I was about 22 weeks along. And by the end of the month, around the beginning of my 3rd trimester, Jeff and I agreed that she was who we wanted to be with us on this journey. Barb met with us bi-weekly at our home from December until April when I delivered, and met with us weekly for a month after that. Her presence, support, and advocacy meant so much to us all along the way. As new parents, we had tons of questions at every meeting and she took the time to chat with us and answer each one. Being an RN and a certified Lactation Consultant, she had a ton of info and advice for us which was always appreciated. Once we had Barb as our doula, it was time to work on Hypnobirthing.
This is another thing you may have never heard of, or have little information on, but is becoming increasingly popular. Hypnobirthing is similar to Lamaze, which many people have heard of. But what it is, is a way to utilize meditation, relaxation, visualization, and breathing techniques to eliminate or reduce the fear associated with birthing and increase the likelihood of a successful, natural, and intervention and medication-free delivery. I had heard of Hypnobirthing from my Aunt Kim who used it too when preparing for the birth of her daughter. (Thanks Aunt Kim!!) She had told me about it during her first pregnancy, and then when I got pregnant she filled me in on the details. You know how sometimes when you hear about something it just really resonates with you?! This was it for me. I knew I wanted to do Hypnobirthing. My main reason for wanting a medication free birth was because of the benefits to the baby, and also because I really felt I could do it medication free because of my previous kidney surgery. Personally, I know my body does not react well to pain medications and I didn’t want to suffer through that if I could prevent it during my baby’s birth. So, my first step here was to order the book “Hypnopbirthing: The Mongan Method” on Amazon. It’s only $13 and comes with a CD that has 2 audio tracks to start you on. What a bargain!! I had looked into taking actual Hypnobirthing classes, many of which are now offered in the U.S. by the way! I couldn’t find any English-speaking classes out here that were starting when I was ready to start learning though. And later I found a class that was offered but it was pretty expensive. Therefore, I decided to do self-instruction.
I had read and heard that many women have success using the self instruction, so I decided to get crackin’. While Barb had no previous Hypnobirthing experience, she was just as interested as I was in learning about it, and so we learned together! She read the book too and downloaded some additional hypnobirthing audio tracks that she shared with me, which were fantastic. We also made it a point to watch hynobirthing videos on YouTube to actually see how all these tools were put into play. At around 26 weeks pregnant, I began practicing my relaxation tracks every night before I went to bed. I listened to the 2 tracks that came on a cd with the book, but I also got a bunch of tracks from Barb from the Kathryn Clark Hypnobirthing Hub Home Study Course. Then once a week Jeff and I would set aside 45 min to listen to the Birth Intentions track together and then do one track where I put my headphones on and zoned out while Jeff massaged my back and practiced his anchors and prompts and I would alternate sitting on my birth ball or leaning over it or walking… just different positions for labor.
In total, I practiced every day for 15 straight weeks. It seems like a lot, but when you think about it, “practicing” could be as simple as listening to a relaxation track for 15-20 minutes a day. Of course there were days that I spent a lot more time on it like when I would put the tracks or relaxation music on in the background while I did other things around the house, and then there were days where I only made it through one track. But If you stay committed and practice a little bit each day, you’re going to be shocked and amazed with the results! I loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat. By the end of my pregnancy I was so “in the zone” while listening to these tracks before I went to bed that I would doze off and go through ten or more tracks before I woke up and took out my headphones lol. Also, I really enjoyed listening to the positive affirmations! My favorite one was: “Each surge of my body brings my baby closer to me” which I repeated to myself in my mind during a lot of the contractions when I was in labor. Here’s one that I liked to repeat a lot just before my due date arrived:
Our next step in this process was to choose a hospital. As I previously mentioned, you pretty much have your choice of whatever hospital you want to deliver at, with the caveat being that you hope they have room for you when you’re in labor, because each hospital has only a few laboring rooms! Unfortunately, it has happened that you can go to a hospital in labor here and they’ll be full and will send you to another hospital. It happened to a friend of ours, and I was worried it would happen to us…particularly because we were informed that we had a VERY popular due date.
As luck coincidentally would have it, we conceived our baby at the time when Germany won the World Cup which was HUGE over here as you can imagine. Therefore, we were told to have back-up hospitals in mind since there was no telling if the hospital we preferred would have room for us on our delivery day or not. Fun fact, there’s a German word for the babies conceived during the winning of the world cup, and I can’t remember what it is, but it translates to “victory babies” lol. We toured 3 hospitals – 2 in town, and one over in Mainz which is the next town over. We were partial to the 2 in town because they’re both about a 5-10 minute drive away depending on traffic and we had some familiarity with them. The 3rd hospital was a good 30 minutes away but it had a NICU in case we ran into any problems or I went into labor before I was 36 weeks along. The other hospitals won’t admit you if you go into labor before your 36th week. I registered at all 3 hospitals. And I can tell you this: every hospital is a little bit different. You would expect them to be more uniform, but they weren’t. Here’s a pic from the day Jeff and I went to watch Germany win the World Cup, and an article about “Victory Babies” in Germany: http://www.spiegel.de/international/happiness-sparked-hormone-rush-germany-s-world-cup-baby-boom-a-467714.html
Here are some pictures from Julianne’s birthday. Words and pictures can’t describe how amazing this day truly was for all of us. Definitely one of the best days of my life for sure! While these photos are not photoshopped in any way, some have been edited with cropping for privacy or lighting was edited to show the pictures better, because both my labor room and the waterbirth room both had soft/ambient lighting. All photos were taken by our Doula, Barb, who is not a professional photographer, but took some great pics of this special day. Also note that since these pictures are untouched, you’re seeing me at not my most photogenic time, or with flattering angles LOL. I’m a real mom who worked out 4-5x a week throughout my entire pregnancy, gained the recommended 35lbs (and at 3.5 months post partum is still working to get about 20 lbs of it off but that’s a story for another day!), and was sweating through 10 hours of labor. No graphic pics shown, but giving you the heads up – just keeping it real folks!
My water broke at home at 8pm. An hour later, at 9pm, we arrived at our first choice Hospital (lucky us!) Paulinen Asklepios Klinik:
The leaning on the counter thing and breathing was a big part my labor from about 6-9pm. From 1-6pm my contractions were relatively easy to breathe through. They escalated pretty dramatically after my water broke at 8pm and then again around 10:15pm when I was fully dilated. When I arrived at the hospital, I had to wait about 45 min to get checked because the midwives were doing change-of-shift. That kind of sucked, I’m not gonna lie. And at that point things were getting kind of intense for me and I needed some air so we opened the window and I stood there leaning on the window sill for a while taking in the cool night air. Then Barb suggested I use the Rebozo which is basically a long woven fabric attached to the ceiling for support during labor.
At 9:45pm I was about 5-6cm dilated, but at 10pm I started feeling the urge to push and asked to get into the tub to prepare for the waterbirth. This was a separate room right next to the labor room, thankfully not a far walk! It felt great on my lower back and having aromatherapy and my hypnobirthing music was great too. At 10:15pm I entered the tub and was checked again- fully dilated! I was pretty shocked that I went from being “halfway there” to “you’re all set” in 30 minutes time. Here I am below “relaxing” between contractions, or surges. As you can see in these pics, Jeff was amazing… what a great partner to have by my side! He was supportive, encouraging, and there every step of the way. He gave me water when I needed it, helped me to relax, and even held the baby’s fetal heart beat monitor in place on my belly when I moved around and it started to lose the signal. There was no cursing, no “you did this to me” moments, and no ferocious hand squeezing like you see in the movies! We had practiced this for so long, it was just about doing what we learned through hypnobirthing practice and our sessions with Barb: breathing and using the encouragement and support to relax through the contractions. I’m not going to tell you it was pain free. There was a moment or two where I felt like I might throw up, and a few times after I got in the tub I said “ow”. To me, the difference was that I was saying “ow”, but not screaming it. I felt pain and I pushed through it with the breathing and visualizations I was taught.
As previously mentioned, the Doctor and Midwife were great but I had them fooled by how “relaxed” I was (ie, not screaming) because they didn’t think I was anywhere near ready to have my baby yet despite my increased urges to push. Here they are checking on some stuff in the corner of the room, and you can see the clock on the wall – it’s about 15 min before Julianne was born. Shortly after this was about the time when the conversation occurred as to whether Julianne would be born before midnight to be a “Due Date” baby… ha!!
The contractions were pretty strong at this point and shortly after this, I asked if she was crowning yet. The answer was no, but the midwife was going to do a quick check. As she crossed the room to get some gloves, Julianne came bursting into the world! Because she was a waterbirth, Jeff says she came shooting out like a torpedo LOL. I say she came out waving her hands, “jazz hands” style and saying “I’M HERE”!! Either way, she was hanging out in the water for about half a second before we all realized what happened and thank God for Barb who said “Your baby is here! Reach down and pick up your baby!” In my birth plan we had discussed the whole “feeling the head and lifting her out myself” thing, but Julianne did not want to wait. I think I heard her mutter “crowning is for wussies” on the way out. Nonetheless, I got the most amazing opportunity of lifting her out of the water all by myself and bringing her up to me. It was incredible. Because we chose not to learn the sex of our baby ahead of time, it was even more extra special that I was the one who saw she was a girl and was able to announce it to everyone! Although to be honest, Jeff and I had a feeling in our guts, and our hearts, since day one that she was a girl. I literally had so many dreams about her being a girl, even a particularly vivid one exactly one month before she was born where I got to “meet” her. It was so realistic, I pretty much knew at that point that we were having a girl. The awesome thing about that too is that she looked exactly as she did in my dreams. I truly felt like I already knew her when she was born from having seen her in my dreams so many times. Pretty neat huh?! Anyhow, after I picked Julianne up from the water and held her, the midwife then came over and unwrapped the cord and patted her back and did a mouth-swish to give her her first breath. That’s when we heard the most beautiful cry. At no point was I scared or worried about her birth. Even when no one was there to catch her, I had read so much on waterbirthing that I felt safe having her enter the world in water and having her hang out under water there for a split second before I picked her up. I know it’s not for everyone, but I think it really benefited us both, and I loved every minute of it.
For one thing, at this hospital (which is really more comparable to a birth center in the U.S. vs. an actual hospital) there is no nursery. Your baby is with you 24/7. I was totally happy with that, I loved having her with us the whole time and felt great about that. But unless someone was coming to draw blood or run a test, no one really came by to just check on us and make sure we were ok. Quite a few times I walked to the nurses station to ask questions. And most staff speak at least some English, but not all of them, and not always very well. Still, we got the help we needed and we got by just fine. The food there was interesting. They had a little food area you could walk to on the unit for breakfast and dinner. Both meals were the exact same layout: deli meats, cheeses, and breads. Classic German spread. Lunch was the only hot meal and it was brought to us and we got to choose what it was. The staff was awesome and brought me a loaf of my own Gluten free bread which was unbelievably tasty… but poor vegetarian Jeff suffered through a few days of cheese sandwiches for breakfasts and dinners since there weren’t any other options. After 2 days, Julie and I were doing great and saw no need to stay so we asked to check out. Yes, we told them we were leaving. In the U.S., they usually give you the boot ASAP from the hospital so as not to incur more charges that health insurance has to pay for. By the way, living overseas means we have to pay ALL of our health insurance costs (medical and pharmaceutical) up front and THEN submit a claim to our insurance and just wait a few weeks and see what they are willing to reimburse you for. This means you need to have money up front for most things whether you are charged immediately, or you get the bill later in the mail. Anyhow, in Germany, it is extremely common for women to stay a week in the hospital if they want to, even if they, like me, had a normal birth with no complications. In fact, you can check out as soon as 4 hours after the birth if you feel like it! As a first time mom, I think that’s a bit much, but supposedly a lot of American moms who have had previous babies check out that quickly to avoid having to share a recovery room with a roommate or be subjected to multiple days of deli spreads for meals lol. Here is our first pic of Julianne when we got home: