I don’t Dutch well. It’s become obvious (and the blunt Dutch have told me) that I am a fantastic example of how not to be a good Dutch mom. I am not proud of this revelation — I just understand my place and preferred dress code. Neither of which bode well in such cruel climate.
For starters, I’m paranoid — about everything (mainly baby or Vermouth related). Also, I am not blunt, I sugar-coat shit and pray my subtle honesty doesn’t offend anyone (EVER!!). I like to hug people… hard. And my son will ALWAYS wear a helmet while riding a bike.
You should just ship me back. Before I am too heavy to transport.
But even through these differences, I have grown to adore the Dutch and admire the women I have met here. And I have actually benefitted greatly from being around them. They are superb parents, even if their style is a little different than mine. We grew up differently, of course we will have varying views and dance moves. That was such a fun line to write.
Most days, I am an open-minded, spirited, and confident person. But when it comes to my children, no matter where in this world we may be, I will always be more cautious and unapologetic about it. But don’t spit on me, I am learning. And I am being the best parent that I know how to be. In Amsterdam. Hiding from the rain and cold and bikers who text.
The thing I have struggled with the most since moving to this dam place has definitely been their healthcare system — I am not a fan. At. All. But that is another discussion for another (less hormonal) day. I only say it so you can know my initial apprehension and hesitation of having a baby in this country.
The Dutch are very natural in every regard. This can be fantastic, as well as hard to swallow at times. When it comes to pain management — whether a common cold or birth — you will seldom find any form of relief. Some people applaud this approach; as a new mom, it often scares me shitless and makes me yearn for a Walgreens pharmacy.
But back to the big belly stuff.
I found out I was pregnant on New Years Eve (I still think about all the champagne that got away). Not having a clue where to start, because you don’t see a gynecologist regularly here (you don’t go to one unless there is a problem and from what I understand, you have to have a referral from your general practitioner — and we don’t necessarily like each other), I was told I needed to schedule an appointment with said GP and seek advice on the matter. Not the best way to spend my babysitter’s time or my money, but necessary.
The first thing my GP told me (after looking at me like I was a fool for existing in his world — did I mention we don’t get along?) was that he couldn’t help me or refer anyone to me; I needed to find a midwife on my own.
When I stated that I would much rather have a doctor, he very bluntly said, “but you are not sick, giving birth is a natural thing, you will not need a doctor.” Okay, see, most of you are nodding your heads now, applauding this view and I DO understand that and think it is a beautiful sentiment, HOWEVER, hearing that I will not be seeing a doctor while carrying a baby in a foreign country where I do not speak their language is NOT want I wanted or needed to hear while holding back first trimester vomit. I was already very scared and felt alone and confused. When I thought about a midwife, I pictured every stereotypical movie version, but super Dutch. Basically, a very blunt, rough, perfectly scary woman telling me to toughen up and have a home birth without intervention of any kind. While riding a camel. Brewing a batch of iced tea. Live tweeting the whole thing.
I have been known to exaggerate.
I googled “Amsterdam Midwife” and received a silly amount of links and information. I chose the office closest to my house and called them. The kindest voice answered the phone. I was completely smitten before we hung up. My appointment was set for the following day.
I wasn’t sure what I expected to find when I arrived at my midwife’s office. Certainly not the ridiculously precious, large building that I walked into. I was greeted right away and asked to wait and have some tea or water or my own pet dolphin (that’s how flippin sweet they were!). There was one other smiling preggo in the waiting area. She offered me a cookie. I cried when I accepted it. Because SOO sweet. Oh, and I am pregnant.
I met one of my midwives that day (to date, I have met five different ones, all just as lovely as the one before). She was overly kind and gentle, confident and funny; I felt immediately at ease. Our conversation was effortless and extremely informative. I pictured us becoming besties in an underrated made for tv film. It was that kind of connection.
The first thing she mentioned, in a much more sincere way than the damn GP, was that the Dutch prenatal system is much different than the US and yes, they do not consider pregnant women to be sick, so they don’t see the need for medical intervention (or a doc) unless something is wrong. They prefer home births (The Netherlands have the highest rate of home births in the world) but are willing to go to a hospital for the actual delivery if need be. They are nurses and very passionate about their jobs. Extremely professional. Utterly wonderful. She offered me more tea.
Then I dropped the bomb. I told her I ended up having to have a Caesarean Section with my first child. She immediately said, “oh no problem at all, we can prepare you for a vbac (vaginal birth after c-section)”. To be honest, I was shocked. My US doc, all of my friends, my parents, and any healthcare practitioner I had ever spoken with about a vbac, seemed against it, stating that “when you have two options of bringing a child into the world and one has more risks than the other, the choice should be fairly obvious”. And this was something I agreed with upon doing my own research. So, yes, I was very shocked and uncomfortable that it was brought up in such a light-hearted manner.
And this is the part where I let you know that I completely understand if you have a difference in opinion. That’s great. We are all wonderful and dandy and have different thoughts dancing in our heads. This is just how I feel about my particular situation. Please be kind in your comments.
I told my midwife, the new love of my life, that I was not comfortable in pursuing a vbac, that I felt for the safety of my baby and myself, a repeat section, in a hospital with a doctor, would be the best thing for me. She smiled and said she would help me in any way she could to make that a reality. I cried for the second time since arriving at her office. No cookie necessary.
Since that day, I have met with several midwives throughout all my appointments, and I have adored them all. They have performed most of the tests that I had in the US (always very informative when I asked why a certain one wasn’t performed), measured me and the babe, scheduled all my ultrasounds, and let me hear that perfect heartbeat every time.
There were only a few uncomfortable things brought up throughout our appointments: 1) when I opted out of testing for downs. They brought it up several times, but the procedure seemed too invasive and unnecessary to me. I pray my child does not have it, but knowing the likelihood beforehand wouldn’t have changed my pregnancy, 2) when I quickly shut down any talk of abortion. I understand their beliefs are different than my own, however, I am not interested in ever having an abortion discussion, 3) every single time I met with a new midwife, I would have to explain my stance on having a repeat section (so, yeh, it was a little overwhelming and repetitive).
Besides that, my entire prenatal experience in Amsterdam has been incredible. My midwife even set up an appointment at the closest hospital with a doctor (something most people do not get to do until week 36) and I got to tour the birthing and recovery rooms and ask the million of questions I had. The doctors and hospital were exceptional — I felt and still feel that I am in gorgeous hands.
I had my last midwife appointment at 34 weeks. Starting at 36 weeks, I will be meeting with my doctor at the hospital where I will bring Evelyn into this world. I won’t see my midwife again until after I give birth (she will visit the hospital and then our house for check-ups). I am still able to call them with any questions or worries I have. Makes a world of difference.
I have made friends here that have given birth in every single beautiful way: home birth, c-section, water-birth, epidural, no epidural, midwife, doctor, etc. We all have our reasons for selecting our own birth plans. I completely respect everyone’s choice. And I feel very secure in my own.
One thing that the Dutch do extremely well (and much better than the US — sorry, ‘merica) is postnatal care. It’s actually so good that if you do have a natural birth in a hospital, you are released a few hours later, so you can go home and reap the benefit of it. And as someone who is living pretty damn far from her support system, this is Sam Cooke music to my ears (the feel good stuff).
So, what can a mama in Holland expect? The first week you are home, a kraamzorg (a maternity care assistant) will arrive at your house for a couple of hours a day and help care for you and your new bundle. She will assist in matters like bathing, breastfeeding, looking after other children, and light household duties. Your midwife and a social nurse will also stop by your house to check up on you and your baby. Lots of love and guidance, people. For an expat, you couldn’t ask for anything more.
I don’t often write about things like this. And I try to never state my parental preferences (ask me, I’ll tell you, but I won’t throw it at you). I would rather connect with other parents on a level more closely associated with a shared disgust of floating tot poop or the importance of the ever-glowing purple booger (how did he do that!?!?).
But I wanted to share my experience with everyone. Because it’s different. Because you asked. Because I needed something to write about. Because it might help another wandering mama prepare.
We will meet our dam baby in one month. Send prayers and all the English baby products our way. I am currently hoarding each.