My German birth story

20 Sept 2017

An expat's birth story in Germany

If you have read my first birth story which took place in the UK, you will have heard a tale of breastfeeding struggles and lack of support post-partum. Let me tell you how different and similar my German birth story is. (If you want to read a condensed version of the comparison between the two, head over here.)

As the mother of one child, I knew what to expect with a second pregnancy (or so I thought). However, the fact that this pregnancy was taking place in a brand new country, in a country where neither of us spoke the language fluently was going to be a challenge to say the least. We were finally ready for it.
In Germany, just like in France (where I am from), pregnancies are monitored by a gynaecologist. You can opt for midwife care but they are very hard to come by these days (insurance issues nationwide) and I couldn't get one on time. My gynaecologist was a middle-aged woman who spoke decent enough English should we need it. True to German style, she decided she would go about our appointments in German though. I agreed and thought this would be better for me to learn the lingo (having the safety of resorting to English should the need arise).
Visits were regular and increased as pregnancy went on. At almost every visit, I got weighed (grrr), took blood very regularly and I got a quick scan almost every time. This surprised me as I had been told in the U.K. that too many scans were not good. She didn't seem to think so. She measured and probed and looked and poked. The exams were medically thorough, to say the least. I have to admit I had never sat in a chair with stirrups before then.
One of the visits was carried by a colleague as my usual gynaecologist was ill. He announced we were having "a little Fritz" even before we had mentioned if we wanted to know or not. Luckily, we did. I have many friends who have had the same experience. Be warned!

Then, on one visit (around the 6 months mark), she poked and probed for a little too long for my liking. She fell silent as she did. On that particular visit, I was alone. The husband had just returned from a business trip and was at the office catching up. The scans were so frequent here, there was no point in him coming to every single one.
She started explaining something about the digestion system and my mind went blank. My German just left me. I heard words like blocked and don't worry. I asked her to repeat again and explain more. She did suddenly remembering my German may not be up to it. She uttered a few words in English but really they didn't make more sense. She mentioned calling her colleague in the hospital and getting a 3D scan and a second opinion. She did it there and then while I was dressing up. My mind was racing. Why the urgency? Why hadn't this been noticed before? I was getting a scan every month! What was the small blockage she was talking about? And why was she saying it is nothing to worry about while ringing her colleague straight away?

An expat's birth story in Germany

I left the office with an address for another doctor and her words in my mind: "don't worry too much!"

I crumbled. Luckily, my girl was at nursery for a while longer and I could just go home. Except I couldn't. My legs couldn't. I rang my husband and he rushed out as soon as he heard me cry on the phone. Home, we googled. Of course we did. I had to google the few words she had given me and understand. What else can you do when you don't understand? Google is not your friend in this kind of situations but I had little choice (other than wait for days and the next appointment). I read words of blocked intestine and digestive system and signs of bigger underlying issues, disability and mental issues. The next appointment couldn't come fast enough. After a few very long numb hours, I made a pact with myself to not type those words again.

We arrived at the very fancy office of the renown gynaecologist a few days later. He was ready for us and we were seen straight away. Another worrying sign? It turned out he had squeezed us in during his lunch break. We were forever grateful. He introduced himself and at the first sign of our accents, he switched to English. He became really excited talking about his time in London and experiences in UCL. We felt relieved not having to ask him to explain things in English, yet nervous to get on with it. He explained the scan, what he would be looking at, everything we needed to know and more. We got started and he stayed silent, looking, probing and measuring. Finally, he decided baby might indeed have a slight blockage but it should clear itself at birth. It was absolutely nothing to worry about and certainly nothing serious. Phew! I can't tell you how relieved we were.

There were two other small incidents during those routine visits where my usual gynaecologist wanted extra tests done to verify things or get a second opinion. By the end of the pregnancy, I decided this was the German over-efficiency talking and their need for expensive tests. Other mums agreed. I really liked the thoroughness of the care but maybe this was taking it too far.

This pregnancy was nothing like my first one culturally and physically. No sickness but huge cravings. Extreme tiredness and much more weight gain. I struggled so much in the last month, I decided my body was not having another one.

5 days before my due date I started having cramps. I knew it was it. My parents were here. We were ready.
I took my girl to nursery one Thursday morning and told the staff it probably would not be me picking her up in the afternoon! I had had cramps since the early hours of the morning and knew baby was ready. Back home, I finished a few important freelance jobs and texted my husband telling him to get ready. At around 11am, I called him to ask him to come home. Around noon, we left for the hospital as the contractions became intense and very painful.

We had been drilled into not going too early to the hospital in the U.K.. As they saw me stroll in, they expected me to be in the very early stages of labour and took things really slowly. The contractions became very painful and very very intense and close to each other very quickly. I was still in the waiting room. We had to insist that they take a proper look at me. I finally got a monitoring room and they examined me. I was only 3cm dilated but with very frequent contractions. They left us. A little while later another midwife came to examine me and I was almost fully dilated! Just like that! This was going so fast. It was crazy. I asked for gas then and they reluctantly gave it to me saying it really was not standard in Germany. It was all feeling really 'violent' and fast. I was screaming with each contractions. Too much for their liking apparently. They asked me to be quiet! Right!

Then I got really light-headed and they took the gas away as I started pushing. And the familiar story started. Baby boy didn't budge. My waters had broken with a little help from the midwife but my pushing was going nowhere. My husband told them (again) the first birth story and in a split second they decided to do a caesarean. There was very little discussing it. I had little choice and, to be honest, didn't want to spend hours thinking about it. It was way too violent and strong this time around (and I had no pain relief).

In just a few minutes, I was prepped, wheeled into theatre, and ready to give birth. German efficiency. In Germany, the accompanying partner can only be in the theatre at the discretion of the doctor and during the actual birth, not before. So my husband only turned up when everyone was ready. It was rather scary as I had all these people talking German to me when all I wanted was a familiar voice. Concentrating on the German was tough in this situation. I am an introvert and really didn't want to keep asking everyone to speak English as I had done with the midwife in charge. In true German style she had replied I needed to learn German anyway. She was happy me talking to her in English but she was replying in German. As I left the labour ward and thanked her (in German), she replied with a big smile: "oh but you do speak good German"!!

The surgery went well. Baby boy was born a mere two hours after we had turned up at the hospital. They didn't even have time to register us properly and find us a bed. While I was being stitched up, Baby was with Papa for skin-to-skin. Here, as opposed to the U.K., baby was washed. When we were reunited, and after skin to skin with me, he was dressed in standard hospital clothes. All of the babies in the hospital looked the same! We asked for a family room if possible where my husband would stay with us and we got one.

Before they moved us to the ward, a paediatrician came to check up on baby. He was taken away with my husband for a scan to check that blockage. They returned with a big smile and no signs of any issue on the scan. I kept asking my husband if he was sure he had understood properly. He later admitted the paediatrician had spoken English with him!

We stayed 5 nights as a family of three, with my parents bringing big sister during the day. This was he most lavish hospital stay ever, nothing like the first one. The night midwife would come in to remind me to change him or feed him. She would offer to change him if I wanted to. She offered pain relief for the first night or two. The midwives were strict and a little too direct for my liking but I appreciated the help so much. They helped me wash, dress and get back on my feet within a matter of hours. One of the midwives insisted on me walking up and down the corridors regularly, for example. I wanted a rest so could have done with less of that but hey, better than being left on my own. Baby boy slept in a co-sleeper attached to my bed and we just had a great time.

Most importantly, the midwives helped me breastfeed. They suggested a nipple shield within minutes of observing me and me telling them my simplified previous story. They encouraged me to drop the shield. They gave me tips and spent every visit commenting on how great we were doing. Baby finally passed all of their tests and checks despite more double checking and second opinions.

We were released just after Easter. We got home to a community midwife we had picked ourselves. She came every day then every week for 8 weeks. She picked baby up, played with him. She weighed him while reminding me the number was not always important. She observed us breastfeeding, helped us position ourselves better in our comfy chair. She was encouraging instead of being critical. She was not just ticking box in a form. She was what a new mum needs.

Better safe than sorry was how I would describe this pregnancy and birth experience in Germany.  Overall, this birth experience was so much better than the first one despite the pregnancy worries. My experience of Germany's healthcare and post-partum care is so much more positive and suited me as a mother and as a person a lot better.

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