Having a baby can be a scary experience. Even more so when it happens in a foreign country. When we decided that we were ready to start our family, we just so happened to be living in Amsterdam. I'm the type that enjoys planning and list making so I attempted to gather all of the research that I could about what having a baby in the Netherlands was like. I wasn't sure what the differences between having a baby in the Netherlands and America would be and my initial research did not calm my nerves about it at all. But in the end, it all worked out for the best.
Pregnancy is not an illness
The Dutch don't treat pregnancy as an illness. Their approach to pregnancy and birth is much more natural and holistic. You'll find this theme over and over again from what you're allowed to eat, to what activities are ok while pregnant. In fact, I was still riding my bike until right before I gave birth. That would never have been okay in the States while here it is very common to see pregnant women riding their bikes. Often times while transporting children!
I love the whole attitude of treating pregnancy as a natural state of life. It meant for me that rather than people butting in with their opinions and criticisms, I was instead treated like an adult who could make her own informed decisions for herself and her unborn child.
On the flip side of this, it also meant that there is a much more hands off approach to pregnancy. Like for instance, the number of ultrasounds here in the Netherlands is less than I would have received in the US. Plus, when I got on a crowded tram or metro people didn't automatically offer me a seat. But, there is always some sort of give and take to be had.
You'll have a Midwife instead of an OBGYN
Unless you are a high risk pregnancy, you probably won't be seen by an OBGYN. Instead you'll have a midwife (verloskundige), or as I had, a group of midwives in a practice. Having gone through a midwife practice I can say to any expecting moms not to worry.
The midwives in the Netherlands are well trained, professional, and know what they are doing. They are also very, very booked up. As soon as you know that you are pregnant you need to find a midwife. Otherwise you might find yourself making many phone calls and having to be seen at a practice way across town from where you live.
Now once you get to see your midwife, one of the first questions that they are probably going to ask you is where you would like to give birth. Coming from the US giving birth anywhere besides in a hospital was a very foreign concept to me. So, it was with great interested that I learnt more about the options of where to give birth.
Giving Birth at Home
The home birth rate in the Netherlands is the highest in the developed world. While lots of women opt for this, it is not your only choice. There are also several great hospitals in the area. Besides being able to choose a hospital birth or a home birth, there is another option. In between the extremes of home birth and hospital is a "kraamhotel." Kind of a special hotel experience specifically for giving birth.
My biggest fear when I got pregnant was that I was going to be pushed into an unmedicated home birth. There is a lot of misinformation online about giving birth in the Netherlands. Except, how do you know what is true and what is just a scare tactic until you actually experience it yourself? To get a better understanding of what to expect and to meet up with other expecting moms I decided to sign us up for a child birthing class that was taught in English.
Childbirth classes In English
Since I knew no one in the city who was also pregnant, it was important to me to try to connect with other moms. I had read good reviews about Childbirth Class Gale and so I signed us up for the 5 week course. My reasoning was that by doing the longer course, this would give us a chance to not only learn about what to expect around the whole childbirthing process, but also to meet other expecting parents.
This proved to be an invaluable experience. The class was informative and well organized. A very matter of fact course with tons of resources. Gale never pushed any of us taking the course towards how she thought our birthing experiences should go. Rather she was very informative and answered our questions without prejudice. The other couples taking the course were mostly expats and to this day we are still in touch as a group. In fact, we recently had a retreat to celebrate the babies turning 1!
Doula in Amsterdam
I was surprised to learn that doulas aren't more common in Amsterdam. When I brought up that I would be using a doula during my birthing experience, I had to explain to many people just what I meant. While many things are covered by insurance surrounding the birth (including part of the cost of the childbirth course) we had to pay for our doula out of pocket. For me, this was money well spent.
After interviewing a few doulas I chose Guillette Bink. She is one of the most compassionate and caring people that I have ever met. When I first talked with her, I knew that she was the one for us. And when I went into labor unexpectedly early and had to rush to the hospital for what ended up being a whirlwind experience, Guillette was there to help not only me but also my husband stay calm through it all.
Kraamzorg: Your personal Maternity Nurse
Kraamzorg is a medical service in the Netherlands where postnatal care is provided to a new mother and her baby in the initial eight to 10 days immediately after birth. You read that right my friends. After giving birth a nurse comes to your house and helps you while you recover. Not only that, but it's also completely or mostly covered by your basic healthcare coverage. Every country should do this.
After giving birth in the Netherlands as an American expat, I can honestly say that it was overall a positive experience. I found all medical professionals involved to be just as good if not better than what I would have received in the US. (Having worked for years as a RN in the US, I believe that I am highly qualified to make that judgement.)
The greatest peace of mind came to us because of how the insurance works here. When I had to be rushed to the hospital to give birth and then on top of that endured an extended hospitalization, in the US Lee and I would have been worrying about how we were going to pay for it all. Here in the Netherlands, we were able to focus on mine and the baby's health rather than money. And anyone who's had a child in the ICU can attest to that being stressful enough.