I am 4 hours out of the hospital and already posting about giving birth in Germany. When anyone gets on the internet to write about an experience this quickly it could be because it was outrageously bad or overwhelming positive. Lucky for me (and other soon-to-be expat moms in Germany), I feel compelled to share 8 things I learned about giving birth in Germany because it was simply awesome.
I also feel a certain amount of duty as I am the recipient of some seriously good karma. No sooner had I announced I was pregnant in Germany without a clue then I started receiving advice on what to expect. People shared their experiences – the real nitty gritty – and general messages of support. When I felt truly freaked out I would go back and refer to their stories and feel stronger, knowing that people (like our German-Way team) had been here and done that. In an effort to pass it along, I am sharing a picture of my brand-new Berliner and a little bit of what I’ve learned .
- Your Mutterpass is your best friend
This passport to motherhood is issued at your doctor’s office soon after you are declared officially pregnant and it tracks every doctor visit, blood test and weigh-in. My parents visited us early in the pregnancy and my mom asked if I needed to carry it with me at all times. It seemed much too important to bring to every food truck meet-up, late night out or friendly rendezvous I scoffed.
I was wrong. Bring it everywhere. German friends finally told us my mom was right. In a bit of stubbornness I never did reveal that to her. Mother knows best, even when she doesn’t know Germany. I’ve got a lot to learn, don’t I?
- Get ready to go au natural
Germans are a natural people and I wasn’t surprised that where American websites recommended things like a membrane sweep, German midwives gave me some essential oils to bathe in. And that’s right – midwives. Hebammen are the norm for childbirth in Germany, even in hospitals, with doctors only stepping in if there is a problem.
That does not mean that the facilities or staff are not up on modern techniques. In my opinion, you get the best of both worlds. All the latest in medicine with centuries of common sense practices.
- German love talking about their health..or lack thereof
One of the few times Germans are an open book is when talking about their health. The doctors’ office is the only place I’ve ever been greeted by strangers in Germany and conversations with locals regularly delve into much frank health talk than what I’d feel comfortable with in the USA.
Pair this with everyone in the world’s interest in talking about children and you get some downright forthcoming German conversation…like it or not. This kid is only 3 days old and I’ve already been chatted up about her measurements and been on the receiving end of some Besserwisser -ing that she should really have a hat on for such cold weather.
- German insurance is the bees knees
I don’t have it but my husband does and I am routinely jealous of how comprehensive and effective the system is. This includes care for pregnancy and childbirth. Much more is covered than in the States and many of the hoops you routinely have to jump through seem to be removed.
Of course this is comparative as Norwegians may read this statement and sniff, but I am thoroughly impressed. Even though I am without this magical health insurance, I feel extremely lucky to be gifting it to our daughter.
- You could make a book of ultrasound pics
As this is my first pregnancy, I had no idea that getting a grainy black and white photo of our baby at every doctor’s visit (about once a month) was such a luxury. All in all, we ended up with 8 sonograms of her throughout the pregnancy. I even got a series of 3D photos and a video of her yawning in utero. How cool is that?!
- You know more German than you think
At 39 weeks, I went to the hospital in what turned out to be a false alarm. I had previously worried that my stumbling German language skills would make giving birth in a German hospital a horribly awkward experience…well, more than it already is. What I did not anticipate is that pain alleviates such silly worries and you communicate at your best, no matter your skill. In between bouts of primal guttural utterances, I spoke some of the best German of my life.
- …and some of it is horrifying
On top of pulling out my best German skills, I realized that some German vocabulary is simply terrible. The straight-forward nature of the language puts together some unattractive imagery. Mutterkuchen or “mother cake” for placenta? C’mon Germans – you gotta know that is why foreigners laugh at your language.
On the other hand, sayings that would greatly annoy me in English sounded much more charming in another language. When our little lady was refusing to make her big debut (12 days overdue), everyone from our Apothekerin to my husband’s boss told us,
“Mädchen lassen sich gern mehr Zeit …man sagt: ‘die putzen sich noch raus und Sie muss sich noch chic machen’.”
Which basically translates to “Girls need more time…people say ‘They clean on their way out and must pretty up”.
8. Can’t rush the Germans
Before this latest Berliner was born, we joked that we would be able to tell how German she was by how closely she observed her due date. Considering her late birth date, not very. Or maybe – perfectly.
After spending a few days in the hospital I’ve come to accept that there is no rushing the Germans. I tried to resist the standard stay of 3 nights but numerous checks on both the baby and me (plus a Sunday day of rest for the Kinderarzt – pediatrician) metered out to a leisurely 4 day stay.
And it wasn’t half bad. It was nice to get everything from my baby’s hearing to hip structure checked out (the baby’s first exams are called the U1, U2 and U3) and be cared for when you are at your physical weakest. There was simply no getting out of there early and that turned out to be just fine.
So there you have it: 8 things I learned about giving birth in Germany. I feel I’ve done my part adding to the German population, spreading my newly acquired knowledge and I am pretty pleased with the resulting little girl.
Have you given birth in Germany or abroad? What are your top tips? I’ve become a big fan of a good birth story.