You may have noticed our lack of travels over the past few months and we are happy to say we have a new addition to our family! Our newest daughter was born recently and as we look back on the experience… wow. We all made it through but at times it was overwhelming and very different (better in some ways) than what we experienced during child birth in the US.
Up first – Prenatal Care
I had been reading about prenatal care in Germany some when we first started looking into finding a doctor here and reviews from Americans were very polarizing, some loved it and some absolutely hated it, there wasn’t much in between. During my first child’s birth I utilized a practice that had about 10 doctors and was in the same building that my office was. It had it’s plusses – long hours, always someone available, on call doctor at the hospital 24 hours a day, covered by our insurance – but it also had drawbacks. In finding a doctor here in Germany my qualifications were mostly the same, proximity to my office, good reputation, availability; but we also needed someone who spoke English. With a little luck and good research we ended up with a great doctor. However, this is where the differences start.
In our experience in Germany, the biggest difference in care with US doctors is how your office visit is treated. Rather than going back to an exam room, seeing maybe a nurse or ultrasound technician then getting a few minutes with the doctor; in Germany we would see the doctor in his office, go over questions, he personally did the ultrasound, then again back to his office to go over everything and answer any other questions. While at times it was lengthy and does lead to the need to plan plenty of time for doctors appointments, it is a great level of service that really helped us feel at ease during what was considered a very high risk pregnancy. You are also given you Mutterpass which is a little book with handwritten records of each visit and any prior medical conditions. You keep this with you at all times should something arise and also take it to the hospital for the birth. A rather old fashioned way of tracking your medical records but it worked and was pretty convenient. We now also have one for our daughter that is her kinderpass and has all her shot records and visits.
Next – the Hospital/Birth Experience
I won’t bore you (or frighten any small children) with details but suffice it to say the delivery experience was very different than what we experienced in Washington D.C. with our first daughter.
The labor rooms themselves are quite different as the “bed” is circular and does not really look like a hospital bed. There are also other tools for birth such as a birthing stool, ball and ladder and also a tub in some for water birth or laboring in water. They monitor you every couple of hours as long as the mom and baby are doing well and you are sent to walk or eat or really whatever else you like as opposed to in the US where you are pretty much kept in the hospital bed. This was a little odd to me but it works and the best part was being able to eat during the whole process!
I ended up with a c section so we also experienced the Operating room during our stay… Not knowing German made this rather terrifying as you don’t really appreciate being able to listen to the doctors speak to each other until you can’t. I tried to remember the German word for death but could only come up with the Spanish word that I learned in high school… Needless to say I didn’t need either and the doctors were excellent.
Once we had the baby we went to our “family room” meaning it had two beds and no roommate so my husband could stay with us. The room was nice and large and had plenty of space. The room was much larger than what we had in Washington D.C. and included a changing table, desk area, two closets and a pretty large bathroom.
The midwives were varied, some were nice, some spoke English, some didn’t speak English and some were very business like and lacked a little on the compassionate side. This leads me to the pain management section – something I wish I knew more about prior to the surgery because I could have asked more direct questions and been more informed. I have since read that in the US they will give you morphine or other strong drugs during/after the cesarean section surgery in addition to the spinal injection and that it is continued after the surgery for a day or more in a lot of cases. I was given the spinal… but once that wore off about two hours post surgery I received nothing until I asked and was then given a narcotic that in my opinion didn’t help and made me really dizzy. After this I was not given any pain killers until I asked for Tylenol (for lack of knowledge of anything else and not having the mental capacity at the time to Google any other information). The midwives were not a fan of this request but after some further conversation with the doctor on duty they were able to give me some. Over the next three days I was given Tylenol upon request but nothing stronger and upon discharge was given no pain killers of any kind.
This made it fairly hard to move around and if you are considering a c-section in a German hospital I highly recommend getting information on pain management beforehand from your doctor and determining a plan because when it’s needed, rather than just giving it to you, you really need to ask and know what to ask for in German.
Another difference with the US birth experience was the length of time you are in the hospital. They are in no hurry to get rid of you, and would like you to stay for what I consider a long time. I really wanted to go home (after giving birth on Friday) on Monday and I was told that Wednesday would be better… after insisting, they did let me go after kidney ultrasounds on both myself and the baby (never had that before… we joke that the Germans take their kidneys seriously) and honestly they probably wanted to get rid of me for all of our sanity. The hospital does also submit the paperwork for the German birth certificate to the standesamt which was really helpful as we were able to pick it up less than a week after her birth so we could start the US process for a Passport, although the poor girl will be dealing with having a German birth certificate for the rest of her life. I’m sensing some mom, why do I have to have a different birth certificate fights around her 16th birthday.
One final area of note, the food. Wow, we are familiar with the German tradition of lunch being the big hot meal of the day and breakfast and dinner being cold meat/bread/cheese but it was hard. I was so hungry by the time dinner came that brown bread and sliced pressed meat (what I would liken to bologna) did not cut it at all and after three days I was shaking I was so hungry. We ordered food and they actually delivered it to our room, so I would highly encourage researching some delivery places prior to delivery… that was the best lasagne I have ever had.
Overall, giving birth is never easy in my opinion and our experience in Germany was in some ways better than in the US and in some ways much harder, but the level of care was very high and at the end of the day we ended up with the best outcome, a beautiful baby girl (who likes to sleep much more than her older sister so that’s a win).