My birth experience in Germany
The moment I found out I was pregnant, I felt overwhelmed with questions and decisions to make. As an American overseas, should I have my baby in the American military hospital, or a German hospital? What are the German hospitals like? Would there be different birth practices, or a language barrier? Would I be comfortable with the doctor? All of these questions compounded the normal anxiety one feels about the body changes, parenting and, oh yeah, the realities of giving birth! It is easy to get overwhelmed, but once pregnancy is confirmed, there is no stopping the momentum.
First things first
I read books, websites and blogs, and interrogated anyone with experience; it was informative yet overwhelming. I learned that everyone has a unique childbirth experience, and I had many options. Ultimately, I chose to have my baby at a local German hospital.
Choosing your doctor
Since I decided to give birth off post, I found a local, English-speaking obstetrician gynecologist (OBGYN) who accepted my insurance, was close to my work, and whose office utilized modern equipment for monitoring
I was nervous during the first few visits and there were a few things I had to get used to. For example, it’s customary that a patient is not given an examination gown to put on before the doctor performs the exam. If this makes you uncomfortable, plan to wear a skirt or long shirt that you can adjust as you lay on the table. They also have unique waiting room procedures. There is a lot of waiting involved, but I found it was a good time to read or relax.
One thing I wish I had known — if you choose a doctor who does not work out of the Krankenhaus (hospital), she will not be the one to deliver your baby. She will perform all routine exams and oversee the pregnancy until labor begins, then the hospital of choice takes over. At first, I was disappointed. I was hoping to build a trust relationship with my doctor over the course of my pregnancy so I would feel more at ease during labor. However, I was comfortable with my chosen OBGYN, so I decided to stay in her care.
Your Mutterpass is your best friend
This passport to motherhood is issued at your doctor’s office after you are declared pregnant, and tracks every doctor visit, blood test and weigh-in. Bring the Mutterpass everywhere — to each examination and to the hospital. This is an especially important document since the doctor who performs your examinations may not be the one delivering the baby. Not only will the pass be necessary in an emergency, it also entitles you to park your car in designated spots for expectant mothers.
Choosing a hospital
This decision may be tied to choosing your doctor; if you want your OBGYN to be at the delivery, then choose one affiliated with the hospital where you want to deliver.
I chose a German hospital near my village. Most hospitals offer scheduled information sessions so you can tour the maternity ward. I wasn’t able to attend during the regular tour times, so we simply asked if we could come by another time. I highly recommend this. We ended up getting a personal tour of the delivery ward, met the staff and discussed our options. The delivery rooms were very cozy and looked more like physical therapy/wellness rooms.
During the tour, we pre-registered for maternity care. Once you choose a hospital, pre-register for their maternity care in week 33 to 36 of your pregnancy. Since I chose a private OBGYN, pre-registering at the hospital was important so they would have all of my information (insurance, room and meal preference, etc). I also registered with the anesthesiologist so my paperwork would be on file in case I chose to have an epidural.
Although a doctor would be present, it was standard practice at this hospital for the midwives to deliver the babies. There were several midwives on duty when my daughter was born. Not all spoke English, but they were all extremely friendly. While in labor I was treated with the utmost respect and care. I didn’t need a rigid birth plan; I was given many options to help me throughout the discomfort of labor.
My experience from check-in to discharge was wonderful. My baby and husband were allowed to stay with me the whole time, and I had a clean, private room for most of my stay that provided both a mini-fridge and bathroom with shower. The last night I was asked if I minded sharing my room since the delivery ward was busy.
Important note: The room was not air-conditioned. Many things are not provided by the hospital. You will need to bring all comfort items. I brought toiletries, towels, hairdryer (220v), clothes, slippers, snacks and beverages. Although the food was good, I was always hungry outside of scheduled mealtimes. Hospitals vary in what they provide, so make sure you ask about these items during your tour. This way you will know exactly what to bring.
I tried to resist the standard stay of three nights but numerous checks on both the baby and me turned into a leisurely four-day stay. The midwives answered questions and taught me important skills for taking care of my daughter. If I needed a break at any time, they would watch the baby. In hindsight, I should’ve embraced their help a little more.
Looking back on my experience, it was a wonderful journey. Now, knowing what to expect, I will be more confident and relaxed in my choices the next time around.
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