I've had three children in the Netherlands, two were born in the hospital and one in my bed.
I signed up for a postpartum-nurse service and had someone with me for six hours every day.
They helped me recover and relayed information to my midwife on how I was doing.
Pregnancy, assuming there are no complications, is a fairly low-key affair in the Netherlands, where I live.
When I learned I was pregnant with my first child, I called my doctor. "Are you not happy about it?" he asked. He thought I wanted to terminate. When I said I was happy, he said, "You do not need a doctor — when the baby is coming, someone will come to the house."
And he wished me a happy pregnancy.
I had two hospital births and one home birth
Midwives run the show when it comes to pregnancy and delivery, and home birth is common; they rarely administer drugs. If you have a hospital birth, you leave with your baby as soon as you can eat and urinate, often within a couple of hours.
I opted for home birth each time. In the case of my first two children, the midwife determined we should move to the hospital; my third was born on my bed.
There were five midwives at the practice I used. At each visit — which took place, on average, once a month — one of the midwives would listen to my baby's heartbeat, measure the arc of my belly with a tailor's measuring tape, and, as my baby grew, be able to show me how he was positioned. That was it, throughout the duration of my pregnancy.
Postpartum care was a game changer
Then one day, my midwife asked whether I'd registered with a "kraamzorgverzorgster," which I had not ever heard of. "Kraamzorg," I learned, is maternity care, and the "kraamzorgverzorgster," or maternity nurse, is an intimate part of your postpartum experience.
For your first pregnancy, the "kraamzorgverzorgster" visits your home before the baby is born, to advise you on what you might need to prepare for the new arrival. They actually give you a checklist beforehand. If you have the baby at home, they are there for the birth, along with the midwife.
But be it a hospital or home birth, the morning after your baby is born, the nurse will come to your house. They will continue to come every day for a week, for six hours.
This seemed extensive to me at first, and for my first baby, it was a bit awkward. I felt like I was following a sort of baby-care course, and on the first day, I got up, showered, and dressed to greet the nurse. She sent me back to bed. Every morning after, she woke me with fresh fruit and tea, and sat and chatted with me about how the night had gone. Then, as my baby slept and I showered, she'd change my bedsheets. Each day she cleaned my kitchen and bathrooms.
The "kraamzorg" is there to ensure the mother can rest and recover. They run errands, they cook, they do whatever you need. But they are also there for the entire family, to look after older children or even walk your dog if you have one. They help your family transition more smoothly into its new expansion, in your own home — where your actual life is going on around you — and not as a patient in the hospital.
They are not there just to serve you. They are the proxy to the midwife, and report back to the practice how the baby and mother are doing: Mine took my temperature every day and examined me to check if I was recovering well.
They prepare you for the stages of postpartum you may not anticipate. After what had been a very good day, my "kraamzorg" warned me, "tomorrow, you may feel depressed." Then my milk came in and she brought me ice packs to put into my bra and gave me tips on feeding. She showed my husband, who'd never held a baby in his life, how to bathe and change our son.
In my Dutch birth experiences, everyone I worked with saw pregnancy as a natural process that requires little more than sensibility, and the real emphasis was on what happens after the baby is born: monitoring to see the baby is safe and well, ensuring that the family is adjusting well to the change, and caring for the mother's physical and mental health.
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