Baby / Life Abroad / Pregnancy

Reflections on Giving Birth Abroad

If you’ve been following along for awhile now, you already know that there are a lot of differences between how the Dutch and American systems handle pregnancy and birth (if you’d like to get caught up, see parts 1, 2, and 3 here). I’ve also written about Prim’s very “American-style” birth (read: induction, Pitocin, epidural, being forced to wait to push) and Lark’s decidedly Dutch entrance into the world (no drugs whatsoever, born in the water, home less than 3 hours after delivery).

So given the choice, which model would I opt for next time?

The Dutch approach, hands-down. As I’ve mentioned before, I do think the Dutch approach has its drawbacks. I think it’s a tougher model for first-time moms in some ways. If you are struggling with breastfeeding (like I did with Prim), being sent home from the hospital mere hours after delivering could add additional stress to an already stressful and emotional situation. Also, if you’re someone who has a lot of anxiety with pregnancy, the American approach will likely give you more peace of mind than the the sort of “free-range” Dutch model. And if you’re someone who is dead-set on having an epidural for delivery, the American model is going to be your best bet. (Remember that 60% of American births are accompanied by an epidural, whereas only 10% of Dutch births use one.)

The Dutch model is very much based on the natural progression of pregnancy and childbirth; so if you’re into the natural pregnancy/birth thing (which I am), the Dutch model is amazing, in my opinion. I love that there’s not a lot of unnecessary medical intervention in the Dutch model, and that they really focus a lot on your wishes for labor and delivery ahead of time. Not to mention that the model of having your midwife present for the majority of your labor I think helps support the natural birth model, as they can provide valuable support and insight during the labor process.

I loved that my midwives were deeply invested in my birth plan long before I went into labor. I felt very supported in my wish to have a natural birth and labor in the water. Additionally, one of the things that really struck me after giving birth was how much my midwives wanted to discuss my labor and delivery after it was over. I have seen or talked to four of the five midwives in my practice since delivering, and all four have brought up Lark’s birth, saying that they had heard about my delivery (“Delivered in the water — how wonderful!”) and asked me how I felt it went.

In the US, no one asked me about my birth. Even after my postpartum hemorrhage, where I literally almost bled to death, no one — not even my regular OB — asked me about my delivery or its aftermath and how I felt about it.

If you’ve given birth, you know that it’s a huge, life-changing moment. It’s something that you want and need to discuss afterwards. The Dutch seem to recognize this, but the American system does not. Overall, the Dutch seem to recognize that in order to have a “successful” pregnancy and birth, you support the mother personally first and medically second. The American model seems much more based on risk-aversion and doing what the doctor feels is best, even if it’s not what the mother wants.

I love that the Dutch seem to still regard pregnancy and birth as a miracle created by a woman’s body. There is a lot of respect for the woman throughout pregnancy and birthing process, and a lot of weight given to her own wishes and feelings throughout the nine months. A good example of this was after my delivery my midwife and kraamzorg were talking to me about Lark’s birth and I mentioned that the timing was especially fortuitous because my mom happened to be visiting Amsterdam for a mere three days and I had managed to deliver during those three days. Without missing a beat, the kraamzorg said, “Your body knew,” and my midwife immediately said, “Yes. Women’s bodies — they know.”

Isn’t that wonderful? I know it’s a little crunchy-granola sounding, but I think a lot of the respect for the female body has been lost in the American system. So much of the US system is focused on the fetus, rather than the mother. While I agree that the fetus is precious, you don’t get the baby without the mother. Creating and birthing a life is a huge, wonderful thing that should be celebrated. If you’ve been or are pregnant, you know the awesome sacrifice of carrying a life, and I’m here to tell you that what you’re doing — it’s not easy, but it’s amazing.

If you’re considering a birth abroad, or moving to the Netherlands and considering expanding your family, I can’t recommend the Dutch approach enough. As I told my midwife after delivery, I don’t know how I’m going to go back to the American system after this, as I feel like Lark’s birth was about as ideal as it gets.

One thought on “Reflections on Giving Birth Abroad

  1. Sonia

    I truly enjoyed reading your reflections on birth in Holland. In a few months I will birth my first child into the world, and I’m feeling very blessed that I’m choosing a homebirth. Maybe this is a route you can take if you go for a 3rd back in the States!!! XO

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