I am a mother of two children, a German one and an American one – meaning one was born back home 21/2 years ago, the other one here 5 months ago.
Being pregnant, giving birth and having children has been the most intense experience I have had in my life so far, so after going through everything for the first time in Germany and feeling like I had figured it all out, I felt like a total newbie again in the US and I had to adjust to a different way of doing it.
The first big difference was, that while in Germany I had 3 ultrasounds by the time I was 12 weeks pregnant, here the doctor didn’t even want to see me in person until week 12, and the doctor’s appointments were a lot less “physical” than in Germany – my favorite quote by my doctor after asking why I never got a vaginal exam was that American women don’t like it that much – I didn’t think it was a question off liking it.
But the doctor’s and nurses were incredibly nice and they always took whatever time I needed to discuss my concerns, etc.
The next big difference is that there aren’t any midwifes, they do exist, but you have to pay for them yourself. In Germany I had my “own” midwife who I met at the beginning of pregnancy and who would meet up with me every month, go to the clinic once labor began, and came to our home for 6 weeks after the baby was born to see how we were doing.
Since I had done the whole pregnancy thing before, I figured I didn’t need one as badly as I did the first time, but I still missed it.
The midwifes in germany are the counterpart to the ob-doctors who for obvious reasons are a lot more clinical. Having a medical background, I appreciated to have a doctor who I trusted but also a midwife who looked at pregnancy and birthing a lot less clinical/medical, but more in a natural way.
In Palo Alto there is the Blossom Birth center, which offers a lot of classes and workshops and it was the closest I got to having a midwife in my life.
Here they also have doulas as pregnancy-/labor support. You meet her during your pregnancy and she goes to the hospital with you once you are in labor to support you with breathing, etc. Doulas can’t examine you or do anything medical to you (which is the main difference to a midwife). You also have to pay for them yourself, and I would have definitely done it, if my husband wouldn’t have insisted on being my personal doula – and he did a great job after all.
The third big difference is pain management during labor. While in Germany taking pain medication (i.e an epidural) during labor is common as well, it seems like here there is no such thing as an unmedicated birth, at least most doctors make you feel like that when you talk about it.
I personally really appreciated modern medicine and the epidural, but I thought it was a bit odd, that you would almost have to convince your doctors do do it without medication.
The last thing and I believe it is almost the most important thing is the aftercare.
While there is lots of help and information you can get for your pregnancy and for birth, I feel like for the most difficult time – the time right after the baby is born – there is way too little.
In germany you have a midwife who comes to your house every day for the first 10 days to look after you (your stitches, your uterus, your lochia, your mood) and the baby (umbilical cord stump, weight), she helps with nursing and bathing and everything especially first time parents have no idea about. After that you see her once a week for 6 weeks. Our midwife in germany was our lifesaver and I don’t know what we would have done without her. It was less stressful here, since it was the second time around, but still it would have been reassuring to have somebody come and check on us.
You can see a lactation consultant here at the hospital or at different other places (i.e. DayOne at the Town and Country Village in Palo Alto), but again, it isn’t cheap and you have to make the effort to make an appointment and leave the house (even that can be too challenging in the first week)
After all I gave birth to my son here and it was a wonderful experience with great doctors and nurses and my personal “husband-doula”.
I guess it doesn’t matter where you give birth, as long as you accept that certain things are done differently and it helps to know what you want and tell your caregivers about it. They are used to having patients form all over the world with lots of different backgrounds, so they are usually willing to help you have the birthing experience you want.
I would do it again (but not anytime soon )
Anke from Germany blogging from Palo Alto