Would you consider giving birth abroad? Somewhere where people speak a different language, have different habits, procedures… It is a bit terrifying when you stop for a second and think about it.
However, another principle trumped my initial worries and that is that I didn’t want to delay having kids because of our international adventure. Nowadays so many people seem to wait and carefully plan their baby for the moment when they are properly ‘settled down’: married, good job, their own house. While we got the married and job part taken care of, we were living in another country and renting a one bedroom apartment. We decided it didn’t matter.
Being pregnant in the States was… interesting. A few things that struck me as different from what I would expect back home:
1. My gynaecologists seemed to trust ‘tests’ more than their own observations. This resulted in a few weird situations where the doctor would ask me: “do you want me to check you?” and I would always say: “of course” (how else will we know if everything is ok?). There was definitely a preference for doing one more ultrasound or one more extra test. This of course cost money.
2. Medical bills are outrageous. Even with a very good health insurance, I still paid way more than I ever would have in Belgium. This was to be expected I guess. What I wasn’t ready for was how expensive all the medication is that your doctor prescribes. And how long it takes to actually hit your deductible (once you hit it you don’t need to pay anymore). There was actually a very detailed piece on this in Time Magazine a few weeks ago, in case you’re interested to learn more about this.
3. Induction. Our doctors seemed very much in favor of induction and started to talk to me about this around 34 weeks, which led to a few 'interesting' discussions. I was not ready to have that discussion that early on in pregnancy and I still don't understand why you would induce if you're body isn't ready for it (unless there is a medical emergency of course). When I checked the website of the hospital I delivered in there were remarkably more births during the week than in the weekend. Induction = king here?
4. Friendliness of random strangers. This may be the same back home, no idea, but I was pleasantly surprised by how people in Cincinnati would smile at me when they noticed I was pregnant. I never got more compliments than during this period (thank you baby :))
5. People being surprised that I still walked to work right up to the birth of my baby. Walking for 30 minutes is looked upon as a weird thing anyway but the fact that I continued walking to work (sometimes taking the bus) was beyond comprehension for some of my colleagues. As well as the fact that we got a car 2 days before our baby’s birth :) In Belgium, women will walk a lot in the final weeks, to make sure the baby ‘drops’, so it’s not a weird sight
In terms of delivering the baby, I have no idea how it is in Belgium so it’s hard to compare, but here is what I will remember most:
1. Extremely helpful nurses. Very hands-on, they supported me when they had to but never pushed me for any decisions. This was a welcome surprise as I thought they would push for an epidural. But because I had been clear about my preference for a natural birth, they gave me nurses who had experience with that. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it that long without medication. And the moment I decided I wanted it anyway, they were very quick to give it to me.
2. Discharged 48 hours after delivery. C-R-A-Z-Y. While my husband was glad that we could go home, I felt barely human at the moment that I was discharged. The very short stay at the hospital also meant that every 30 minutes there was someone else dropping in (nurses, doctors, admins…). Exhausting (and that was without family dropping by - as they were still back home at this point!)
3. Total obsession with breastfeeding. In Belgium, parents choose to breastfeed or to give formula and it is their own choice. Other people will respect that choice and not think twice about it. In the US, it feels like you don’t really have a choice. I had to supplement my daughter for a day because my milk hadn’t come in and had to sign a piece of paper that I understood that this was just a temporary solution (!). While I don’t give my baby formula right now, switching to formula won't be a big thing when that time comes. I guess we just don’t make that big of a deal out of breastfeeding in Europe.
Finally, what I will always remember is the fantastic support I got from colleagues and friends during pregnancy and after delivery. Uncountable gifts, tips, borrowed baby furniture and clothes… Really amazing! Thank you all :)
All things considered, while it’s probably always easier in your own country, it was also a good experience here. And as a bonus, I now know all of the English “pregnancy/childbirth” vocabulary :)