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Mom Talk: Giving Birth In a Foreign Country

Written by

Evelien Docherty

Photography by PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF Evelien Docherty

We’re back with another round of  “Mom Talk”, where we invite some incredible mothers, from all walks of life to share their personal experiences and journeys through motherhood, whether it be struggles, triumphs, or anything in-between—nothing’s off limits when it comes to topics. This week, Evelien Docherty talks about being Dutch and giving birth in a completely foreign country—The States. -JKM

My Clear Blue test read pregnant, not “zwanger”. Not that surprising since I was living in New York now, rather than Amsterdam. Three months before, my husband and I had started our adventure in the greatest city on earth. We’d already commenced Project Baby just prior to moving countries, and I couldn’t wait for him to come home from work to give him the best present ever—the test I just took, wrapped up in Star Wars-themed paper.

I come from the flattest country on this planet, where windmills spin and midwives hold sway—the Netherlands. Had I peed on a stick in a bathroom back home, my next step would have been to register at Het Geboortecentrum around the corner from our apartment, a midwife practice highly recommended by my sister-in-law. A gynecologist only comes into the Dutch pregnancy and birth equation when you’re facing complications. Here, I found myself without any personal recommendations, and I wasn’t even sure if midwives existed in this country. When I discovered that they do, but not all of them are trained to the academic standards we know in Europe, I decided to follow in the footsteps of 90 percent of my fellow American preggos, and go with an OB/GYN. Hello, Integration.

My choice for an OB/GYN meant entering an unfamiliar world of extreme monitoring, scores of fetus shots for baby’s first photo album, and loads of medical claims. Back home, I would have remained in the dark about the 500 genetic diseases I now know I don’t have, cherished one sonogram instead of 26, and been looking at claims only one percent (yes, I did the math) the amount of what we (or more importantly our insurance company) ended up with here. It is fair to say I was going all in on an American pregnancy.

So, I’d embraced the OB/GYN, but I was still clinging to the hope of a typical Dutch scenario—an un-medicated, natural birth. Eighty percent of women there deliver without any pain meds, and caesarian rates are only half what they are in The States. A midwife in the Netherlands would have helped me master several breathing techniques and labor positions to enhance the odds of this happening. My clinical OB here supported me in pursuing my birth preferences, but I was on my own in figuring out how. So, as New Yorkers do, my husband and I threw money at “the problem” and spent $397 on hypnobirthing classes. We might just as well have thrown it into the Hudson River. We picked the wrong teacher. Breathe in, breathe out was mostly useful in helping us tolerate the judgmental nonsense that came out of her mouth. But, despite the absence of a Dutch breathing coach and a wasted birthing class, I felt prepared for the big day and was extremely confident I could have my Dutch birth. I could not have been more wrong. I was induced, took an epidural, and ended up with a C-Section. Hello again, Integration. The first few weeks after my son was born, I noticed I was suffering from an unhelpful thought process that made me wonder if I was a bit pregnancy homesick.

Chances are, I would not have been induced in the Netherlands, since they induce less quickly than here. Not having an induction might have saved me from the non-stop killer contractions that tend to accompany it. So, perhaps I would have been able to pull the whole shebang off without any pain medication. But could I have had my unmedicated, natural birth in Holland? No. Because a caesarean was inevitable. My son’s head was simply too big and delivering in a different part of the world would not have made it any smaller. I wondered whether things could have worked out differently, and then felt ashamed of thinking like that because all that should have mattered is my son was here safe and sound, right? But, looking back on it, I realize I wasn’t homesick, I was just coming to turns with a traumatic delivery. My emergency C-Section was no picnic.

Giving birth in America put me in a situation that made me feel far away from home for a number of reasons: a different approach to pregnancy and labor, my baby kicking inside me without my family and friends being able to feel it, sharing my delivery story with my loved ones on FaceTime and Skype without feeling their comforting hugs. There is an indispensable element that softened my heartache though—the amazing team of doctors who only had the health of me and my son at heart, and some of the wonderfully supportive new friends I had made here. I wish women all over the world the same. Because, in the end, it doesn’t matter where you give birth, or what your personal preferences are, as long as you have good support by your side. Thanks to mine, I can now marvel at my son Owen’s beautiful (and big) head and feel completely at home wherever we go.

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