Babies Abroad

By: Melinda Schoutens

Thinking of trying something new? Want to dive into the culture, the language, all the while getting a true feeling for your new country? Looking to go BIG in the world of new experiences? Well try this one on for size – have a baby in a foreign country. Bam – just like that you are thrown into the crux of a new language, foreign policy, embassies, hospitals, insurances, birthing classes, language woes, hormonal fluctuations all the while having family and close friends a mere 4,000 + miles away. Sounds like a great way to embrace your new culture…right?

Let me preface this by saying we always knew we wanted a family, and our baby making moments were not accidents. With a temporary, two-year work contract, we decided life was uncertain and our stint overseas could be too, so why not consider starting our family abroad? I mean, how hard could it possibly be? So, with a few simple steps, we learned to embrace our new home and our new arrivals.

Step 1 – Disrobe
In the States there is a certain sense of modesty that is preserved whenever you go for a Dr. appointment. A paper gown or tablecloth is typically distributed to help you cover your important parts before you are examined. Our first appointment with a Swiss physician proved that modesty is not the utmost concern. Asked to disrobe and sit on the table, I followed the simple instructions. Once behind the curtain, clothes neatly folded in a stack, I went to emerge from my humble dressing quarters when I realized they had forgotten my paper garments. I peaked out of the curtain drawing this slight oversight to their attention. A few Swiss German words exchanged between the nurse and the Dr., a few stray giggles and then the following, “Oh, I know what you mean. I studied a bit in the US, you need a sheet or something right?” “Yeah, that would be great,” was my simple response.

The Dr. then proceeded to explain how things are done differently in the States, as the nurse just listened with a growing smile on her face. Interesting I thought and with a big gulp of pride, I immediately realized this was going to be one interesting journey.

Step 2 – Clear for Birth
The moment comes when the baby needs to make his or her entrance into the world. It often times occurs at random twilight hours when the world peacefully sleeps, and either your water breaks or your contractions start with a full force. This is where living in a foreign country, transportation less gets interesting. We called the cab or rather called the National Emergency Center…oops, wrong number, hung up and dialed the correct number for the taxi - cab. Waited a brief 10 minutes for pick – up and then another 5 minutes for my contractions to pass before I braced myself for what seemed to be an endless ride through cobble stoned streets to the hospital. Once we arrived, we did our best in German to check ourselves in. Oh, that tricky language that we have stumbled with for too long seemed to leave me at a complete loss. The mix of pain and fear took over and every word I had once learned seemed to escape me. Thank God for a husband who knows the language a bit better than I and wasn’t dealing with the intense pains associated with childbirth.

Checking in – The midwife on duty did her due diligence to get us ready for the impending labor, or in my case shut the entire process down almost instantly. Once on the examining table, she declared in German that the child that was still nestled deep within me was, “Wow…this one huge baby! Maybe 5+ kilos.” With those couple of sentences and the word “gross” all of a sudden quickly jogging itself in my memory, my body shut down.

I looked at my husband and said with sheer terror in my eyes, “I am done. I cannot deliver a 10 plus pound baby!” “Tell her it isn’t possible – I barely delivered a six pounder.” The midwife still mumbling to herself how large our baby was, as I nearly passed out in disbelief. From that moment on, any and all signs of labor were gone - store closed, game over.

Then came the long wait. We walked, talked, maneuvered squats in random stairwells, met with Dr.’s, midwives, ate, participated in acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, and soaked in the tub (sounds more like a day spa…right?). We thought happy thoughts and visualized our child being born, all the while working with our English-speaking midwife. When her shift was over a new midwife took her place. I am certain she was incredible, just as warm natured as the first, but with the only language being spoken one that we didn’t and still don’t speak fluently the birth was a pretty interesting experience. Our midwife was kind and used her hands to explain, called in the team when our daughter was getting close to making her debut, but let me tell you that was one day when having a full grasp of the language would have been invaluable.

I couldn’t communicate to her the (I was able to speak English though to the Anesthesiologist) level of pain in which I was in, I couldn’t tell her that with the delivery of our daughter I was certain I was also going to deliver all of my internal organs. I had lost all understanding of the words “push” or “drücken” breathe or “atmen” and stop or “halt.”

I felt like a deer in headlights, confused, scared and speechless. I kept looking at my husband and desperately trying to get him to translate my pain, fear, and finally my utter elation. This is no fault of our midwife (the fault was truly ours), she did her best and did an incredible job of delivering a very healthy, 7 pound 14 ounce baby girl. For the healthy delivery, regardless of the language barrier, the gross exaggeration of our child’s initial weight, we were and are still eternally grateful.

Step 3: US Embassy for Baby Passport
Having a child in general is awesome in every way, but it can also be very stressful. Having a child in a country other than your own can certainly heighten that level of stress. Mix that with a slew of paperwork, Embassies and the fun truly begins.

Checking in to the US Embassy in Bern felt more like entering a maximum-security prison. No jokes, no extraneous goods allowed, and no diaper bags. Just paperwork, cash, parents and baby were permitted to enter.

So, when our children had a category five blow out on my lap while we waited for our paperwork to be processed and for us to swear on our hearts and hope to die that we were being truthful with the information being provided, the no diaper bag policy proved a bit tricky. After seeking permission to run upstairs, pass security again and gather the necessary goods to do our best to clean up our child without the required bathtub, we were indeed given the stern, “OK.” Whew…cleaned up as best we could with only the slightest stench still wafting through the air, the paperwork processed and our child finally declared a citizen of the United States, we have to admit the day felt like a true success despite a few reminiscent stains.

Step 4: Live, Learn and Pass it On
Here we are almost six years and two children later. All jokes aside, this has been one hell of a ride. What advice do we have for others who might be embarking on a similar journey? Do a bit of research. Talk to others who have had children in your country. Visit the hospital, ask questions, seek advise, but ultimately, realize as my husband told me a dozen times, “Oh, don’t worry, people have children here all the time.”

People do have children in Switzerland all the time, and for that matter, people have children all over the world everyday. The Swiss medical establishment, though different from that of the States, is excellent. The Dr.’s, nurses, midwives and lactation consultants were all highly trained, and stupendous. We feel grateful that we delivered both of our children in such a stellar healthcare environment.

We are also happy with our decision to take the leap of faith and not wait to start our family until we were back on our own soil. Who knows…we could still be living abroad in our mid - thirties childless. Life has a way of throwing curve balls on your plans. So, live the life you want to live. And as Benjamin Franklin so poignantly said, “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.” 

Overall, we elected to go BIG in our new country. We explored and discovered the world of baby making while living abroad. And each day we look at our smiling children, we are grateful we dove blindly into the world of starting a family while living abroad.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingMelinda Schoutens is an American expat living in Switzerland. Blog description: Get Out & Go (by More2Explore)
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Contest Comments » There is 1 comment

Joanna wrote 7 years ago:

I identified with so much of this! Two babies born in France and one in the States. Funnily enough, it was the country where I understood the language that I found the practices strange-particulary when security tok the sizeable risk of checking my four-week-old baby's nappy for weapons when we went to pick up his passport.

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