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Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The language of labour

OK, I am a very modest person and I find myself giggling as I am writing this post but I think it’s important and it needs to be discussed. Because it just happens that if you’re pregnant, there is a strong possibility that you will give birth at some point in time. And if you’re pregnant, there are decisions to be made: Whom to see during pregnancy? Where to give birth? With whom to give birth? Pain relief or not? Natural or C section? And the list goes on and on and on.

If you’re pregnant and you’re living abroad, you have to deal with even more decisions: are you satisfied with the healthcare system in your new home country? Do you feel safe here?  This is especially the case in the Netherlands, where the healthcare system is basically very different from what you may know from other countries.

Another thing is whether, and how well do you speak the language. After all, it’s very important that you feel safe and comfortable with you care provider and being able to communicate is a huge part of it. Usually, you’re fine with using a language you don’t know. But what if you’re overcome by strong emotions, and can’t really think really well, and you’re in pain and generally having a tough time? In short, what about labour and birth?

Now, a German man told me that his Swiss, Italian - speaking wife could only speak Italian while in labour, even though she gave birth in Germany. Her German was off, even she spoke it perfectly. When I gave birth to Klara in Germany, I had a Polish midwife and a German doctor. I managed to switch effortlessly between these two languages, but it didn’t make me feel any more comfortable, I’m sad to say.

The second time, I almost “went Dutch” on Julia’s birth, planning a homebirth and choosing a midwifery practice that would support me. I had to change midwives, because when I told my story (I had a 38 hour labor, and 2 hours of pushing), they said: “Oh, it was so quick”. I looked somewhere else for the support I needed, and fond it in a wonderful midwifery practice in Delft where everybody spoke English and I felt safe.
For the birth, I ended up in the hospital with a midwife I didn’t know, but she spoke English, was kind and friendly, and her check-ups didn’t hurt. I had no problems advocating for my needs in English, and mostly ended up saying “no” a lot. I had a great experience in the Netherlands, and I hope that everybody will be given the possibility to give birth the way they want to.

Now, pregnant for the third time, I chose a midwifery practice just opposite of my home. I speak Dutch with the midwives, but I told them that if I don’t understand something, we’ll switch to English. I am not as happy with them as I was with my last practice, but they will do. Also, to get the support I need, I contacted a doula. If you have never heard of doulas, you can find what they do here. She is a native English speaker, but she also speaks Dutch and it seems that she might be a good link between me, the midwives and my husband. I haven’t met her yet, but I will soon, and I’m looking forward to it.

So, if you’re giving birth abroad you have to consider even more options. Language is one of them. It is a good idea to have somebody who speaks your language when giving birth, but it is not always necessary, and having the right people is more important than having the people who speak your language.

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  1. Good for you to hire a doula to help bridge not just the communication gap, but the expectations gap of different cultures in labour. Hopefully your team will together let you achieve the birth you want to have.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. My expectations of labor are: baby alive and healthy, and me alive and healthy- which also means mentally healthy (not in too much pain, no birth traumas etc.)- I hope this will work out well. All the best to you, too!


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