I am very excited to share this great post by my wonderful doula. We met when I was preparing for my son's birth and Sophie made all the difference in the world during the birth and before. And while I wrote about this topic many times before, it is great to have a guest psot from somebody who actually works with pregnant women. And since doulas are not very well known everywhere, I wanted to share how important they can be- especially for expat women.
Cross Cultural Birth
Having a baby in a country and culture other than your own, has its own set of challenges. When I got pregnant with my first son, 20 years ago, I had been living in The Netherlands for 3 years. I barely spoke the language and the internet was not yet a part of every day life. There was no Google to educate myself on birth related subjects of choice and no Amazon to browse through for interesting ‘English’ books to order and phone calls to my Mum in the UK for advice were outrageously expensive, no free facetime or skype!! My resources where quite limited.
Now we have information at our finger tips about any subject we could possibly think of and that goes for birth too. If a procedure or test is mentioned we just google it and find pages of information and images on it. Technology has changed the way we do life and the way we gather information and prepare for birth.
Fortunately this means that women having babies now can educate themselves about birth if they wish and go into labour more empowered because they have knowledge and are informed about birth. BUT it can also influence women negatively as the internet is also full of negative birth stories from women who have had traumatic birthing experiences and graphic details about any medical procedures, illness and possible complications are easily accessable. This cultivates anxiety and fear about pregnancy and giving birth, (not to mention the fact that much information on the Internet is unreliable-Olga)
Helping women have a positive and memorable birthing experience
is what drives me as a doula. I walk alongside a couple as they prepare in the time leading up to the birth of their baby and continue supporting them throughout the birth until the baby is born, both at home or/and in the hospital.
Supporting expats and international families is extra rewarding for me because I understand the emotional complexities of becoming a parent in a country other than your own and what it means to become a cross cultural family. Some of the questions these couples face are: which languages are we going to speak in our family? How often are we going to go “back home?” How long are the in-laws going to stay after the birth? How am I going to cope without family around? These are very real worries and can consume, especially the woman, during pregnancy.
One of the first things that hits you when becoming pregnant in another country is how different the norm can be than what you are used to. Perspectives on pain relief and testing, midwives and gynacologists, home birth and hospital birth, vary, depending on what country you are in. It can really shake you to the core to find out that the way you always thought you would give birth is not an option purely because you live in another country. Understanding why the norms are so different and knowing what to expect can make a huge difference to your birthing experience abroad. I enjoy seeing couples become more confident about giving birth the more they understand about what they can expect and what their choices are.
Not being able to speak the language and facing care providers who stubbornly feel you should, can really affect your feeling of safety in the medical system. It does not build confidence in your care provider if you have the feeling you are missing important pieces of information because of a language barrier. It is important to feel safe and understand what is going on. English only is totally fitting in the labour and delivery room, often that is not your mother tongue anyway!!
I love to support couples through the process of finding out what is best for them. What is the physiological process of birth? What are the differences in this culture? Home or hospital? What can you expect? How do you normally deal with pain? What are the pain relief options? These are just some of the topics we cover when we meet in preparation for the birth. I am not there to push a natural birth agenda but rather to provide as much information as possible so the couple can make informed decisions regarding the birth of their baby.
The role of the Doula is never to take the place of the husband or partner in labour but to compliment and enhance their experience. Not all men love the birthing process, it is usually an intense and overwhelming experience for him too. With a Doula as part of the birth team, a father can do whatever he feels comfortable with at each moment. I love watching the partner relax into the experience at his own pace because he doesn’t feel the total responsibility for his wife’s experience resting on his shoulders.
My passion is in supporting families during pregnancy and birth and for the first few weeks after the birth. If this amazing life experience of giving birth is a positive one, then it has a positive influence over how a woman feels about being a mother. The first weeks are emotionally so much easier if you are not occupied processing a traumatic experience.
Being a Brit married to a Dutchman, having lived longer out of my country than in it, and having given birth both in The Netherlands and America, I consider myself an international doula in every sense of the word. I have a special place in my heart for cross cultural couples, third culture families and world citizens! I absolutely love working in a cross cultural context.
There is a richness that comes with mixing cultures yet also a vulnerability in the figuring out what to hold on to and what to let go of. There is a beauty that emerges in making the best of both worlds and creating a new family culture as you start your own family. There is already a start made in that process when you get together with a partner from a different culture but it enters a deeper level with the birth of your first baby. I am honoured to journey with couples and families in this process and it continues to amaze me what a profound difference a positive birth experience can make to a woman, to a couple, whatever the culture.
Sophie is British but has lived in Holland for over 20 years.She is married to A Dutch man and together they have three boys.