When I had my first baby I wasn’t taking any chances. I wasn't only delivering her in hospital, under the care of my very experienced (and good looking) OB/GYN, but the hospital had to have emergency facilities for both the baby and me. I wasn't leaving anything up to the universe.
Fast forward a few years, 10,000 miles and two pregnancies and I was looking forward to delivering my third baby in the cramped bedroom of my rental apartment in the Netherlands.
My midwife (also good-looking) was helping me deliver the baby and I was supplying everything from the plastic sheets to protect the mattress to the metal flasks to keep the baby's bassinet warm.
Just over a year after arriving in the Netherlands I was going native and experiencing birth Dutch-style: At home, with a midwife and apologizing the next day to the neighbors for all the yelling.
Why a home birth?
It wasn’t, as many assumed, that experience had made me more carefree about my third birth. I continued to be uptight and spent hours researching my options, coming to the conclusion that in the Netherlands home birthing is safe. Many provisos exist but, generally speaking, if you’re in a town with a hospital near by, your pregnancy is deemed low risk, and if it’s not your first baby, a positive outcome is just as likely at home as in a hospital. This was the finding of a five-year study of over half a million births in the Netherlands.
In fact, the Netherlands is one of the few countries where such a big study could be done, with about 25% of births taking place in Dutch homes. The biggest difference in the medical system, compared with Australia, is that home births are a well-integrated part of the Dutch medical system.
Midwives are highly trained and regulated and work alongside doctors, sharing both medical records and expertise when required. A midwife’s call to the ambulance service will automatically be given top priority.
Significantly, if your pregnancy is deemed high risk -whether it’s because you're carrying multiples, you’re an older mom, or will need antibiotics during the delivery- you can’t deliver at home.
The Type A in me loved all this information, but there were also mundane considerations pushing me toward a home birth. Firstly, I hate hospitals and prefer to avoid them when I can, especially if I’m not sick. With two young daughters to look after, and my family and support network on the other side of the world, I also thought giving birth at home would be logistically easier, rather than relying on babysitters and friends (who were on standby if a last-minute trip to the hospital was needed).
I was also super anxious that my daughters would be awake during the action, possibly traumatized by my screaming and swearing (it ain’t pretty) and my husband would have to leave my side to look after them.
When it happened, the midwife arrived at our apartment at 2 am and I requested that the baby arrive by 6 am when my daughters would wake up. The midwife laughed, but our newest daughter complied and made her entrance at the stroke of 5 am. I fed her in my bed, she was weighed and cleaned and then her two big sisters woke up and came downstairs to meet their littlest sister.
A couple of hours later my husband was watching TV on the couch with our eldest daughters while I fed our baby at the kitchen table. We had gone to bed on a Saturday night with two kids and the next morning we were still at home, enjoying our regular Sunday routine, but there were now five of us. It was almost surreal how normal it was.
There were lots of things I hadn’t even considered that were upsides of a home birth: Avoiding the car ride to the hospital. Not sharing a room with three other moms and their crying babies. Not worrying if I forgot something in my hospital bag. Not having a nurse wake me with a flashlight on her midnight rounds. Sleeping in my own bed. Not being subjected to hospital food. Being allowed outside to get some fresh air.
Were there any downsides of a home birth? The night after giving birth I was back making school lunches. It’s hard to take a break from looking after your family when you’re sitting right there. There’s definitely something to be said, especially if it’s not your first child, for the hospital stay being a well-deserved break from home duties.
To be fair though, even if I had a hospital birth, the Dutch don’t indulge you in a lengthy hospital stay, you will be evicted a matter of hours after delivery. If you’ve had a caesarian -- i.e., major abdominal surgery -- you may get an extra day or two.
But the reason why this works is also the best thing about giving birth in the Netherlands: The kraamzorg. From the day you give birth your kraamzorg, a professional maternity nurse, is there for up to eight hours every day for the next week to help you look after your baby and take care of you, your home and any other children you have. She will cook, clean and even offer your visitors a cup of coffee. She is gold.
Everyone who gives birth in the Netherlands is entitled to a kraamzorg and it’s all paid for by your compulsory health insurance.
Back home lots of visitors had happily volunteered to hold the baby, but not so many offered to give our toilet bowl a good once over. So despite being far away from family, I felt well taken care of as we joined in with local traditions, decorating our front window with pink banners and sending our daughters to school with beschuit met muisjes, buttered crackers topped with sweet pink and white aniseed sprinkles to celebrate their sister’s arrival.
Not everyone has good experiences at home, the same way not everyone enjoys a positive hospital birth. My midwife’s clinic had four midwives and you get whoever’s on call. I was lucky. I heard my favorite midwife answer the phone and when there were complications she handled it as well as any doctor could have.
Other moms I know have not been so lucky. If something goes wrong at home there is often the thought that if you were in the hospital things could have turned out differently. You’re not as likely to feel the other way.
So, would I do it again? If I were in Australia, I’d be back at a top hospital, with the emergency department waiting for me. Preferably with my good-looking OB/GYN. Here in the Netherlands, good-looking midwife or not, I think I’d do it again.