Pandemic birth in New Zealand - Whitney's Story
Having a baby is one of the most life changing moments of your life. Not only does your whole world change but everything you thought you knew about life, love, relationships is completely altered. You see everything from a different angle. My children have shaped me into the woman I am today and I am fully proud of who I have grown into because of them. While I wouldn’t change having any of my children, I will say with utter honesty that being pregnant is not something that I ever want to do again. All of my pregnancies have been hard for different reasons but they all had two things in common: preeclampsia and hyperemesis gravidarum. If you don't know what either of those are, let me explain.
Preeclampsia is pregnancy complication which results in high blood pressure and can lead to serious complications for both mom and baby. Most women don’t realize they have preeclampsia until the baby is on their way out and sometimes it's much earlier than the expected due date. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a pregnancy complication that results in extreme nausea throughout the pregnancy, vomiting, weight loss and dehydration. I had both of these issues during all three of my pregnancies. While that alone is extremely difficult, picture also trying to run around with 2 little ones under the age of 4 and being abroad away from your family.
When I became pregnant with our third child, we were living in New Zealand. We moved here in 2018 for work and only planned to stay for a year. Our company asked us to extend another year so we did so because we thought it was an incredible opportunity for our family. My first reaction when finding out I was pregnant was scared. I was away from everything I knew: family, support, my OB and familiar hospital. I felt completely lost on where to go and how to find help in New Zealand. I ended up speaking with my friend who is a physician and she gave me a recommendation. I knew I wanted an OB since my pregnancies have all been high risk and to have an OB in New Zealand, you have to go through private healthcare.
When I originally called the hospital, I was told that I couldn’t afford to be there. I was shocked by their reaction and course tone. As soon as they heard my American accent, they told me I needed to go through public healthcare. It took 5 phone calls with them to finally see me. I really had to push the issue that I would be able to pay for private care because they were pretty adamant about not giving me an appointment to meet with me. This first impression left a really bad taste in my mouth and made me feel like getting the proper care was going to be difficult the entire time. Once I got my initial appointment out of the way, they were much friendlier.
Overall I would say my maternity care was excellent. All of the OB’s were very attentive and showed much concern for my well being during this pregnancy. An issue that I had came towards the end of my pregnancy when Covid-19 hit New Zealand. Everything went into lockdown and was, for the most part shutdown. The hospital forgot about me, to put it mildly, and two days before my due date I called and asked if I should be seen. They told me to come in right away and sure enough, my blood pressure was quite high and I needed to be induced since the baby was not making her way out.
When we first moved to New Zealand we found an incredible babysitter through a friend, who we fully trusted with our children. She was able to watch them while my husband and I went to the hospital.
When my husband and I arrived at the hospital to be induced, my OB met me there along with a midwife. We had a huge private birthing suite with a tub, a shower and amazing view of the city and immediately felt at ease. My ideal birth plan would have been to have my family in the room to have their support but God was taking care of us by putting our incredible OB and midwife in our room. They were the family that we needed that day. Holding my hand, coaching me through the contractions, staying calm and collected during the whole process. I will forever be grateful for them and their support.
While our birth experience was good, you have to also remember that we were having a baby in a pandemic during a lockdown. My husband had to leave pretty much immediately after I had given birth. Also in New Zealand, if you and baby are well, you immediately go home or to an after care facility to rest up for a few days. My blood pressure wasn’t coming down so I stayed overnight in the hospital. The midwives that looked after me during the night were so kind. The next day I went to After Care but my husband was not allowed in the building. I was taken upstairs to my room and was left on my own with this new baby. While this wasn't my first baby, it was still my first baby born in a different country and our first baby in 3 years since having our second born. I have only heard wonderful things about After Care, from the help from the midwives and the food but my experience was not like that due to covid restrictions. After a night in after care, I asked to go home to be with my family.
Once I was home, the baby, myself and the family got settled in to our new normal and were much more at peace. A few days later, our postnatal midwife made house calls for a few weeks to check in on the baby and I. She was so kind and supportive during this time. It was also nice not having to get in the car with 3 children to different appointments. The hardest part about having a baby abroad was just being away from our friends and family to be able to share in the joy of our newest family member. I am grateful for facetime so that everyone could meet the new baby and share in some of her firsts. My mother in law was actually on a facetime phone call with us for our baby’s first time crawling as well as her first word! That was pretty special.
Now that this is my third baby, I feel much more at ease as a parent. I am more vocal about my needs and how he can support me than I ever was with our first two children. I let him know how I am feeling and what I am going through so that we can work through the issues as a team. I think having open communication with your partner is key while having a baby, abroad or not. We don’t have anyone else to rely on except each other so we make it known when we need something. I also wouldn’t have been able to do this without our amazing friends that lived nearby to help at a moment's notice and our babysitter. You don’t need a lot of friends but you need your community to lend a helping hand. I was really blown away by the people that stepped forward and made us meals, and wanted to help out in any way that they could to make the new adjustment easier. It was truly a blessing to know that we had the support of our close circle of friends. I would also suggest to not be afraid to make your voice heard when it comes to your health. I did notice that there is a more relaxed way here in New Zealand but remember, you know your body and if you feel like you need to go to the hospital, go! I also was very vocal about how I did not want an epidural. My OB let me know of all of the different ways to handle pain management that I have never been offered in the US. From gas, a TENS unit, shower and water birth options. I was amazed and it made my anxiousness subside knowing that I had another pain management option.
Since all of the baby things were back in the US and there was no way to get them to us, we were distraught thinking about how much we were going to have to buy. We started talking to one of our local baby boutiques and they informed us about a rental program that they had. It ranged from bassinets, baby bouncers, milk pumps, infant car seats and more! It was a great way for us to get top quality baby items without having to spend a fortune knowing that our baby was going to grow out of things fairly quickly. I also signed up for an app called neighborly which connects you to your neighbors. There were tons of baby clothing options on there that ranged from never worn to barely worn for a very small cost.
Make sure that you get all of your documents in order after you are home with the baby. In the US, you cannot leave the hospital without your baby having a name and a social security number. While in New Zealand, we ended up not naming the baby for 3 weeks and once we did, we had a lot of paperwork to fill out to make sure that our baby was recognized in the US. Make sure you connect with your embassy to get your baby a VISA and passport as soon as possible and read the instructions very carefully.
If you become pregnant aboard, know that you have support. Social media is amazing for connecting with people all over the world that want to help you, that want to share their stories and want you to know that you are not alone. You are so much stronger than you know. Your baby is going to have this amazing birth story about being born somewhere new and amazing. Remember to be vocal, ask the questions that are weighing on your heart, take lots of pictures and most importantly, enjoy the time with your baby. It really does go by so quickly.
For updates on what it has been like living abroad with my growing family, head over to www.thedapperdarling.com or on instagram @the.dapper.darling