The gift of a supportive birth provider in Germany - Madison's Story
In 2012, I was 22 and living in a small town outside Frankfurt am Main, Germany with my Spanish husband. I was mother to a 7-month-old little girl, newly pregnant with my second child, and had been living in Germany for roughly a month. My first birth had been an incredible, positive experience in Madrid, Spain and I knew I wanted to have another equally respectful, empowering experience in Germany but I had no idea where to begin!
Right away, I started trying to understand the maternity care system and it was completely different from both the US (where I’m from) and Spain (where my birth had been before). I found out that typically you’re seen by an OB/GYN in a healthcare center during your pregnancy, but this will not be the person to deliver your baby. Births are typically attended by midwives and an OB/GYN observes (in my case, quite literally but I’ll get to that part later) the birth in case they’re needed.
I learned my public healthcare insurance would cover the prenatal care, the hospital delivery, and postpartum care. The one thing it wouldn’t cover was hiring a midwife to be on call for me specifically and this was one thing I knew I wanted. So I did some Googling and had the amazing luck to find an English-speaking midwife who was available to hire to be on call for my birth for an additional small fee (around 350€ which was very little compared to what I paid in Spain which was around 1600€). I didn’t speak any German at all so having someone English speaking was one of my main priorities!
My midwife handled all my prenatal midwifery care through consults at her office or in my home – which came in very handy getting acupuncture in my own rocking chair late in pregnancy with my toddler roaming around beside us. She also had rights to deliver babies in a hospital in Frankfurt am Main, about 20 minutes away from our small town.
I wasn’t too concerned about how labor would be since I had done it before and had a good experience, but I was antsy to get things moving. My first baby was born two days before my due date so I assumed this one would be the same. In the end, he was born two days after his due date.
I went into labor in the evening, but contractions were not too intense and were irregular. I called my midwife to see what she thought. She advised me to take a hot bath and see if things slowed down. It did seem to space contractions out to ten plus minutes apart so I decided to go to bed.
I felt a little discouraged. For the next few hours I woke up every so often to go to the bathroom and felt some strong contractions, but still nothing very regular or painful. Around 3:30 in the morning I finally wasn't able to sleep through them anymore. I woke up my mom (who was in town to be there for me during the birth) and started discussing whether or not I should call the midwife and my friend who was going to pick up our daughter and watch her. I could still easily talk through contractions, but couldn't really walk through them at this point. Around 4:00 am I called the midwife and she offered come check my dilation at home and we could decide if we needed to go to the hospital and call my friend. By time the midwife arrived, I couldn't talk through contractions anymore. They were four minutes apart and I was using peppermint to help with nausea. The midwife checked me and said we needed to leave right away because I was dilated to 7 cm! So we woke my husband (I hadn’t woken him yet because I wasn't sure I was really in labor yet!), got my daughter into the car, and called my friend to come meet us at the hospital to pick her up since we couldn't wait at our house. I vividly remember the ride to the hospital while in transition. I was strapped into the front seat of our van and held a bucket in front of me because I was so nauseous. I didn’t want to make a lot of noise and scare our daughter (who had just been pulled out of bed unexpectedly and was only 16 months old at the time) so I was breathing through the contractions as best I could.
When we got to the hospital, I left my mom and daughter downstairs where they waited for my friend who was coming to pick her up. The contractions came constantly and I had to stop to sway and moan through contractions along the way into the very quiet birthing floor. The rooms were lovely with long cloth hanging from the ceiling, a birth tub, yoga balls, and one of those Himalayan salt lamps. I was the only woman on the labor ward and it was dark. I had wanted to use the birth tub, but it was all happening so quickly I just stayed in one position leaning over the birth ball with my knees on the floor. I kept my eyes on the salt lamp and labored on my own. I didn’t want to be touched or spoken to. I was truly in labor land!
I was dilated to 9 when we got to the hospital and things went quickly after that. My midwife asked if I wanted her to break my bag of bulging waters and I quickly agreed. At some point the OB/GYN came in and she stood, leaning against the counter where the sink in the room was until after I pushed baby out and birthed the placenta. The midwife really did everything and was a real rockstar.
Half an hour after we got to the hospital our son was born! It was really an amazing birth experience and I finally understand how some women say contractions never got painful for them. It sounds surreal, but at worst it was an intense pressure until the ring of fire which was excruciating but short lived. I was amazed with this experience as it was so different from my first birth.
After giving birth, I stayed in the hospital for around 8 hours. I had previously discussed going home as quickly as possible because I couldn’t wait to be home with my first baby. This is not the norm in Germany, but my midwife assured me if everything went smoothly and baby and I looked healthy then I could check out as early as I wanted. I had no tearing and both my son and I were in perfect health. During my stay at the hospital I ate one meal there – I remember it included a big German sausage and mashed potatoes! A very different meal than I got in Spanish hospitals.
Giving birth in Germany was wonderful! I loved their overall ideology about birth, which was much more empowering and respectful than what I had encountered as the general rule in Spain.
As with my other births, one thing I think truly helped me have a fantastic experience was knowing my options, knowing my preferences, and making it a priority to seek out a care team that was aligned with my desires. I actually got in touch with my midwife so early she was surprised I was ready to hire her so early (around 9 weeks). It’s true that I had a quick birth, but with other providers it might have been a very different experience. For starters, I might have had my baby at home if my midwife hadn’t come to check my dilation while I was still at home! I had no idea from the way things felt that I was 7cm so it was shocking for me.
Understanding the importance of having support people who were aligned with my desires and respected my every decision and need was absolutely fundamental to me – in each of my births. I hope every woman can have this kind of support while giving birth which is what led me down the path to become a birth and postpartum doula.