Having a Baby Abroad Part 1

My plan was to go to Berlin last weekend but a string of illnesses kept me away. It’s both sad because I really wanted to meet up with some amazing expat ladies, and also, I really wanted Dunkin’ Donuts. I was incredibly disappointed. But it, 6a34a285348814fc2805692cae4a4aaband this entire week, has taught me about the difficulties you can face outside of your home country, in a different language, with doctors and nurses that speak somewhat incoherent English, and all the confusion this can lead to. Now, the purpose of this post is not to go on a Germany bashing spree because they can’t speak English, wah wah, they’re German in Germany, this is to be expected…. the purpose is to give some insight into my experiences as a foreigner having a baby here in Germany.

In the past week, I’ve dealt with my primary care doctor, my OBGYN,  the dentist, and an orthopedic doctor. My midwife and I aren’t super fantastic— but that could be because in American culture, especially the way I grew up, midwives were/are not really used. We think of it as a homeopathic alternative to modern medicine. They aren’t delivering your babies, and if they are, they’re alongside the doctor. Here, midwives are important— at least during and after birth. They deliver your baby, not your trusted OBGYN, and the only time you will see a doctor during birth is if something is going wrong. You better believe I’ll freak out if I see a doctor entering my delivery room.

My OBGYN thinks midwives are ridiculous, and my midwife thinks my OBGYN isn’t diligent enough. This doesn’t stress me out, it mostly makes me laugh. The unfortunate thing is that my due date is in the holiday season, so my midwife won’t make it, and her replacement is Russian with little to no English. So there is really no point in me getting close to my midwife and utilizing her more when she’s not that nice, she doesn’t help much, and she won’t be there for the big event. And also, the hospital sets up appointments with a midwife to come to your home every few days after the baby is born to check on you and baby, and help you with this new role in your life. That sounds awesome. I will need help with this stuff, 565394_mutterpassso I greatly look forward to that.

So let’s start with this past week. I had a tooth infection caused by all the hormonal changes, which caused a sinus infection, which led to my asthma acting up, which resulted in little sleep for the past week. Meanwhile, my legs and hands are swollen (as one would expect in pregnancy), but one leg was worse than the other which led me to a google search. I then saw my regular doctor, who told me to see an orthopedic doctor, who checked my veins and found that I will need compression leggings. However, her English was so poor and her German was so fast, too fast despite me asking her to slow down, that she never told me exactly where and when I needed to get these leggings. So the next day, after having my legs wrapped mummy-style from toe to knee, I went to an orthopedic place only to find that I was supposed to go at another time. I broke down in tears.

After the constant infections and problems this week, I thought it would be a great idea to check on baby and see that she’s ok. So I scheduled an appointment at the OBGYN for later that night. I waddled home, tried to be positive and hours later went back to the office. I waited a good hour before he would see me, no problem, I had the newest Bon Appetit with Newborn babies lay in their beds at theme so I enjoyed the quiet.  But once I was in his office, he began yelling at me. He is by far the nicest doctor I’ve ever had, but that day he was super stressed. He didn’t like that I made this appointment, that other patients are now waiting because of me, that I’m wasting his time. I tried not to break down into tears again, and said I could come back another day, my face flushed in anger and embarrassment. He said no, I’m just going to have to wait till everyone else left and get a full workup, including blood work and blood pressure testing.

Here’s another big difference from back home. At doctor’s offices here, the nurses are usually high school interns. That’s right. The person taking your blood, checking your blood pressure and weight, is about 16, give or take, years-old. Imagine how terrible that’d be back in America. So whenever I get my blood taken, I have to deal with an inexperienced and shaky teenage girl, who doesn’t “see” my veins, and then jabs me a few times before she realizes (each and every time) that it’s not about seeing, it’s about feeling. The process takes a lot out of me. Meanwhile, the past few weeks, the blood pressure cuff at the office that fits my arm is broken, and the small one is too small on me, and my wrists are swollen from carpal tunnel so the wrist measure doesn’t work either. These girls were so confused that in the end, none of any of the readings were even semi-accurate, but they all pointed to high blood pressure.

Another hour and a half later, and thankfully, The German at my side having gotten out of work late. The doctor came in, all smiles and kind again. But now that I’ve seen his dark side, I don’t feel quite so smitten with him. After going through all my results, and my blood is still boiling after the way he yelled at me, he tells me that it was really important that I made and stayed so late for this appointment because something was in fact off. And now I need to go back and be monitored every 3 days after taking medicine, and to be on as much bed rest as possible. But I would need that medicine that night. And it was then 9 pm. So we had to track down 1 of the city’s apothekes, or pharmacies, that in Germany close around 6 or 7 (and yes, we live in a major city) that has to be open at night. So if you need a certain medicine later at night, you’re 27013241_1screwed. Which is exactly what happened to us. We traveled to the only one open somewhat near us, and they didn’t have the medicine there. They called everywhere else, only to find they didn’t have it either. So I had to wait until the next day at 12 to get this medicine.

This week has found me scared, confused, and lonely. No one really tells you what to expect, especially my doctors, and I feel like if I don’t proactively try to stay on top of all of these problems, I’d slip through the cracks. I knew I needed this appointment, I could just feel that it was important to do and I’m doing all of this for her. So I will yell on the phone, chase down these doctors, and make the greatest effort possible so that she is in the best health possible. That’s the beginning of parenthood for me, and I don’t care how many times one of these doctors yell at me for taking some of their time, or how many times I have to ask questions that annoy them because I need clarification and they can be totally confusing and incoherent, I will do it, despite the negativity coming my way because I have to.  Meanwhile, she still merrily kicks me and wiggles around in there. And that makes all of this craziness worth it.

Promise, next week’s post will be brighter!


14 thoughts on “Having a Baby Abroad Part 1

    1. They will get better. I’m just fighting my way through it. I know how arduously Germans work, so it makes sense that they get stressed. It just doesn’t help that I’m stressed because they stress me with their stress lol. And thank you, it’s so nice to have kind words and support for one another, even though we don’t know each other. It makes me feel more connected. Thank you.

      1. You’re welcome – any time! I know it’s hard to settle into a new place, without being pregnant, so I can’t even imagine how hard it must be for you! Keep smiling!

  1. I’m confused about the high-school intern thing. I’ve never had blood taken, but the assistant who gave me my flu jab was definitely not 16, and neither are the ones at my Frauenarzt who took my blood pressure before my smear test. Could that just be a policy in your part of Germany?

    Sorry you’ve been having such horrible experiences with doctors.

    1. To tell you the truth— it could very well be. At all four of the offices I’ve been to lately as well as in the past, there are teenage girls working there as assistants. While there are some actually seasoned nurses there, they usually only step in if the student assistant is confused or needs some teaching. Once I went in for blood work, and three of the student assistants couldn’t see my veins and were all poking me, and then they decided I had bad veins. They got the actual nurse and she did it within seconds, while teaching them. Maybe it is a Bavarian thing, I have no idea really.

      The good thing is, I will work hard to make sure the baby is ok. These doctors aren’t so terrible, they just aren’t always with it lol. I can imagine they’re stressed too. Hopefully it gets better. Thanks for your kind words!

  2. Mmmh, I have been living in Germany (in various parts) all my life and although I have met very young assistants the ones who take blood are normally very experienced and do a better job in this than the doctor him-/herself would do. So this, I reckon, is no “policy” in Germany nor in parts of Germany. Of course, every assistant has to start taking blood one time during or after the professional formation.

    I read a lot of expat blogs (written in English) and the lack of customer service seems to be a serious problem in Germany, at least in comperison to the anglosaxon world. I think there cannot be a doubt about it. And and I have my own experiences as well. But I swear, I have never ever been “yelled at” by a doctor. I have met friendly doctors, I have met unfriendly ones, too and I have met those who just do not seem to care a lot. I would really change the doctor and the midwife if you are not happy with them. You are in Germany, you can be honest about it, no one will be offended. At least not a lot. Simply say, that you would prefer a mid wife who ist not on holiday while you are giving birth. And find yourself a new doctor and tell the old one you are changing because he was unfriendly the last time you were there and this is just something you cannot cope with beeing in a foreign country AND beeing pregnant. Seriously, maybe not everyone is superfriendly, but if you really are beeing treated unfriendly, just tell people on the spot that you do not understand their behaviour. Im very, very sure you will have very positive reactions. Things here work differently but people will not only not be offended by an open word, the will appreciate it and even respect you for it. Just tell someone with bad english, that you would prefer someone more who is more comfortable in your mother tongue in medical matters – that is the most understandable thing in the world.

    Best of luck! 🙂

    1. That is so weird!! And my husband sees these young teens take my blood, so I’m not crazy, it’s truly happening here! I understand they have to gain confidence in becoming a nurse, so I try to be accommodating but there are times….

      With the midwife thing- out of all the midwives we found, half speak English, and all but one have been booked out for the holidays either by other clients, or because of the holidays. So I’m kind of stuck with what I’ve got. I’ve been reading posts by other expats in the area having babies around that time, and it seems like its the worst time to be having a baby this year. Even the hospital said they’ve seen a big increase for this birthing period (which yay! for Germany!)

      I like my doctor, I think he was just really, really stressed. And sometimes doctors forget that we are stressed too! I’m 7 months pregnant with my first child, I’m totally scared and nervous and I know he has oodles of patients coming in, but that’s his job. It’s a bit late in the game to go switching up doctors, besides, there was a moment when I tried to, and no one would see me in a decent time frame. I should be more open and honest though, you’re totally correct. I need to stand up for myself. there is only so much I can take!

      Thanks for all of your advice and sharing your thoughts with me. I really appreciate it, and I hope I didn’t come off as another whiny expat!

      1. Allie, of course it is truly happening, I never wanted to question your word, I just wanted to say, it is no policy of some kind, it is just … i don´t know … bad luck, I suppose.

        Of course, you do not come off as a whiney expat! Plus, you can be as whiney and complicated as you want to, you are pregnant ;-)) (just kidding, of course)

        And you are completely right. If you are stressed, it is sometimes just better to stick with the midwife / doctor than to waste more engery to find new people. And even better when you like your doctor and are able to forgive him a bad day. Only, if it happens again, do not swollow it. Tell him that you are stressed too. If you can want, you can tell him with a smile. Believe me: poeple here are very open to beeing criticesed. I know, it is difficult, Germans are usually very frank (to use a positive word) and can cope with frankness themselves. I do not want to defend the Germany way of communication but what sometimes seems “rude” to anglosaxon people very often is only a communication problem. The problem works both ways, German people often cannot read the real meaning behind the polite anglosaxon way of getting criticism across :-))

        However, I am sure, everything will turn out fine. Maybe your midwife is not the nicest of people but I am sure she will provide every professional care you need.

        (Sorry for my crap english, it is not easy to get everything accross the way I want to 🙂

        All the best to you and your family!

  3. First of all: Congrats! Here’s sending positive thoughts your way that the baby is healthy, your labor is swift, and all four of you remained enveloped in love, health and happiness.

    On the intern thing, I have to agree with the other poster who says this is ‘not’ standard practice in Germany. Firstly, they are interns, but apprentices on a 2 to 3 year dual education training to become doctors’ assistants. There should always be a full-fledged, experienced assistant around, and if you feel more comfortable dealing directly with her (or having her present when the apprentices are doing something with/to you), please pull her aside and tell her. If she doesn’t understand and comply, I would consider that another reason the change doctors…

    Because – no! – a doctor would ‘not’ yell at me and then expect to retain me as a patient. Full stop.

    I also agree that you should consider finding a midwife with whom you are on a better wavelength and who will actually be around at the time of the babe’s arrival.

    Although there is some hassle/time involved, if you have the strength/patience please be a mindful consumer when selecting the people who will be accompanying you on this important journey. In today’s world, doctors are also service providers and need to understand that they have to establish a positive profile in the market. While there are certainly things in Germany that are done differently – some I think are (much) better; some not so much – if their bedside manner, command of English and/or the experience-level of their staff is not withing your (extended expat) comfort zone, you owe it to yourself to make the necessary adjustments.

    Talk openly with your German about any limitations your particular insurance coverage may have, do a little research, then make the changes that are best for you and yours.


    1. Thank you!! We’re very excited for babyface, I can’t wait to meet her! There are some seasoned nurses around, but none of them speak any English at all. Twice this nurse had to come take my blood after one of the young assistants kept poking and found nothing, and she was nice, curt, but fast. But I haven’t seen her around the past 3 visits, just these young ladies. On my GD testing day, one of the older young ladies, lol, was pretty fast and good, so I was happy for that since GD testing requires 3 different pokes. It’s inconsistent though. I usually find these young girls but I try to give them the benefit of the doubt.

      I really can’t switch up OBGYNs at this stage, I’m over 7 months in, and doctors are hesitant to take me on at this point, I tried to switch a few months ago and I couldn’t find anyone to take me in a reasonable time frame. But I should also add, I do like my doctor, I think I caught him on a bad day. My midwife is kind of a…. strange lady, and the only midwife in Nürnberg that would see me considering my due date. We made close to 25 calls, and I guess I started too late with contacting them or something. It’s a shame. But I’ll make do. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me and your kind words. And thanks for the hugs, I need them!!! Thanks again for your comment.

  4. What part of Germany are you from? I used to study nursing and it was strictly prohibited for me to take blood or even touch a needle for a very long time. That means bloody assistants don’t get to do that until their almost finished with their training (most of them never will!) I actually have never heard of such a thing. Well, I guess 3 students are cheaper than 2 RNs that know what they’re doing. Go to a different doctor. I do that all the time 🙂

  5. Well, I sit here and read about your experiences and as a 76 year old man who lived in Germany years ago, and I feel thoroughly unqualified to make a comment. However, I have to say that I admire your dedication and determination to make your life and your marriage successful.
    A note to your husband: Es scheint mir, Sie haben eine richtige Perle als Frau gefunden. Aber Sie wissen das wohl schon. Herzliche Glueckwuensche schicke ich Ihnen beide.

    Jim Cloud

  6. I agree with one of the other commenters that customer service in Germany is just not what we are used to receiving in the states. My husband notices it far more now than he ever did after living in the states. I understand how it’s too late to switch doctors and if you have liked him up to that point than I think you’re right that he was just stressed and showed it. Doctors are human too. I do think that’s bothersome about the midwife but I’ve heard these things a lot already. I’ll be glad when I can begin offering my doula services both during and after pregnancy!
    Hope you’re feeling better!

  7. Aww I hope you’re feeling a bit better! Not at all the same thing, but I once got berated by a shoe repairman for treating my footwear so poorly. He went all disappointed granddad on me and refused to fix my favorite pair of boots. Best wishes 🙂

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