Are you an expat living in the Netherlands and just found out that you're pregnant? Well first of all, congratulations! Second of all, if you're feeling overwhelmed and uncertain what to do next or what to expect, I hear you.
Finding out that you're pregnant can come with a whole range of emotions, thoughts and questions for different people. Finding out that you're pregnant while living as an expat in a country far away from your friends, family and your own culture and language will certainly add even more questions and possible concerns to the situation. What do you need to do? What are your options? Who can you reach out to?
So let's take it from the beginning. Once you find out that you're pregnant, what are the next steps?
Step 1: Choose a Midwife or Obstetrician
The prenatal care system in the Netherlands is divided in first and second line care. First line care is for those who are experiencing a healthy, low risk pregnancy, and care is provided by the midwife/midwives (verloskundige) of your choice. You can contact a midwife as soon as you find out that you are pregnant. There are midwifery practices where a few midwives work together in shifts, and there are caseload midwives. You will meet your midwife for regular checkups throughout your pregnancy, and she is also the one who will attend your birth. If it's decided that your pregnancy requires special care you will be moved to second line care by an obstetrician in a hospital. Which ever type of care you choose/require, make the effort to find a care provider that you trust and feel comfortable with - someone who is in line with your wishes and needs.
In terms of where to give birth, the Netherlands gives women quite a lot of flexibility in this. A healthy pregnancy is not automatically considered a medical condition, and so it is not treated as such. Many women choose to give birth at home, where they feel safe and are familiar with the environment. The midwife will then attend the home birth, and towards the end of labour the maternity nurse (Kraamverzorgster) will come to assist the midwife with practical matters. You can also choose to give birth with your midwife in a birth center or a hospital if that is where you feel most safe and comfortable. Research the options available in your area and discuss it with your midwife. It's always a good idea to have a plan, but know that it's also okay for you to change your mind in the middle of labour should you want to.
Step 2: Choose a Maternity Care Provider (Kraamzorg)
Even if you give birth in a hospital you will typically be sent home quite quickly. The care of mothers and babies usually takes place in their own home. This is done by a maternity nurse (Kraamverzorgster) who comes to your home for a few hours per day for the first 8-10 days after birth. The nurse will keep check on the wellbeing and recovery of the mother and baby, and can also help out with simple household tasks. Some maternity nurses work independently, and some are employed by an organization. You want to make the effort to choose a provider that you trust and feel comfortable with.
Step 3: Find a Birth Preparation Course
Signing up for a birth preparation course is a great way to learn more about birth and what to expect, while also having the opportunity to connect with other expecting parents. Depending on the type of class you can also learn different options and techniques for coping with labour and birth. There are plenty of options out there depending on your preferences, such as Hypnobirthing, pregnancy yoga, pregnancy retreats, private courses... A good place to go to browse the options in your area is Parentally.nl. The site is in English and has an overview of many professionals and their services in all areas related to pregnancy, birth and postpartum. If in Amsterdam, you can also check out Facebook groups such as Amsterdam Birth Resource Guide. And if you want the option to mix things up a bit and choose different classes on different birth-related topics, and be able to follow live classes online from the comfortability of your own home (or where ever you are at the moment), then go check out Mamamoon School. Here everything is in English and online, you can join single classes or sign up for monthly passes. Examples of classes include pregnancy yoga, birth preparation, relaxation for pregnancy, postpartum care, baby wearing, and much more.
Step 4: Consider Hiring a Doula
I'm not saying everyone needs a doula for their birth, but I do think everyone should at least be aware of the option if they want to consider it. A doula is a birth professional (not a medical provider) who offers support and guidance to parents during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Typically this will include a few prenatal meetings to discuss your needs and wishes and what type of support you are looking for. From week 38 until your birth the doula will be on call for you 24/7 and attend your birth from the moment you want her to be there until a couple of hours after the birth. A doula can provide emotional and physical support during labour, provide support and guidance to the partner (if applicable), help parents get the information they need, help parents understand what is happening, and provide calm and reassurance during labour. Many parents find that having a doula present is very comforting and helps them have a more positive birth experience. If you are considering this option, then it's a good idea to contact a few doulas and meet with them for an initial interview to see if there is a connection. Find one that you feel comfortable with. Good places to start browsing are Parentally or BiA Doula Training's Find a Doula.
Step 5: Find Your Support System
This is applicable for everyone, but can be especially important if you're and expat or new in the country and don't have a "natural" support village of family and relatives to reach out to. It does take a village to raise a child, and no parent should need to walk the road alone. There are plenty of parents out there in the same boat as you, and plenty of ways for you to connect with them so that you can support each other. Consider joining Facebook groups such as Amsterdam Mamas or with mamas due to give birth around the same time, to connect, ask questions, and maybe schedule a meet up. You can also consider joining mama work out groups.
After the birth you can also find different classes for you and the little one to get together with other moms and find new friends. You could for example check mama and baby yoga classes, playgroups, baby art classes... Or if you just need a place to share and connect with other mamas, also consider joining a mama sharing circle or meet up. Many of these events, activities and meet-ups you will be able to find information about in different Facebook groups and by asking other mothers. We mothers have a natural tendency to seek out each other's company and support, so with a little research you can find many groups out there to connect with. If you feel lost or need advice or recommendations, you can also try reaching out to your childbirth educator or doula for advice on where to turn, since these professionals often have a wide network of connections and might be able to point you in the right direction.