When I was interviewing for the Fulbright with the fellowship advisors at Dickinson, I was asked a question along the lines of, "How do you plan to embrace German culture as a grantee?" I listed off some ideas, including refraining from defaulting to Englisch and immersing myself in German cuisine. However, the most interesting aspect of my tenure as eine Kulturbotschafter were the events leading up to the day when I could finally say, "Günther ist geboren!"
I had a very postive experience being pregnant in Germany, and the feelings of being in control and empowered, even across language barriers, continued into my labor and delivery. My idea of giving birth was tainted by American popular culture and horror stories in which an exhausted, screaming woman is lying down in the bright, almost blinding, white light of a hospital room while a doctor barks at her to push. To add to her fatigue, the only nourishment or hydration the woman receives is through an IV; food and drink via her mouth pose too high a liability should she need an operation. Meanwhile, her partner, even if holding her hand, is in the background, not taking any part of the experience.
Needless to say, I was terrified about having a baby. However, my experience was anything but what American culture would have had me believe.
My water broke (or as the German Hebammen put it more gently, "waters came") at 10:00 on the morning of May 2. Alex and I excitedly headed off to the hospital. Having no car, we were advised to take a taxi. However, I was feeling fantastic and decided that I wanted to take the U-Bahn instead.
When we arrived at the Uniklinik Köln, it was confirmed that my water had indeed come. (The doctor who gave me this examination was the same who had seen me for my check-up the day before. We had been checked in by a different doctor when I was in early labor, but this doctor remembered us from the day before and requested to work with us again. He sure made us feel special!) After eine Hebamme monitored the baby's heartrate, I expected to be checked in, given a hospital gown, and confined to the Kreißsaal, based again on the perceptions of delivery I had received growing up in the States. Rather, die Hebamme told me to go get some lunch, take a walk in the surrounding neighborhood and return around 15:00. I had not been expecting to leave the hospital again without a baby in my arms.
During my active labor, I faced excruciating lower back pain and found it difficult to walk or position myself for the occasional fetal monitoring or blood sample. Yet die Hebammen were patient with me and never made me feel like my needing a few moments for contractions to pass was an inconvenience to the hospital staff. Again, I felt that I and my baby, and not the medical staff, were the focus in the Kreißsaal, which is exactly how a woman in delivery should feel.
My favorite part of giving birth in Germany was, surprisingly, while I was pushing. In the States, Germans have the stereotype of being less friendly than (perhaps ingenuine or overly-friendly) Americans and perhaps even curt. Moreover, the German language is described as strong and harsh, so not the language you want someone using while you are trying to relax. Looking back on Günther's delivery, however, I chuckle at how the experience was anything but harsh, even with the Hebamme encouraging (not barking at like the American picture) me in German.
My room was dimmly lit with yellow light, soft and comforting. While I did end up being hooked up to an IV for some mild painkillers, being in the delivery room almost felt like being comforted in my own bed. To help soothe the pain in my back, eine Hebamme helped me into a large tub down the hall and made me a cup of tea. When I was back in my room, she brought me a plate of food (of which I could only manage to eat a cup of Joghurt. Before it came time to push, Alex and I were left alone, curled up in the double bed, dozing off between contractions that continued well after midnight.
For the last hours of my labor, meine Hebamme was Anja, who met my frustrations (and near-yelling-at-her, pleading for relief) with smiles and gentle words. When it came time to push, I didn't receive yells of "Push! PUSH!"; rather, Anja, holding my right hand while Alex held my left (in between rubbing my back and thighs to provide relief during contractions or giving me water after them), excitedly told me to "Drück, drück, drück! Schieb, scheib, scheib! Weiter, weiter, weiter! " during contractions. After they passed, Anja looked at me, smiled, and told me, "You are so brave; you are so strong," and, closer to Günther's crowning, "You will have your baby soon."
Throughout the whole experience, I felt empowered. I wasn't being monitored by a nurse or doctor the entire time (the doctor didn't join us until the baby was crowning). I was allowed to nap with my husband before it came time to push. I was able to eat and drink, giving me energy and keeping me well-hydrated throughout the end of my labor. I was told I was strong and that I was brave, and I believed it.
Moreover, it was comforting to progress through labor and delivery with Alex as an active participant, allowing us to welcome our son together, truly as a team. Alex was able to provide more than a hand to squeeze; he was able to give me water, massages, and smiles. He even got to cut the umbilical cord. During all of this, Alex says he felt welcomed to be a part of the delivery and that he never was made to feel like he was in the way.
Delivering a baby in Germany was, surprisingly, a most wonderful experience, so much so that—should Alex and I ever decide to have another child—I might just try to convince him to move back here for another non-German-citizen with a very German name.