When it’s time to push, the new nurses say things like “grit your teeth” and “get angry,” and then when they won’t just shut the hell up, you get really, really pissed and scream through a contraction. They tell you not to waste your energy on screaming, and you want to tell them to come just a little closer so you can throttle them, but somehow you manage to maintain impulse control. And then they pull out the forceps and a giant pair of scissors, and you’re not pissed anymore so much as scared, and more motivated than ever to get this thing out without sharp metal instruments having to get anywhere near you. Especially not down there.
“This is how they do it in Sweden,” your midwife says right as your next contraction peaks, and she pushes down hard with her elbow on your belly. You feel the baby slip out, and then tiny little feet push off your ribs, and the midwife has to hustle to get back in receiving position. You wish she would have just done that hours ago.
After the baby is checked and the stitches are sewn and the mess is cleaned up (and even though you don’t see the full extent of it, you see enough to be so glad you weren’t on your own bed when that happened), you and your husband and your brand new baby are sent home. You walk through the front door, look at each other, and simultaneously say, “Now what?” But right before full-blown panic can set in, the doorbell rings and it’s your nurse. She knows just what to do with each of the devices and tools you were told to purchase for this new human being, and when the baby is napping, she takes care of you, ordering you to bed, tucking you in, and telling you to get some sleep. You burst into postnatal tears of joy when you discover she cooks and cleans and does the laundry, too. When on the fifth day the insurance company assigns her to the next new mother, you do a quick calculation as to whether you can afford to keep her around, but your husband insists that groceries are more important, so reluctantly, you hug her and send her on her way.
Your midwife comes by to check on you, and she is all business and professional and thinks you’re losing weight too quickly, you look so thin, and you forget ever thinking she was an old-fashioned quack. And even though you had vowed never to listen to her silly advice again, when she tells you that bathing in lukewarm water and Biotex powder will take care of those infected stitches, you don’t even question her. She writes it down for you on a scrap of paper; the midwife version of a prescription.
You go to the pharmacy for this mysterious Biotex, but you are surprised when they laugh and direct you to the grocery store, where it can be found in the laundry detergent aisle. You stand there for a good while, wondering if the powder for pre-laundry soaking or for hand washing would be better equipped for the task at hand, and then you decide on the latter, because if there was ever a more delicate fabric, you can’t think of it. Later, your husband tosses a few of his dress shirts in the tub and makes a joke about two birds and one stone that you don’t think is even remotely funny.
You feel vindicated, and perhaps a teeny bit angry at your own gullibility, when the Biotex gives you your first and hopefully only ever yeast infection, and then grateful when the doctor—a real one—prescribes a chemical substance that can only be found behind the counter at a pharmacy. But when you tell your midwife of your ails, she looks at you like you’re an overreacting American. Again.
Your friends from the States call and email, and after all the horror stories have been told, you find yourself defending the Dutch system. You know plenty of people who’ve had safe and uneventful deliveries at home, you tell them, and the hospitals really are world class, you say. You begin listing off all the benefits: affordable healthcare, private nurses, house calls, the most efficient infant immunization, and check-up system imaginable. And then, before you even realize you’re going to say it, you’re comparing yourself to Superwoman for surviving natural childbirth, and really, by the time you think you can’t stand another second without drugs, it’s almost over anyway. You know that in the States, in hospitals dubbed as “baby factories” and your ob-gyn reading between every line you utter for threat of a lawsuit, you would have had a very different experience. It might have been more comfortable and less painful, but there certainly would have been stitches involved there, too, maybe even to mend walls of muscle and organ. But looking back, you know you would choose having your baby in Holland all over again if given the choice. In fact, you hear yourself say, you wouldn’t trade your experience for anything.
Not even for all the ice chips in the world.(Part 1) | Part 2