First appeared in THEXPAT Journal Summer 2015 publication
Building Communities Through Birth
The relationship between health and community has never been so exemplified as it is in the very popular ACCESS Childbirth Preparation Courses. No, ‘expats’ don’t have babies differently than other expectant couples around the world; rather, they give birth far from home, in an environment where the approach to pregnancy and birth may vary from what they are used to, in surroundings where myths may prevail, and where the language is ‘alien’.
The thrill of discovering you are expecting – especially if it is your first child – outside your homecountry can soon become anxiety as you wonder: How does the system work? Who can you turn to for support? Will it be like at home; like your own mother, sister, and friend experienced pregnancy and birth? How will you communicate your fears and expectations and how will you understand your caregivers at crucial moments, if you do not speak the language? Should your family come over for the birth? What will those first few days be like?
The quality of healthcare is obviously part of the decision-making process (will you stay and have your baby in the Netherlands, or will you go home for the birth), but just as important are the comfort zones parents go through to make this decision. Even in a country with top-notch obstetricians or state-of-the-art neonatal care/facilities, personal uncertainties and questions can turn what should be a joyful experience into one marred by uncertainty. It is for these reasons – and many more – that, years ago, ACCESS started to provide Childbirth Preparation Courses to the international community: first in The Hague and now also in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht.
From A to W
Courses run throughout the year, and parents are advised by ACCESS trainers to wait till they are approximately 26 weeks pregnant – in their third trimester – to take full advantage of the course. Participants can learn a lot from these courses. Topics are specifically related to childbirth in the Netherlands: how the health system works; the pain relief options (there are several myths that are incorrectly perpetuated), and some of the Dutch customs and rituals, including the role of the kraamzorg – a welcome support during the first week of parenthood.
Needless to say there are also several sessions dedicated to the ‘health’ components of giving birth. These include approaches to relaxation; breathing and massage exercises during the first stages of labour; what happens to your body as dilation takes place; breathing during the different stages of labour; exercises such as pushing in different positions; an explanation of the different instrumental supports which may assist with delivery; what you can expect as part of your post-partum care in the hospital (or at home if this is the choice you make) and some general introductory information on breastfeeding.
The groups are restricted in size, allowing for questions, explanations and discussion. ACCESS trainers, qualified in their field and near-native English speakers, are furthermore empathetic to the emotional challenges of giving birth away from home.
… And the XYZ
The most rewarding, heartening, and revealing about the courses are the playdates that arise among a group of people, who meet as strangers in a foreign land and bond by the birthing experience. The playdates with families with children of same age makes it feel like ‘home’, and extends the benefits of learning together, to growing together. Granted, in the age of social media and the ‘expat mama’ groups sprouting throughout the Netherlands, times have changed, but still, travelling those uncharted waters with others in the same boat, makes it easier to take the next step: settling into your new home and creating your new community.
Over the years, ACCESS has lost track of the number of babies born of the parents who attended our courses. However, from a review of more recent records (since 2009) we estimate that each year, this is between 120 and 150. (Not prying into, or recording, the personal details of our course participants, these figures do not account for multiple births.) This would come down to around 900 ‘expat babies’, since 2009. We consider it a job well done, to be able to allay concerns, manage expectations and contribute to so many who are starting a family, their community, here in the Netherlands.