A Month of Mothering: Becoming a Mother Abroad

I had my first child on August 26, 2010. As every mother knows this experience is life changing, but for me there was a twist: I gave birth in the Netherlands instead of my native Minnesota.

The great majority of my pregnancy was smooth and intervention-free. I enjoyed the care of midwives and rode my bike to my monthly visits, where they would check my blood pressure, feel my belly and ask how things were going. That was about it. This greatly worried some of my friends back in the US, who were used to many more tests and blood draws. What is something goes wrong?

Well, something did go…not according to plan. Adrian moved to the breech position around my 29th week of pregnancy. As the weeks went on, it became clear that intervention of some kind would be necessary. I started with research, moved onto moxa-
therapy, and eventually went for the ECV. At 38 weeks, the midwife referred me to the hospital, where I would be monitored more closely and also give birth under the watchful eye of obstetricians.

The doctors told me I had two options: schedule a C-section or try to deliver naturally. I did a huge amount of research and was uneasily heading to the conclusion that I should get a C-section. Then I went to speak to the doctor. He listened to my reasoning and then said, “Well, if you really want a C-section, we’ll schedule if for you. But if you are interested in a natural delivery – and it sounds like you are – then I want you to know we are fully capable of delivering him vaginally, and all indications point to the possibility of a positive outcome.”

I was shocked. In the US – not to mention almost every other European country – such a scenario was almost impossible. And yet the obstetrics department at the LUMC in Leiden seemed to want to complicate their working lives in order to provide the best
outcome for my baby. Of course, they cautioned that they had a very low tolerance of complications for a breech baby, and if anything went wrong during labor a C-section would be unavoidable. We decided to go for it, and waited for Adrian to make his

He finally decided to grace us with his presence at almost 41 weeks. The vaginal delivery- performed by an incredibly competent resident – went very well. Breech deliveries require special training and it seems that all obstetricians at the LUMC are familiar with the art.

Even though Adrian was born on my nine-year anniversary overseas, giving birth has greatly increased my enthusiasm towards living in the Netherlands. I now find myself an enthusiastic advocate for the Dutch philosophy – which, surprisingly, seems designed around my wishes. They seemed determined to empower me as a new mother. In that crucial experience of giving birth to my first child, and all the factors that led up to the scenario I found myself in, I felt that I was considered as the most important decision-maker.

Becoming a mother is a great initiation into a community of motherhood, but becoming an expat mother perhaps makes this initiation even more intense. Being an expat can sometimes be lonely and even scary, but because of my experience I’m even more determined to encourage and empower other moms, from pregnancy to birth, and in everything baby-related.

Janelle Ward is a born and raised Minnesotan living in Leiden, the Netherlands. Nine years ago she went to Europe for a brief international experience. Along the way, having acquired a Spanish husband, a PhD and a little one, she’s found that observing life outside her comfort zone is a true passion. She blogs at http://mysonadrian.tumblr.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter @my_son_adrian

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