Updated: Sep 18
Giving birth while living in a foreign country presents its own set of challenges. In this multi-part series we talk to several moms who decided to start families while living overseas: Doula and mother of two, Australian Emma V in Germany offers tips on how to create a positive birthing experience overseas while Irish Lizzie in Jamaica and Greek Nathalie in Vienna share their stories.
Making childbirth abroad a positive experience
By: Emma Vassallo
The day a woman gives birth is a day she will always remember and will impact her for the rest of her life. The main challenge of giving birth while living in a foreign country is the absence of a support network of close family and friends not only during the birth but also afterwards. Other challenges include a possible language barrier, different medical procedures, unfamiliar birthing practices or cultural differences as regards expectations of the birth. In such a different environment, how do you raise the odds that your birthing experience will be a positive one?
Choose caregivers carefully
A ‘positive’ birth refers not only to natural unmedicated births; those who elect for pain relief or Cesarean births can also have powerful and fulfilling experiences. Surrounded by a supportive and competent team, a woman feels secure. If she is treated with respect and kindness and allowed to make her own choices, she is more likely to have a positive experience and to come away feeling empowered.
While many doctors and midwives speak English, standards can vary widely and can be a cause of stress if you don’t fully understand what’s happening around you. Learn at least the medical terms for pregnancy and how to explain to someone if you are in labour. If your grasp of the local language is basic, arrange for someone to come with you to translate.
Inform yourself about the local health system and medical practices. Educate yourself and attend birth preparation classes with your partner. Pregnancy yoga classes can equip you with some techniques to help you relax during labour. Having a birthing plan can help to ensure that a couple’s wishes are respected but be aware that in a medical emergency, not all wishes can necessarily be fulfilled. A birthing plan does not need to be long or complicated but it might be helpful to prepare your prospective caregivers and to find out in advance if they are willing to accommodate cultural beliefs or preferences. A recommended read for partners is ‘Birth Partner’ by Penny Simkin, a fantastic book for partners on every aspect of birth.
Local medical practices
Ask questions well before your baby is due. If you are keen on having a natural birth, find out the Cesarean rate of the hospital or of your obstetrician beforehand. Find out the rules about being overdue and how long the hospital will let you go past your due date before an induction. Ask about medical practices such as the level of freedom as regards physical birthing positions.
Having a postpartum plan is just as important as the birth plan. Who will be around to support you after the birth? How much time can your partner take off work? Can someone come to help you with cooking or household chores for a month so that you can focus on your needs and those of your baby?
Support is a critical element of giving birth. Having a support person during the birth is a great way to relieve pressure on your partner so that they can focus on being there for you and not have to worry about other things, like fetching cold towels and timing contractions. Many studies show that continuous support during labour can reduce the likelihood of medical intervention, lower Cesarean rates and shorten labour.
Try to find a doula in your local area. A doula is a professionally trained support person who knows about birth. She is there to give emotional and physical support to the mother and provide natural pain relief through methods such as massage and acupressure.
Build up a network of support. Other foreign women who have already given birth are often a great source of information and support. Join a positive birthing group or other support groups or Girl Gone International to find new friends abroad.
Changing childbirth culture
Stay positive and try to ignore negative birthing stories. Accept your own unique experience of giving birth abroad and keep an open mind. If every woman is given the necessary support, respect and choice when giving birth, we would be hearing many more positive birthing stories. Birth culture is changing and women everywhere are demanding greater freedom and choice during childbirth. With empowerment through education and the creation of a supporting and loving environment, women might just get the birthing experiences they desire.
This article first appeared in Issue 2 of GirlGI Magazine.