Yesterday I read Matt’s post on the “Day Mug” http://bythedarkofthemoon.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/day-mug/ and it resonated heavily with our experiences. So this is Part One of a two-part post about one of the best-kept secrets that many new parents feel that they have to keep quietly to themselves.
In this post I aim to tell you some background… set the stage so that tomorrows post makes sense. (humour me hey?)
Ten years ago Kiwi Daughter was born, slightly premature after a 15 hour labour, and during the routine tests they discovered that she didn’t have a suck reflex and that she was rather listless. A baby should start sucking once a finger is put into their mouth, my little one didn’t do anything expect look sleepy and surprised.
We had the Rhesus factor to contend with during the pregnancy because although Kiwi Daughter was my first born child she wasn’t our first pregnancy, having lost two previous to miscarriage. It was decided not to take any risks and I was given anti-D injections several times during pregnancy to prevent my O Negative blood type and immune system from thinking that my A Positive baby was an unwelcome intruder within my being.
Kiwi Daughter was born in the early evening, listless and sleepy looking and blood tests revealed hemoglobin levels where they definitely shouldn’t be and some other blood level abnormalities and since it wasn’t completely clear if somehow it could have been possible that my blood had contaminated the readings, she was whisked away to a neonatal ICU for more complex observations and care.
They sprinkled her with water to wake her up, to no avail, several times they could only wake her when they did yet another heel prick blood test. This was more floppy than deep sleeping and they were concerned.
Her interest in food was zero, and with severe asthma, eczema and long lists of allergies in both sides of our family I was desperate to breastfeed but she wasn’t having it. It’s completely normal that some babies need to learn how to feed and that it takes some practice but Kiwi Daughters level of disinterest raised the level of concern, so a tube was inserted into her nose and she was fed expressed breast milk through that.
On the second day she was similarly un-alert and inactive so they decided to do even more tests: putting a little tube into her stomach and taking a sample of what was there.
To their surprise her stomach was full of meconium, the blackish muck that babies are supposed to poop out after birth. It was an extremely distressing process for both of us as they pumped her stomach to get rid of it, but it was clear that she started to do a bit better after it was done.
We spent a week in hospital together but then she was deemed good enough to go home. We took a bag of gadgets with is to help feed her and the hospital check-ups, the Cat scan and blood tests continued for almost a year afterwards and her condition was closely monitored.
The Dutch system is that when you have a baby, that it’s normal to have it at home, in the care of a midwife. You may elect to have your baby in Hospital, but you may not elect to have a C-section. Those are reserved for high risk deliveries only and the medical staff get to decide who is or isn’t high (enough) risk.
Epidural’s are also not available as a matter of course, in fact I have know some friends who asked for them during labour and were flatly refused. Some Gynes and some hospitals are far more sympathetic on the epidural issue so expectant mothers may find it wise to “shop around”.
If you are deemed “medical” for various reasons then you will be immediately denied a home birth as too high risk and your Gynecologist will usually outline the planned care needed for the birth, per your other medical needs.
I was a “medical” because I have chemical lung damage from a previous occupation and severe asthma, My Gyne and Lung Specialist are in the same hospital and needed to work closely together concerning medications and the planning of the delivery. I didn’t need to ask for an epidural, it was deemed essential to reduce stress on my lungs if I wanted to try for a natural birth. We needed to avoid a general anesthetic at all costs if possible since this is very bad news for my lung condition.
I was a patient at the hospital for the same week my baby was too because they needed to see lung function stabilization after the delivery (I usually take steroids for my condition and was naturally on different, baby safe, but less reliable medication whilst I was pregnant and breast feeding).
Regardless if you have your baby at home or in hospital, the Dutch system also allows for “Kraamzorg“. This is pre-arranged and after your baby arrives the Kraamzorg lady is notified and arrives too. Often you if delivered in Hospital, she will actually be waiting on your doorstep ready for you when you arrive home from the hospital.
She is a fully trained professional baby nurse and she will teach you how to bath your newborn at home, how to make their bed, how to make a schedule for the day and night, help get you started with breastfeeding, teach you how to change a nappy and is a font of tips and tricks concerning everything Baby .
She regulates when your visitors arrive, kicks them out when they have stayed too long and are tiring you out, and sends you for a short nap every afternoon whilst she attends to your child and organizes a home visit for the midwife to check stitches and the mother’s general recovery after delivery.
She often peels veggies for an evening meal, stuffs a load of laundry in the washer, makes the coffee for your visitors during your home “visiting hour”, and generally helps you on the initial steep learning curve that a newborn baby presents.
You don’t get to choose who turns up as your Kraamzorg, but ours was so brilliant with difficult Kiwi Daughter that we did an awful lot of string-pulling to try and get her back for the birth of our second child four years later, and by a stroke of luck succeeded. In fact we still keep in touch and she visits semi-regularly as a friend.
The Kraamzorg lady isn’t however your cleaning lady or maid… she’s there for the Mother and Baby and to settle you in to a good start at home, to equip you with some skills for going it alone. Depending on the plan you sign up to, she stays for between 2 and 6 days and then you and your spouse are alone with your little bundle of joy, learning to get to know one another and manage on your own.
In our case Kiwi Daughter’s rocky start in the hospital was just the beginning, and our amazing Kraamzorg helped brilliantly as we made the transition from hospital to home, but when in due course she left, the true magnitude of the “secret” came to hit us right between the eyes…