The name game

Giving birth while living abroad can be a daunting prospect. The third instalment of the Local's series Motherhood in the Fatherland follows expectant mum Sabine Devins as she negotiates the cultural quirks of having a baby in Germany.

The name game
Photo: Josh Devins

I have a little footballer on the way. The World Cup fever that gripped Germany a month ago seems to have taken hold inside, and Baby Devins is a kicker. All the action hardly allows a baby-free thought, but at 23 weeks pregnant, there is a lot to think about.

One of the first things my co-creator and I discussed at the beginning of the pregnancy was names. As new parents it will be among the biggest first decisions we make for our child, and it’s a task that can be made even more difficult by German rules.

The quest to find unique baby monikers has led to some outlandish results around the world. In New Zealand, one couple was told they could not name their baby “4real” in 2007 because numerical digits are not allowed. Their solution? They named their son Superman, with the intention of continuing to call him “4real.” Some parents have managed to take things that far because most English-speaking countries have few restrictions on baby names, but in Germany — ever the nanny state — there are quite a few.

When Baby is born, residents must head down to their local Standesamt (civil registry office) to officially register the vital details of their new addition. There German parents find themselves at the mercy of bureaucrats who decide whether the name they put on the birth certificate will get the stamp of approval.

Many of my Canadian friends are choosing gender-twisting names like “Charlie” or “Devon” for girls. But here in Germany, if a name does not properly reflect the baby’s gender, parents had better have a feminine name that lends itself to a gender-bending nickname to put down on the books instead.

Also verboten are names that could cause future humiliation to the child. Along the same lines, babies cannot be named after corporations, though I did recently overhear a new mother introduce her daughter Nike in my OB/GYN’s office. Apparently the bureaucrats will make an exception for babies named after a Greek goddess who also happens to represent a sports equipment company.

Last names are also subject to complicated rules. If both parents opted to keep their family names, they must choose whether their newborn will take on the mother’s or the father’s family name, but not both. According to the Standesamt, the surname chosen for the first-born must be the name given to subsequent children, insuring that that siblings always have the same last name. Furthermore only one surname can be given, which is why one wouldn’t normally see a Günther Schmidt-Henkel on a class roster, unless both his parents hyphenated to “Schmidt-Henkel” when they married.

Happily for expats, they are exempt from these rules. But the Beamte, or public officers, are still known to call local embassies to check that parents are following the rules of their home countries. But being Canadian, this means we could still register a “Papaya Devins” if we wanted to.

However, there are some rules that we’re happy to have applied to us, particularly when it comes to citizenship. Along with the usual questions fielded by pregnant women, expectant expats are also often asked, “Will the baby have dual citizenship?”

For Baby Devins, the answer is yes, according to Alexander Baron von Engelhardt, a German lawyer who specializes in expat legal issues like citizenship and runs the website LG2G: Legal Guide to Germany.

As I’ve mentioned before, my parents are from Germany and were both still German citizens when I was born in a little Canadian prairie town, thus granting me dual German-Canadian citizenship. As a baby born to a German mother in Germany, our child will also be granted German citizenship, despite my Canadian birth. It turns out we’ve already set our baby up with a pretty special gift: dual citizenship for life.

“If the citizenship is inherited, the child has the right to it forever,” von Engelhardt told me.

Unfortunately for many of my counterparts, giving birth in Germany does not automatically mean citizenship for their babies. Most children born to foreign parents in Germany will have to choose between German citizenship and the citizenship of their parents when they turn 18 under the state’s Optionsmodell, or “option model.” This is the case for children born to naturalized German citizens or those born to permanent residents, explained von Engelhardt.

If one parent is German, the baby gets German citizenship, but dual passports depend on the laws of the other parent’s native country.

For people here on a temporary visa, be it work or a spousal visa while their spouse has a work permit, the mother’s visa rights are transferred to the baby. It’s simply a matter of registering the birth with the foreigner’s office (Ausländerbehörde) and the child has the legal right to stay in Germany as long as the mother does.

While my husband and I are exempt from Germany’s naming rules for his or her Canadian passport, we are still expecting a little Fußballspieler, so we’re thinking of names that won’t offend the Standesamt and look good on both German and Canadian passports.

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Immunisations and anal pharmacists

Motherhood in the Fatherland follows mum Sabine Devins as she navigates the cultural quirks of having a baby in Germany. In the latest instalment, she tackles immunisations and baby pharmaceuticals.

Immunisations and anal pharmacists
Photo: DPA

This month, my daughter reaches an important milestone: it’s her last round of immunizations until school age. It will be a relief for me to see her chubby little thighs bandage-free until she’s marching off to school with an overloaded Schultüte.

Luisa and her counterparts in North America and the UK are lucky to count going to the doctor as a fact of life. When a baby is born in Germany, he gets presented with a Babypass. Like my Mutterpass, the little book is a transportable medical file that mothers can take from doctor to doctor with her medical history. It also tracks baby’s development.

All of the check-ups, or Untersuchungen, are abbreviated to U1, U2, U3, etc. Luisa’s appointments are labelled on the front of her Kinderpass with what dates they should fall between, going all the way to April 2016. Each Untersuchung has a page for the doctor to fill out. It also leaves me with a handy little guide to how much Luisa has grown over the last year (it’s a lot!).

Most of the exams so far have been simple physicals. Making sure Luisa is growing properly and all her little parts with it. At the U3, there is an ultrasound to look for hip dysplasia — something that I find Germans to be disproportionately concerned with. As there is some hip joint issues in Luisa’s family medical history, she received an ultrasound at her U2, then again three weeks later, then with a specialist, and then again at the U3. The conclusion: “Her hips are just fine, we just like to be very careful when it comes to hip dysplasia,” said our doctor.

According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, hips that require treatment only occur in two to three children per 1,000.

What I do like about Germany’s scheduled medical care for babies is that they do immunizations a little later than in the English-speaking world. While Luisa’s friends in the US, the UK, and Canada all had their first round of shots at two months, Luisa didn’t get her first Impfungen until she was nearly four months. The first round is done in conjunction with the U4 check up, when Luisa is between two and four months old. Since her appointment was booked closer to the end of the fourth, that was simply when she got her first round.

As for the immunizations themselves, they are very much the same as what children in North America and the UK are given. Right now, Luisa has fighting power against tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis or whooping cough, polio, pneumococcus and hepatitis B. On the advice of my paediatrician, I skipped the Rotavirus immunisation and many German parents also leave out the Hepatitis B. After her last round, Luisa will also be armed against measles, mumps, and rubella.

Overall, there isn’t much difference between the care Luisa would get here versus there. But what is different in Germany is the at-home care and what Mamas keep in their at-home medical kit.

I’ve written before on the various uses of breast milk to cure these things, but that does come to an end and now those ailments lead me to the medicine cabinet.

For stuffed noses, we have saline solution. It’s hated by our little one and therefore seldom used. As Germany is the birthplace of homoeopathy, I can find all sorts of natural remedies. My favourite is called Osanit and they’re little pearls I use for teething pain. It’s main medicinal ingredient is chamomile. Whenever those gums start causing problems, babes are dosed with a few little pearls that they can roll around in their mouth and it seems to work. Life goes on. American mom Laurie has a similar product in her cabinet called Dentinox-Gel N, which also contains chamomile but in a gel format.

For those fevers, we use paracetamol, but its application is what makes our stash “very German”. The favoured method of dosing your child by the Mamas is Zäpfchen, or suppositories.

I wasn’t sure what to make the first time I realised what my doctor had prescribed after Luisa’s first round of immunizations in case of fever. But she was hot and miserable and so it happened and it was awful for everyone, but it did make her feel better. The next day I went to the pharmacy and asked for liquid paracetamol to give her instead.

The pharmacist was confused by my request. “But with the suppositories, you know she’s getting the right amount. You don’t have to worry about getting her to swallow it and once it’s done, it’s done,” she said, very pragmatically.

With the next fever, I took out a spoon and tried to get Luisa to swallow her medicine. It didn’t work. Her mouth clamped shut, she shook her head and sticky, orange-flavoured syrup got all over the floor. The practical German in me took over and we went back to the Zäpfchen. I’m now a convert.

I’m not the only one. British mum Tori told me she thinks they’re brilliant. “I would have never used them if I were raising Max [in England], but my husband, who is a doctor, was the one who stocked up the medicine shelf and at first I wasn’t so sure, but now they’re all I use.”

But others aren’t convinced.

When Laurie’s son has a fever, she uses liquid ibuprofen, which her pharmacist told her not to use until he was six months old. Before that, she had infant’s Advil and Triminic sent from the US. She also keeps American-bought Neosporin on hand. She also wishes that children’s acetaminophen were more available in the Fatherland.

English mum Susannah won’t touch the Zäpfchen. “Sticking things up a baby’s bum is not an idea I’d ever considered until I became a parent here. I would have no idea how to go about it, and would worry I was hurting her.”

Instead, she stocked up on the beloved English cure-all Calpol on her last trip home. “It’s poured liberally down English children’s throats from a very young age, whereas Germany seems less into plying babies with drugs,” she explained. “By extension, the German equivalents seemed less trustworthy in my mind: Irrational but true.”

She also has Calpol saline nose spray, as an assistant at her local pharmacy “raised her voice and eyebrows at my request for — what she called — a brutal product. She pretty much accused me of wanting to shoot drugs into my innocent child’s brain tissue.” But Susannah felt the German saline drops weren’t working and was delighted when she read “Suitable from birth” emblazoned on the English saline spray.

These days, we more readily turn to Google than our mothers to answer the million times we need to know: “Is this normal?” However, when it comes to comforts and cures, we turn back to what we know from childhood, whether it’s Laurie who goes for Neosporin to treat her son’s scrapes or Susannah who trusts one name to cure it all. Even if similar products are available in the German Apotheke, it’s just not the same as what we know.

And just because I use the Zäpfchen, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be grateful for your tips on getting your babes to swallow their medicine.