It's a girl!

Sabine Devins
Sabine Devins - [email protected]
It's a girl!
Meet Miss Luisa! Photo: Josh Devins

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


It's a girl! My husband and I are incredibly in love with our little Luisa Trudy, who decided to join us fashionably late on December 8, 2010, in the middle of a very snowy night in Berlin.

At the end of it all, or the beginning, depending on how you look at it, I can say I'm definitely glad we chose to have a baby here in Germany.

What I loved most about the experience were the midwife services. There are midwives back home in Canada, but their numbers are limited and it's still seen as an alternative to the conventional approach. In Germany it’s the standard, and these amazing women offer a massive range of services. But you don't have to choose one that offers it all: I ended up working with four different midwives.

The first was my main care provider, who came to my home for some of the check-ups towards the end of the pregnancy. Because Luisa was a week late, I was subject to one every second day and it was a luxury to stay home and have someone come to me, instead of waddling through Berlin’s snowy streets to the doctor's office.

Other mothers had told me about the overwhelming “now what?” feeling that followed their return home from the hospital with their new little humans. But my husband and I left the delivery ward feeling confident that we were going to be just fine. We had the midwife coming every day for the foreseeable future. Luisa's birth was uncomplicated and our midwife gave us everything from diaper changing tips, answers to numerous breast-feeding queries and reassurance that our baby was as perfect as we think she is.

But different midwives offer a different range of services, and my “main” midwife did not offer much outside of the before and after care. That brought us to another midwife to do our weekend birth preparation course, or Geburtsvorbereitungskurs. On the recommendation of fellow Mama-friends, I also did acupuncture that is said to shorten labour time. For this, I found another midwife who did a “group needling” session once a week at a midwife practice near my home. Yet another midwife attended Luisa’s birth.

No regrets about a hospital birth

I've written before about our choice to give birth at a hospital, and it wasn't one that we regretted. I wanted a hospital that was close to home and we opted for university hospital Charité in central Berlin. The proximity of the hospital turned out to be ideal the weekend before Luisa arrived. Overdue by a week, I had to go to the hospital twice to check her heart rate.

But several people I encountered were critical of my choice of a hospital over a birthing house or home birth. One midwife I met berated me for choosing a hospital located in former East Berlin, saying that no one there would speak English for my Anglophone husband. She also said the hospital would hook me up to pitocin to hurry my labour, and that the staff would be heavy-handed with drugs.

Another mother said that I should definitely go to a hospital where I could have an attending midwife (a midwife who stays throughout the delivery and does the postnatal care) so I wouldn’t have to endure a shift change of midwives part way through. Another midwife told me that Charité was too big to provide a calm place to bring a baby into the world.

These people could not have been more wrong. It seemed strange to me that delivering in a hospital could be an intimate affair, but it was. For the most part, it was just my husband and I in the delivery room. One midwife was assigned to me and checked in every now and then. We did endure a shift change, but it was to our benefit - we really liked the next midwife and I was happy to have a fresh brain there with me, instead of someone dragging out the hours of her work day.

As my labour progressed, I wasn’t hooked up to any kind of IV drip. When I’d had enough of the pain and asked for some relief, they discouraged me from getting an epidural and offered a milder alternative. It wore off and I wanted more - but the midwife told me I wasn’t going to get it.

Almost everyone we encountered offered to speak English. Charité is a teaching hospital teeming with young doctors. The doctor who came in at the end of my labour to help the midwife deliver Luisa spoke English, which was very helpful for my husband. The paediatricians also offered to speak English, as did most of the doctors who made the rounds in the maternity ward.

Life goes on

It's amazing how quickly things have gone back to “normal” post-pregnancy. While I was pregnant, it felt like a countdown to this momentous day when everything would change. Now that everything has changed, life still goes on. I'm grateful to be living in a city where many cafes have changing tables and parking spots for prams. And no one bats an eye at a woman breastfeeding in a restaurant, which has made the learning process so much easier.

Since I'm no longer pregnant, many Germans seem to be concerned about what kind of contraception I'll be using. I was warned by two doctors at Charité that breastfeeding was not reliable contraception and that I should talk to my OB/GYN about getting on the pill when I went to see her six to eight weeks after Luisa's birth. My midwife visited on our first day home and brought me a 91-page “pamphlet” on all the different contraception options. It's almost as though they think it’s a miracle I didn't get pregnant sooner.

At the age of seven weeks, Luisa has already had many visits to German bureaucratic offices. I heartily endorse using the Standesamt, or civil registry, outpost offered by hospital delivery wards - it made the paperwork much easier and we spent less time waiting around.

At the Bürgeramt we've also avoided long waits by making appointments ahead of time to get her baby passport. Showing up at the various government offices with a baby also seems to speed the bureaucratic process. Every official we’ve encountered has been delighted by Luisa’s chubby cheeks and take care of us right away.

Other than a few judgemental midwives and mothers, having Luisa in Germany made us want to stay in the country to bring her potential siblings into the world. Granted everything about my pregnancy, labour and delivery was uncomplicated, but our experience left us with confidence in the system should anything go wrong in the future (knock on wood).


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