Born abroad: how not to give birth as an expat

After giving birth most women slump into their beds exhausted, smiling for cute photos with the latest addition to their family.

As for me, based in Switzerland and set to move to Belgium I was dealing with rental agencies. ‘Sorry, Madame you don’t seem to understand – I can’t show you around the apartment. I’m in hospital… I just had a baby a few minutes ago’. 

Straight after the birth of my second child in the UK I asked for the WiFi code. The midwife looked a little surprised, no doubt assuming I was prioritising internet shopping over baby names. I actually just wanted a decent connection to Skype my husband who was working in Nigeria at the time.

Despite a few hiccups the births went well and today I am the proud mother of two wonderful boys.

Different countries, different styles

One, Sebastian, was born in a top private Swiss clinic, the other, Rafa, at a small state run hospital in rural England. Staff at both hospitals were fantastic and while both were easy, uncomplicated births (as easy as any birth can be), my experience in each country couldn’t have been more dissimilar.

expat mother photo
If you leave a message I’ll call you back after I’ve cuddled my baby

I’d assumed that giving birth was fairly straightforward – a midwife told you to push, and you pushed. A few huffs and puffs and you’d become a mother. What I didn’t realise was how different individual healthcare systems can be.

Switzerland v the UK

In Switzerland everything was computerised, a team of up to five staff looked after me at once (in addition to administrive staff, a post natal personal trainer and a waiter), I had an array of medical pain relief options and I stayed for five nights.

In the UK I was advised to carry my paper file as long as I carried my big bump. For the birth itself, two exhausted midwives ran around to set up a makeshift spa complete with lavender oil, music and candles, all while manning a reception and checking in on other mothers-to-be along the ward. Thankfully I didn’t need any pain relief, which was a blessing as my options were very limited. (In the end I plucked for two whole paracetamols). Shortly after delivering my son they apologised, running next door to attend to another woman in labour. In a few hours I had checked out.

While in the UK I felt abandoned and at times desperately clueless, in Switzerland I was overwhelmed with support. Although I felt incredibly pampered throughout my stay in Lausanne, I began to get annoyed with all the disturbances, as kind hearted as they were. ‘Oh yes I was sleeping, but don’t worry. No thank you, I don’t need anymore tea…’ An expat mother of four who had flown from Singapore to Lausanne for her last two births explained how to differentiate new mothers from the more experienced – ‘Do Not Disturb’ signs on locked doors.

Clinique de la Source Lausanne expat mother food
Swiss hospital food

My Swiss gynaecologist spoke excellent English but not all the midwives did. I looked on the bright side – a great chance to brush up on my French. Fortunately in the heat of the moment when I needed support in my native language, the senior midwives understood and clicked into English. While the juniors didn’t all speak so much English I’m guessing they had a marvellous grasp of English swear words however.

Lessons learned

I’ve learned a lot from my experiences abroad and in the UK. My top tip to expat mums to be? Seek out those you trust and do your research through them.

Too much time trawling on the internet can waste time, cause panic and spark fear. Instead seek out people you trust – experienced midwives, qualified gynaecologists, loyal friends with a similar outlook on life. They are the gateway to the information you need.

I feel lucky that my sons are healthy, but also a little foolish that I didn’t do more research at the time.

As I’ve written before, my second son had a rough start in life and with my husband abroad I really found it tough. I don’t fancy repeating this experience anytime soon and I count myself very, very lucky with my two gorgeous boys.

I don’t plan on having any more children, but who knows what life brings. If I ever were to have another baby I’d certainly reach out more for information and guidance. And needless to say, if there is a next time, my phone will be switched off and my husband will be present.

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