An expat father writes (guest blog piece)
Shallow Man, I first came across your blog as we happen to share the same tailor and an appreciation for good food and wine. Your blog reminds me of the time when I had a relationship with twins, 50% of your blog is entertaining, the other half is not always to my liking. That aside, I have decided to share my experiences of being a first time father in Amsterdam with you and your readers.
Like the Shallow Man, I had been enjoying my time in Amsterdam to the full. I hunted in the usual expat groups, and eventually grew tired of grazing in the same scene, until one day a rather fine specimen of Dutch womanhood came my way. I’m pleased to say that not only is she a non-smoker, dresses well and visits her hairdresser on a regular basis, she is able to hold a conversation with her female friends without shouting so she was the woman for me.
We were sailing happily through life, had just bought an apartment together and had decided to celebrate her birthday with a sumptuous meal at Vinkeles. Usually we order the wine matching selection with our meal, but on this fateful day my partner declined to drink any alcohol. It was then that she chose to tell me that we were expecting a baby. I sat in stunned silence. Me a father? I hadn’t finished growing up yet, how on earth could I be expected to look after a child?
Up until that point, my girlfriend had been a very easy going, laid back person. This all changed overnight. With German like efficiency she then proceeded into a round of logistical planning of which any army general would have been proud. In the days that followed, our home suddenly began to fill up with all manner of “things for the baby” I was roared at, and then dragged in and out of an endless number of shops to look at baby clothes, buggies, accessories etc, etc. I remained in shock and watched with admiration as her planning went into overdrive and the spare bedroom turned into a child’s room overnight.
Throughout the pregnancy we never once saw an actual doctor until the day of the birth. Everything was handled by midwives, who appear to be a kind of cult or witches coven. These “professionals” appear to possess an ideology that homebirth is best and that pain is a natural part of the process. Questions about pain relief were brushed away with comments that pain was part of childbirth, they told us about the options for anesthesia with thinly disguised contempt. I did receive a lecture about expat fathers and how they expect things here to operate the same way as their home countries. When attending meetings at the midwife practice, I kept expecting Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum to pop out of nowhere and be chased by dinosaurs, as midwifery here appears to be stuck firmly in the Jurassic era.
My Dutch partner had no intention of having a homebirth (I chose the right Dutch woman) so we firmly pressed ahead with our plans for a hospital delivery.
The big day
Calm and fearless on the outside, but shaking like the rather rough looking ladies one sees dancing on tables at Teasers, I took my partner to the VU for the birth. No matter how many videos, pamphlets, and research you may have done, nothing can prepare you for the actual experience of seeing your partner in agony with contractions and the actual birth itself. It was a time when I must say that I’m happy to be a man. After hours of labor, my son, my first child was born. He looked at me with his beautiful eyes and a look that said “you have no idea what’s in store for you” and he was right.
The sheer volume of paperwork associated with having a child in Amsterdam surprised me. There’s vast amounts of overlap and an army of bureaucrats whose only job appears to be to ask new parents exactly the same questions that their colleagues posed several hours earlier. The hospital told my partner to get lots of rest after the birth, yet for days we had various bureaucrats knocking on our door and calling us on the phone. Rest? How?
That aside, we were very happy with the Kraamzorg, a kind of home help that’s helps out with the baby for the first five to seven days. Ours was a wonderful woman who probably saved our lives.
I never knew that it was possible to be nostalgic about sleep. Sometimes we say to say each other, “do you remember when we used to stay in bed till eleven at weekends?” That all seems like a distant memory, even though our son is only five weeks old.
Leave any hardened criminal or terrorist with a newborn baby and after 72 hours he’ll be confessing to crimes he never committed and begging for the child to be taken away. The first week was excruciating. Lack of sleep, problems with breast feeding. The ideological midwife Taliban insisted on the mantra that breast is best. Yes medically speaking this is true, but if it doesn’t work, formula is every bit as good. Don’t put yourself through agony due to brainwashing by women who probably sacrifice goats every time they have a period. We hardly slept during the first week, and the Kraamzorg woman saved us by taking the baby every morning, thus giving us a few hours of desperately needed sleep.
Is the baby human?
Baby poo starts out green, yes green, then turns yellow. There are times when my son is looking peacefully at me, he’s quiet and calm and lying in my lap. I pick him up and then there is a pile of yellow poo all over my trousers.
Some tips for first time parents
The Shallow Man asked me if I have any tips for first time parents based on my experiences here. So here they are.
- Midwives are NOT doctors, if you have any doubts about the advice they provide, do go and get a second opinion, preferably from a doctor
- Don’t let anyone pressure you or your partner into breast feeding if there are complications. Fight the power!
- The Kraamzorg visitor recommended that we keep the baby sleeping in our bedroom for the first six months, we politely listened to her advice and had him sleeping in his own room after three weeks
- Weigh up the pros and cons of a home versus hospital birth and make sure that it’s your decision, not anyone elses
- Only you as parents know what’s best for your baby. You’ll receive lots of unsolicited and often conflicting advice. Get to know your baby and you’ll make the right calls
- When changing nappies, make sure that you’re not standing downstream. Babies sometimes have a habit of waiting to pee until the precise moment when you change their nappy. If you’re standing in the wrong place this is not pleasant.
- For the well dressed men out there, always have a cloth on your shoulder before you pick up your baby, milky vomit leaves stains 🙂
It’s a pity that babies are provided without a manual, but learning to know your child is one of the greatest experiences that anyone can have.
The Shallow Man would like to thank
The expat father. Reading his post has reminded me to go out and stock up on some more condoms.
No goats were hurt during the writing of this post.
Until next time, hou je bek!
I disagree completely with the way you portray midwives. They are highly skilled and trained individuals who spend their lives doing exam after exam and reviewing and practicing procedures that hopefully many of us ever have to require. There is a good reason why here in the Netherlands the Midwives take on most of the primary care, in other countries where their patients are taken to these “all knowing doctors” you speak so highly of, they and their nurses do not listen to the primary care giver who has spent the better part of that clients last 9 months helping them through their pregnancy and know more about them and their complications and situation then the OB could ever hope to. It causes many problems which can be avoided if they were given the respect that they deserve. While it is your choice to have your baby where you want, it is unfair to paint these great women (and some men) in the light you have here. I was born at home, all 3 of my brothers were born at home, my partner ad his sister were both born at home. There is no reason to be a burden to the medical system by putting your self in the hospital unless you have a pre-diagnosed condition. Which the midwife would probably be the first to recognise as they spend a great amout of time with the clients. Unlike any OB GYN who would see you only for the birth and then literally wash their hands of you. So show some respect for the actual oldest profession in humanity.
Rowan, it’s precisely this kind of ideological claptrap that the guest blogger was writing about. The Netherlands has one of the highest rates of perinatal deaths in Europe, precisely due to an over reliance on midwives. Yes you and your 11 brothers and sisters were all born safely at home, sorry but that’s an incredibly small sample rate in a country of over 16 million people. Google Netherlands and perinatal deaths to get a better idea.
That is a somewhat (putting it mildly) simplified version of what is actually happening. Two, of the may more, contributing factors:
– like is not being compared with like in those statistics, what constitutes “perinatal death” is defined differently in different countries
– this becomes particularly clear if you extend the period under consideration for your research; deaths in other countries start to rise sharply, in the Netherlands they don’t. The reason: neo-natologists elsewhere tend to needlessly extend the lives (and the suffering) of babies whose prospects were poor to zero from the start.
Another thing: the advice from the expat father to disregard midwives’ advice and go to a doctor is somewhere between useless and downright dangerous. Doctors know next to nothing about pregnancies and deliveries. The last time they’ll have come across either will have been somewhere around their second or third year of training. Midwives do nothing else. Moreover they utterly lack the machismo of the average quack who might easily feel inclined to show how he tackles things himself. A midwife will call for an OB-GYN at the drop of a hat.
In most countries of the civilised world world, GPS are given training in looking after preganant women. On top of this there are special doctors, known as obstetricians, who specialise in pregnancy. Its a shame (according to you) that the doctors here don’t do the same. If the doctors here are ‘quacks’ – why go to them at all? (Although I ask that everytime I’m given virtually no examination, no time, and am told to go home and take paracetamol anyway!) I dont think midwives are a bad thing. But they are only useful if they listen and respect the wishes of the couple and help them in having the birth in whatever way they feel is best. If a mother wants a hospital birth and a bucket load of pain relief – that should be her call and not that of the bossy midwife. In the end the child is her responsibility. She will spend the next 20 yrs of blood sweat and tears raising it – so she should have her wishes on how it enters the world respected. The Dutch are not the only ones who have experience in having babies. 😉
Totally agree about the ridiculous cult of home births and non-anesthetic (had an acquaintance almost die during childbirth because the hospital refused to do a C-section – didn’t realize it was medically necessary until it was too late). Everything else, though, is just “problems with having a child, especially resulting from an unwanted pregnancy.”
Hehehe! 😀 BWell written Sir. Your descriptions were vivid, graphic and successfully caused my ovaries to collapse. *traumatised for days*