Pregnancy in the Netherlands: Midwives & me

I’ve been meaning to blog about what it’s like to be pregnant in the Netherlands. With just 4.5 weeks left until I’m due (!), I figured I can’t—and I shouldn’t—put it off much longer. So this week, I’m writing a series of posts on pregnancy in the Netherlands—not a comprehensive guide, just my own personal experience.

There’s a lot to write about, so be prepared for long posts! That’s because the Dutch system is so different from what I learned to expect back home. I get mixed reactions when I tell people how my pregnancy has been handled here so far (not to mention what awaits me at the actual birth). Some call me brave, others say I’m lucky, and a few just stare at me, looking positively freaked out.

For starters, most people can’t believe I stopped seeing my doctor eight months ago. Or that I’ve seen an ob-gyne a grand total of… once. Yes. Just once. That’s because in the Netherlands, pregnancy and childbirth are the domain of the verloskundige, or midwife.

"Ine's Childbirth" (1957) by Kors van Bennekom, from the Amsterdam City Archives.

A Dutch woman in labor with her midwife (1957). Photo by Kors van Bennekom, from the Amsterdam City Archives.

The logic: hospitals and doctors are for sick people, and pregnant women are not sick. Pregnancy is not an illness, but a normal part of life. I find this very Dutch, since the Dutch would be the last to treat their women as weak, fragile creatures. To be sure, pregnancies considered high risk (due to factors like previous miscarriages, gestational diabetes, and more), are handled by ob-gynes. But the vast majority of low-risk pregnancies, such as mine, are handled by midwives.

A midwife isn’t the hippie-dippie, Earth-mama choice. It’s not the lesser-chosen alternative that it would be in, say, the U.S. or U.K. Nor is it for rural women who live hours away from the nearest hospital, as in the Philippines. Here, a midwife is just… normal.

In general, this means midwives have far more experience with actual childbirth than doctors do. I’ve heard women say they feel safer with a midwife than with a doctor (as in this compelling account).

So how do I feel about it?

At the start of my pregnancy, I decided I wouldn’t reject something just because it was different. Part of why I love travel is because it opens your eyes to the many different ways life can be lived. And part of why I love living abroad is the freedom and the opportunity to try something different. It’s like trying on clothes—if it fits, I’ll keep it; if not, I’ll try something else.

This was my attitude coming under the care of midwives. I use the plural because that’s how it works—each practice has three to six midwives on rotation (to ensure there’s one in the office and one on call for births), so you see a different one each time. By your due date, you should have met them all a few times.

My first visit, and the part I enjoyed the least—drawing blood!

My first appointment at the midwives’ practice, and the part I enjoyed the least—drawing blood!

A typical appointment starts with my midwife asking me how I am, and discussing anything that’s come up since my last visit—pregnancy symptoms, difficulties, questions I might have. She checks my blood pressure and iron (with those wicked finger pricks I detest). I lie down while she measures and checks my belly with her hands, then (my favorite part!) we listen to the baby’s heartbeat. Finally, we schedule my next appointment, including any tests or ultrasound scans. All of that takes less than 15 minutes.

The atmosphere is always light, relaxed, friendly. I’ve found my midwives to be quite (Dutchly) matter-and-fact; for example, when I asked if I could take the train to Paris in my 36th week, I was told: “If you feel fine, go!” They’re casual without being dismissive, with an undercurrent of competence I find immensely comforting. It’s like being told without words that all this—these freaky changes, your unrecognizable body, this growing baby—is normal and that there’s nothing to worry about.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to discover that reassurance doesn’t just come from white coats or prestigious medical school diplomas framed on the wall. In fact, when I was sent to an ob-gyne for possible gestational diabetes, I almost felt like I was being punished for being a bad girl (i.e. pigging out on Nutella). I didn’t want to leave my midwives! Happily, the ob-gyne cleared me of diabetes and sent me right back to my midwives’ office.

My midwives' practice, 10 minutes by bike from my house

My midwives’ practice, 10 minutes by bike from my house

This part of pregnancy in the Netherlands is working very well for me. I think it helps that I’m pretty easygoing, plus I’ve been blessed with an easy pregnancy. Over these eight months, my midwives have taught me to take responsibility for myself (they’ve never even weighed me, saying “Your weight is your responsibility,”), to relax, and to not terrify myself with information overload.

I’m sad that I have to switch to a midwives’ practice in my new neighborhood this late in the game—this is because midwives should be within a 10-15 minute drive from your house. But I find comfort in knowing how this part of the system works… and, more importantly, that it works for me.

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Comments

  1. KatrinaAtienza says

    This is a super fascinating read, thanks for sharing. (And a month to go nalang pala, exciting!!)  I love my OB (for both kids) because she’s super low-key and makes me feel competent with my pregnancies; but I’ve encountered stories nga about docs who can be OA and scare their charges! I guess it depends din what works for you. ;-)

    • says

      Yeah, my midwives are low-key rin. Mas keri sa akin yung ganun. It’s different talaga for every woman. We’re lucky we found practitioners that worked well for us! :)

  2. says

    Great you’re taking it so easy and that you’re so open minded. I’m sure not all expats in the Netherlands are able to do that! I personally can relate to everythink you wrote and I love the dutch attitude concerning pregnancy and birth (even though I’m not dutch). I had both of my children at home, just my midwife an my husband and no doctor was present, and I it worked really well for me. 

  3. Cris says

    Very enlightening read. Can’t wait for your post on giving birth at home (as you’ve mentioned in a previous post).

    Just curious, were you asked by your airline to present a doctor’s certificate when you flew home to Manila? Did your midwives provide this?

    • says

      Hi Cris! The midwives provided me a letter saying that I was fit to fly and my pregnancy was normal with no complications. I flew home at 28 weeks and back to NL at 31 weeks, and Singapore Airlines didn’t check either way!

  4. Lacquer_Linen says

    That is so interesting how the Dutch view pregnancy and Drs. It’s true, we aren’t sick, just pregnant! I never thought of it that way. My best friend has chosen to go to midwives here in California and while I like what I have heard from her, I’m not sure I could give up my Dr. I would love to have both or maybe hire a doula for labor but I think I’m too much of a hypochondriac to think of not having an MD in the room when I deliver. You have definitely opened my mind to another point of view though! Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy!!

    • says

      Yeah, it really depends on what you find most reassuring and comforting, doesn’t it? For example, I decided that a doula is not for me since I see Marlon as my primary source of emotional support. Never mind that he will be as clueless as I am, haha!

  5. says

    Such a wonderful post!  It is so different here in the U.S. and women really have to fight to have the births they desire for themselves and their babies (I know from personal experience), and midwives are even illegal in some states.  It is incredibly true that pregnant women are not sick!  I wish you a wonderful birth day and I look forward to reading your other posts in this series.

    • says

      Thanks Catherine. One of the things that I’ve learned is that context makes all the difference. It’s really hard to compare because you have to consider the big picture. The entire culture/system is so different between countries… and even between states, I’m sure!

  6. says

    Hello! Chanced upon your blog and I’m enjoying reading our entries!
    WOW!  Midwives huh?!  I think kasi we’re very much spoiled here in Manila.

    I’m looking forward to reading your birth story next! :)
    Good luck!! :)

    Love, Didi

  7. says

    Great post. I gave birth  to my son in Berlin, Germany. Although I was followed during the entire pregnancy by a doctor and gave birth in a hospital the whole experience was very stress free. During labor I was installed on a large birthing bed with my husband lying next to me. I pretty much only saw the midwive and when it was finally time to deliver she handled everything and there was just a doctor standing in a corner of the room in case something went wrong. I felt really safe and in good hands with her.
    I am now 32 weeks pregnant in Brussels and the doctors I have seen have all made a fuss about coming to the hospital once I go into labor. I couldn’t care less. I know that if there are good midwives I’ll be in good hands. And honestly if really there is a problem there will surely be a doctor around!

    • says

      Thanks for your comment, Corinne. How wonderful to feel secure and safe during your first delivery! Good luck with your second… not long to go now :)

  8. Chloe says

    Hi there,

    I found your blog via the Amsterdam Mama’s website. I just found out I am expecting :) I am wondering, how did you choose your midwife? How did you find your group and did you do a lot of comparisons/meetings with different groups to find the right one for you?

    Thanks,
    Chloe

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