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.
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.
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.
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.