Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Having a Baby in Germany

Me in the hospital with Charlie, with no idea what I was doing, silently
cursing the difficult to change German baby hospital outfits
Hello! I know, I know. I disappear after getting married, and then I reappear, and I have a BABY? How cliché of me. But you know, it's us Ausländer who are keeping that birth rate up in Germany, so I have to do my part.

Right. So on to it. I had a baby! Having a baby (the HAVING part as in "I have") is great (the having part as in "I am actively having a baby right now"... not so much. More on that another time, perhaps).

His name is Charlie and he is great. He is one of those babies where people ask "is he always this good?". He is really well behaved. We are thinking of renting him out to mothers who are trying to convince their 20- or 30- something kids to have babies. He is also GIANT. Like, off of the curve, bigger than a baby his age big. Not really overly chubby or beanpole tall, just bigger than he should be. He also has teeth, which while not unheard of for a baby his age, still plays into Charlie's scheme of "ok people I am going to act months older than I really am and fool you all into giving me that Ipad (more on that later, too).

But this post isn't about Charlie, really, it's about having a baby abroad. Namely my five tips for having and having a baby in Germany. Here goes.

1) Milk the system. Did you know that your health insurance will pay for your birth prep classes? Oh, and also your prenatal yoga. And many alternative therapies, if necessary. Feeling icky during your pregnancy? Tell your doctor, and odds are that he/she will extend your already awesomely long maternity leave. Don't forget to sign up for classes post pregnancy to re-tone your pelvic floor. Yup, there's that too.

2) Get some goodies from home. Chances are, you grew up with some specific baby items, or maybe you are reading a slew of pregnancy blogs from your home country. This will leave you wanting the baby items all your friends have or that are recommended by those blogs. Tap your sources! Sure, all a baby really needs is love, food and warmth, but a Travel Boppy Pillow or an Easy Stroll stroller extender can't hurt either...

3) Suck up to the Krippe (daycare). I know. This one is really annoying. But oh so necessary. If you harbor any pipe dreams about going back to work (which thankfully is not always as urgent in Germany, but often quite necessary after that year long Elterngeld dries up) put your name on every daycare list you can find but then choose your favorite one or two and go make friends with them. Seriously, make sure they know exactly who you are. Visit, call, explain your dire plight. It is the only way you will get a spot. If you have to, bake chocolate chip cookies. Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies. (someday, I will tell the tale of how we got our Krippen spot)

4) Let yourself just be those first 8 weeks. There is a beautiful concept in Germany called the Wochenbett, which can be loosely translated as the postpartum period. Basically, those first 8 weeks with your baby are sacred. You are recovering, your baby is recovering, you are all just getting to know each other, and blissfully in Germany, you are allowed to do nothing! In fact, you are required to. Working during this time is verboten. I highly encourage you to ask your husband to join you during those first two months and take his Elternzeit as well. You will not regret it. Sleepless nights and endless days transform from a nuisance to a time you can both enjoy. Just be happy you live in Germany and do it.  And don't forget to schedule a Midwife to come to your home to check on your and your baby! Best. Thing. Ever. (and covered by insurance, of course).

5) Dress/transport/feed/raise your baby how YOU want to. It can be hard enough to be bombarded with baby advice from friends and strangers alike. But now, you've got two cultures, often telling you two entirely different things! For me it was like having an angel and a devil sitting on my shoulders: dress your baby warmer/cooler, use a stroller/wear your baby, start solids early/wait until later. But you know what the great part is? With so many conflicting bits of advice, it is so clear that there are simply many varying paths to raising a baby, and it is up to you to choose yours. So ignore those dirty looks and raise your baby the way you and your family see fit.

What pieces of advice do you have for fellow expats having a baby in Germany?

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