The Dutch Diaries: Choosing the Who & Where of Birth

As an American living overseas, I faced many challenges. I had to adjust to not having a car and biking through rain, wind, or even snow while 9 months pregnant, or better yet, with two kids on the bike! I had to master the ‘G’ sound in Dutch.  It sounds like you are gurgling something in your throat, but it is actually a part of a word in your sentence! On the flip side, there are many amazing people, places, attitudes and social norms that I have been fortunate enough to have experienced here. It has been a beautiful thing to challenge myself, living out of my comfort zone, to have adapt to living in a foreign country. Originally from California, I have spent the last decade of my life in the Netherlands, and have had both of my babies here. It has been a true privilege to gain so much knowledge about childbirth practices in this country. This experience is the inspiration for my passion for this field, and the story behind these “Dutch Diaries.”

To most Americans, attitudes and practices in the Netherlands seem extremely liberal. Just mentioning that I live close to Amsterdam has initiated a stream of comments about the legalization of prostitution, gay marriage, and of course, the infamous marijuana “coffee shops”.  When it comes to children, and especially birthing practices, Holland is understood to be leading the world. The Netherlands is referenced in almost every book I have read in the pre/perinatal field. The Dutch are most well‐known for their natural, pragmatic approach to pregnancy, birth and parenting.

The first thing that surprised me when I got pregnant was the way the healthcare system works here. It is customary in Holland to only see your chosen midwife throughout the pregnancy and delivery. Only if there is a preexisting medical condition would anyone be sent straight to an OB-GYN. I had always wanted to use a midwife and to birth at home, but since I was in nursing school before I moved to the Netherlands, I was used to the tension between doctors and midwives as it is in the States.  Here the midwife is the guide and teacher, the professional in birthing. Pregnancy is a normal and natural occurrence for a woman’s body to go through (not an illness); therefore a guide/teacher is needed and used instead of a doctor. They do not have to prove their value; they get to just do their job. They have nothing to prove, so if their client (not “patient”) needs medical assistance, they are quick to get help. This was not what I was used to, but I loved it and found it to so very practical. The more I learned, the more sense it made to me.

One‐third of babies are born at home in Holland, which is quite a contrast to the less than 1% in the States. Pregnant women here have the right to choose where they want to try and deliver. I have so many Dutch friends who say they want to labor at home and just see how it goes. They can prepare for a homebirth, but know if they need to transfer to the hospital, it can be done easily! While the majority of Dutch women choose to give birth in a hospital setting, they just take their midwife with them. Once labor starts, the midwife will call the hospital and reserve a spot for them at the nearest hospital. Everyone is so flexible, the midwife and laboring client arrive and just continue the birth there. The hospital staff welcomes them, makes space for them, and they go about with their natural birthing process.

I found it enlightening to experience a different cultural approach and oh-so-natural perspective to pregnancy and birth. I can now share everything I learned from the pragmatic Dutch with my colleagues and clients. Next month, I’ll share about their approach to the most common pregnancy and labor interventions.

Written by Breezy Smid

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