After the last A-Z of the Netherlands post, "C" is for children, I asked Teresa, a Portuguese young mother currently living in The Netherlands if she would like to share her Dutch motherhood experience with us. She accepted the challenge, which I'm very grateful for, and here she is, talking about Pregnancy, Birth, First days and Raising a child in The Netherlands. Thank you, Teresa!
My name is Teresa and 4.5 years ago I moved from Portugal to the Netherlands with my husband and our two cats. Approximately 2 years ago I found out that I was pregnant (the best news that I could ever get) and I can honestly say that was then the cultural shock really began.
I’ll try to keep in mind that this is a post and not a book, so I will focus on the most important topics of becoming a mother and raising a child in the Netherlands.
Before getting pregnant I did a very basic research on the internet and I found out that basic health insurance only covers the costs of a hospital birth for medical reasons. So, at the end of the year I contacted my insurance company and selected an extra package that would cover all hospital costs (1500 Euros in my particular case).
The next big difference I noticed was the fact that pregnancy is followed by midwives and if all goes well we don’t see any doctors during this period or even during labor. This was something that I never felt comfortable with, in spite of midwives specific training. They aren't doctors and in Portugal pregnancies are followed by specialists. I have to confess that at a certain point I was considering going to Portugal on a regular basis to have proper exams. Midwives usually work in teams and in my case, I was followed by four midwives during the regular pregnancy appointments. They check our weight, blood pressure and belly size, if the baby is big enough and listen to his heartbeat.
One of the first things that I was asked to do was a blood exam but to my surprise there was no check about toxoplasmosis immunity. This is a very serious thing during pregnancy and considered a standard check in Portugal but here it ended up in a discussion between me, my husband and the midwife. She couldn’t understand why this was so important and we couldn’t understand why she didn’t care. I still don’t know if I’m immune or not so the midwife won the discussion. This of course didn’t help to increase my confidence in this non-medical/relaxed/pregnancy-is-not-a-disease approach.
I had a first ultrasound to check if there wasn’t something very obviously wrong with the pregnancy and after knowing that everything was ok I contacted the 2 biggest daycare centers of my region to put my 9 week embryo in the waiting list. Daycare is very expensive here and surprisingly the waiting lists are huge and it can take more than one year to find a place. We can choose the number of days per week that we want and even half days. If we go for 5 days per week, it will cost around 1500 Euros per month.
After these first exams, there was a very important ultrasound around week 20, where a complete observation of the baby is done as well as several measurements. I did an extra test for Down syndrome that is optional for women under 35 years old and therefore not covered by the basic insurance.
All my lack of confidence in this midwife natural approach to the pregnancy was soon gone. In one of the appointments my blood pressure was too high and after confirming the values I was told to stop working immediately and if the blood pressure wouldn’t drop to normal levels then I would start being followed by a specialist in the hospital. In the next days a midwife was coming to my house to check the blood pressure and also to give me some support. This was the first time I felt that they were indeed taking good care of me.
A search on the internet about pregnancy and birth in the Netherlands quickly shows a surprising trend of having births at home with the support of a midwife and without any medical care. This was a huge surprise for me! At a certain point I was asked the question: “Where do you want to give birth?”
I never considered another option besides a hospital birth. I can understand all arguments pro home birth but if something goes wrong (and things do go wrong) even if it takes just a few minutes to get to the hospital it can be too much time and the consequences can be very serious. My decision was respected and there were no more questions about this subject.
One final comment before I move to the birth experience, people here don’t see pregnancy as a disease or even a special situation where the soon to be mother needs extra protection. I was many times standing in the train with a huge belly and absolutely no one gave me a seat, and trains don’t have special seats for pregnant women. There are no reserved parking places, no priority in supermarkets or any other place where you have to wait in a queue. What a difference from Portugal!
All the birth experience was truly amazing. Suddenly the relaxed approach that I hated during pregnancy became so important during labor. After the first contractions started I called the midwife that came to my house where I stayed during the first hours until it was time to go to the hospital. There, I had a team taking care of me, including nurses and doctors, talking to me and explaining all procedures and options. I was in a room with a lot of privacy, I was able to eat and drink during the process and I could walk and move freely. To deal with the pain I tried a hot bath and when that wasn’t enough to cope with the pain I asked for an epidural that gave me the relief that I needed and allowed me to focus on the birth.
My husband was always by my side and wasn’t just a spectator but a part of all that was happening. Our beloved son never left our room and was kept close to us at all time.
In the next morning we went home and the kraamzorg nurse arrived a few minutes after. Kraamzorg is the best thing ever. A nurse comes to our house and takes care of the mother and the baby, cooks, cleans the house, does the laundry and does the shopping. She immediately helped us establishing our new daily routine, how to give bath to the baby, how to feed and comfort him. It was a precious help and especially in our case: D. was our first son and all our family was away from us and couldn’t support us. The kraamzorg is covered by the basic health insurance and is something really wonderful.
In the first days there are some diligences that need to be made. The first step is registering the baby in the city hall and right after that we need to ask the health insurance company to include the baby in one of the parents’ insurances. All the health related costs are covered by the parents insurance until the child reaches 18 years old.
Raising a child
Parental leaves are very different in Portugal and the Netherlands. Here the paid maternity leave is a total of 16 weeks and starts 4 to 6 weeks before the due date while paternity leave consists of just 2 days. This isn’t sufficient and as the end of the maternity leave approached, I couldn’t think of putting my 3 months old baby in the daycare. I spoke to the human resources department of my company and informed them that I wanted to take a parental leave right after the maternity leave. This type of leave is not paid and consists of 6 months that can be used whenever needed until the child reaches 8 years old. This way I stayed home until my son was around 6 months and I was able to take care of him and breastfeed him during this period.
I also started taking my son to the consultatiebureau. All children bellow 4 years old are followed by the consultatiebureau in the area of residence where they have regular appointments with pediatricians and pediatric nurses. They will check how children are growing, give the vaccinations and will advise parents with any questions they may have. Since we don’t have our family here, the consultatiebureau offered an extra support with a nurse coming to our house once a month.
Regarding financial support, there is a child benefit that is given to all children bellow 18 years old. It’s a quarterly payment and for young children is about 200 Euros per trimester. This value increases as the child gets older and is the same for everyone, not depending on the family income. The other big help is the kinderopvangtoeslag, which is a government allowance for parents that are working or studying and that have a child in an official daycare center. This is paid every month and depends on the family income, with lower income families having a bigger allowance.
Finally, because this post is already very long, raising a child is tough and hard work. This becomes even more difficult when you don’t have family or friends around. Physically it can be difficult, but if you are not careful, it can be devastating from the psychological point of view. I cried many times because I felt alone, even with my wonderful and caring husband by my side. In fact we both felt lonely and insecure during the first months. I still feel like that once in a while, for example when there is a grandparent’s day at the daycare and there’s no one there with my son. There are however many positive aspects of raising a child here, especially the flexibility and respect from employers and the safety in this country that allows children to play in the streets and be children.
Life as an expat is not easy; we have to deal with the cultural differences in daily life and work, the language barrier and specially the fact that our family and friends are several thousand kilometers away. It is however possible to overcome all these differences and settle down in the nice and relaxed Dutch lifestyle and that’s what we’ve done.