The hour-long drive home from the hospital where my daughter was born was fraught with danger.
First, there was my perineum (if you have to ask, you just don’t get it). Then, there was the night sky, which meant that for the first time since her birth, I was unable to keep constant watch over my infant. The bumpy road and unfamiliar sounds and smells led to the overwhelming realization that I was in need of another painkiller and had exactly zero experience keeping a miniature human being alive.
Fortunately, when my baby and my equally inexperienced husband and I arrived at our house, my parents were waiting for us - with a walker - because childbirth was crippling.
I was lucky. Having a close relationship with my mom meant having someone to commiserate with, learn from, and hand the crying newborn to when it was time for a date with my sitz bath. It made those confusing, exhausting and worrisome days immediately following delivery all the more pleasant.
However, because of death, distance, or disaffection, not everyone has the luxury of a supportive mom.
Enter the Dutch, who have come up with a better alternative.
It’s important to note that two things happen when you give birth in Holland.
New parents are expected to provide visitors with beschuit met muisjes which roughly translated means rusk with little mice. The Dutch are a strange bunch. I know because I am one. The treats are not rodents, but rather sweet crackers, lathered with butter and sprinkled with anise-flavoured candies (blue for baby boys, pink for baby girls). It’s a tradition that dates back to the 17th century. The anise is thought to stimulate lactation, so I’m not entirely sure why everyone in the neighbourhood is required to consume it (other than the fact that it is so delicious).
A highly trained Mary Poppins comes to your house and brings you and your family breakfast in bed (and then some).
The Dutch are of the opinion that friends or relatives cannot (and should not) take on the task of helping new mothers with their newborns. Reason being, if problems develop during the first days after childbirth, an expert should be close at hand. And so, in The Netherlands (as in other European nations) when you become a moeder (mom), a highly trained kraamverzorgster (maternity nurse) will come to your home and help you take care of your baby for 24 to 80 hours over a period of up to ten days. And, as of 2006, this service is available to all, as part of basic health insurance.*
In Holland, medical insurance is mandatory, which means EVERYONE has it, and those who can’t afford it are subsided by the government. This common sense approach is part of a bigger picture. It’s preventative medicine, as it should be practiced.
My Dutch cousin delivered both of her boys at home with the help of a midwife, making her part of the 33% of women who give birth at home every year in The Netherlands. Henriette received five days of kraamhulp (maternity assistance) with her eldest son and three days with her youngest. “They came by every day” she says, “and helped me to take care of the babies, answered questions and told visitors to leave when they had stayed too long.”
Kraamverzorgsters guide and support pregnant mothers during the final stages of their pregnancy, assist the doctor or midwife during delivery, and help the mother in the first hours after delivery (much like maternity nurses in North American hospitals).
However, unlike in North America, in Holland the maternity nurses follow you home like happy, helpful stalkers.
Once settled in, they perform many tasks including:
Helping the mother and the baby by doing daily check-ups.
Providing support and tips about breast (or bottle) feeding and general baby care including waking/sleeping patterns, comfort, SIDS and allergy prevention, hygiene and schedules.
Assisting with older children in the house and incorporating them into the daily rhythm of baby care.
Performing ordinary household tasks such as cleaning and food preparation.
Acting as hostess when guests come to call.
Ensuring both parents get sufficient rest.
Observing, monitoring and reporting back to the doctors and midwives.
Recognizing physical and mental health issues with the mother and baby.
Identifying families at risk so that they might receive the assistance they require.
This kind of individually tailored postnatal care gives mothers in Holland confidence in their abilities by allowing them to focus on their babies without worry, which makes kraamzorg (maternity care) practically perfect in every way, not unlike my push present.
Prune juice, in case you were wondering.
*There are many maternity care choices in The Netherlands (including both organizations and individuals) and the type of care one receives (choosing your own nurse, having someone stay with you for longer than 24 hours or having your nurse take care of your older children, for example) depends to a certain extent on familial requirements and whether or not families have paid for extended health coverage. However, essential maternity care is provided even with basic plans. One thing that is consistent is the three years of training a kraamverzorgster receives.