Thursday, August 19, 2010

Box of Tricks

I recently spent the afternoon with a friend I’ve known since high school, a whopping 19 years. She has a five-year-old son whom she delivered at her home in a nearby town, and while she drank a goblet of wine that I eyed longingly from the rim of my water glass, she told me her birth story.

She said she first felt contractions around 1 am, and managed to sleep through them until about six the next morning, when she sank into the couch and watched television until they became stronger and closer together, at which time she called the midwife.

The midwife arrived on her bicycle, birthing stool in hand, and within two hours my friend’s son had arrived, the house had been cleaned, and the midwife had left. My friend’s recollections were all positive. The labor was quick, she said, and didn’t hurt so much as it “was uncomfortable.”

Stories like hers are always reassuring. It helps to think that someday I’ll (knock wood) be on the other side with my own happy, healthy home birth story. But then one thing she had said echoed back: the midwife had left. She left? She just left? You have a baby and then midwife just hops on her bike and leaves you there, in your house, alone with a new baby?

Of course this should have dawned on me before. The fact that I am not going to be staying in the hospital means I will not have a staff of nurses looking after me and my new bundle throughout the first night. But I had somehow not envisioned giving birth and then being left to my own devices with a baby in my house. I know nothing about babies.

My friend reassured me: the midwife will leave, yes, but the next day, the kraamzorg will arrive.

Kraamzorg sounds like an evil spirit you will want to ward off, but it’s a good thing. Zorg in Dutch means care. Kraam on its own actually translates to market booth, but when coupled with –zorg, it refers to care given to a woman who has just had a child.

A kraamzorg is a person who comes to your house to look after you for one to three weeks after you give birth, depending on your situation and what your insurance covers. She coaches you with breastfeeding and shows you how to change and generally care for your baby. She gives you time to rest and recover, and even does your shopping, cleans your house, and cooks your dinner.

My midwife gave me the number of a kraamzorg service. Like all things that are completely foreign to me and perfectly commonplace in the country I live in, I expected a catch, or at least a lot of questions. But the kraamzorg wanted only two pieces of information from me: Do I expect only one baby, and do I have a dog? Then she took down my address and said I would be receiving a kraampakket in the mail soon.

A few days on, a medium-sized box with an image of a koala bear and her baby arrived at my door. This box, my kraampakket, contains everything I need to deliver at home, from bandages to an umbilical cord clip to baby shampoo to a pack of diapers that I realized as I unfolded and unfolded one are actually for me.

With every encounter I’ve had with my midwife and now the kraamzorg service, I am left with a feeling that there is really nothing to fuss about. Rather than leave me feeling ignored or ill-informed, the simplicity of the system puts me at ease.

I am not by nature complacent, and I am definitely capable of digging in my heels and getting my way when I feel I’m absolutely right. But I’m also more than happy to surrender control when I trust that someone else has my interest at heart and better knowledge than I in a given situation. This is definitely true of my midwife, and I’m expecting it to be true of my kraamzorg.

If something feels off, I certainly will say so, and if I have concerns, I will absolutely voice them. But my midwife strikes me as so competent and capable that I haven’t felt any need to question her or fret about anything. The entire basis of the Dutch approach to pregnancy and labor is that my body is designed to do this. My midwife has seen this whole thing time and time again, and if she is satisfied that everything is going as it should, I’m quite happy with that.

Every three weeks I see my midwife, we listen to the baby’s heart, she checks my blood pressure, measures my uterus with her hands (I’ve yet to and most likely will not have any internal exams or even be weighed), and asks me how I’m feeling.

During my last visit, I mentioned that I’d been trying to count the baby’s movements, something I’d read to do in a book, but because I have an anterior placenta—it is on the front wall of my uterus—I can’t really feel kicks or movements as strongly or frequently as I would otherwise. Her answer: “Don’t count the movements. And don’t read books.”

Of course it helps that my life is full of things that simply do not allow me to obsess over my pregnancy, what with buying and selling a house, working full-time, negotiating a thankfully graceful divorce, embracing a relatively new relationship, and doing all this on two feet that have swelled to the size of bread loaves and with a belly that juts out so unnaturally that I frequently misjudge the amount of clearance I need to pass through a space. If my midwife tells me the baby is growing and developing well, then that’s one less thing to think about, and if my kraampakket holds all I need to have my baby at home, then cool.

I’m not sure this would work for all personalities. I definitely know people who need to arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible, thinking that is the best way to safeguard against anything going wrong. But I think more often than not, that method just introduces new things to needlessly worry about. And the fact is, there’s not much you can do to prevent many of the things that can go wrong. But I trust that my midwife will be able to detect anything that warrants concern, and will deal with it appropriately.

In the meantime, outside of taking care of myself and eating well and taking my vitamins and being sensible about things, there’s not much for me to do but let the baby grow.


  1. The notion of the kraampakket makes me laugh because that sounds so foreign to me! It just seems so practical, and you are right- makes you wonder what all the fuss is about. Can't wait to hear what happens when you reach the other side. I wonder if there will be a post-birth pakket in your future!

  2. The strongest mother I know today is Katinka Oberg but even she went to hospital. I liked knowing, because I felt as though my hands and feet were cut off at the time I knew she was about to give birth and then in the delivery room and phase of it and then plonk the future wet and warm in her arms, she wasn't alone. She had and she has Uffe.

    I need to know, on top of everything else you are doing (you're incredible), you are not alone. That this relatively new relationship is the one to be there because it only makes the best sense.

    Name your kinderen after your papa as I'm sure he will be there, too.


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