Pregnant in Germany – Hospitals

I must admit, I’m excited about some aspects of German maternity care (postnatal, in-home midwife visits for instance).  But there are some I am dreading.  Choosing a hospital is one item I’m chalking up as loathsome on my to do list.

I’ll be forever jaded by my first two birth experiences.  Both were at the same hospital, a fancy schmancy building with eleven floors dedicated solely to women and babies.  When I was there, I never felt like I was in a hospital.  It was more akin to a five-star hotel.

In the US, doctors have hospital privileges only at certain facilities.  Patients can either choose a hospital and then find a doctor with privileges there.  Or, patients can choose a doctor first with the realization that they cannot choose a hospital outside that physician’s privileges.

In Germany, the mother chooses the hospital where she wants to give birth (birth houses and home births are also options, but I’m not including them in this post).  As I mentioned previously, the doctor that the mother visits for prenatal care will have nothing to do with the actual birth.  Instead, the hospital staff (midwives and physicians) run the show.

Within my city, I have three hospital choices.  For the sake of ease, I’ll just name them hospitals A, B, and C.  But, that’s where the easiness ends.  Making this choice is no walk in the park.

Why?  Because they each have their pros and cons, not only in my opinion but in the opinion of others who have experienced the staff and facilities personally.

To choose a hospital, it’s best to visit all of the options first, and then make a decision.  Each hospital has an Infoabend, or information evening usually once per month.  During this time, visitors can listen to a little talk about why this particular hospital is amazing, (hopefully) go on a tour of the labor/delivery and recovery facilities, and ask questions of the staff.

Over the course of a few months, I attended the Infoabend for hospitals A, B, and C.  All three hospitals had pregnant women climbing stairs to go from the lecture hall to the labor ward – something that would never happen in the US.  Hospital A at least offered water to the women during the lecture.  Hospitals B and C did not.  All three hospitals gave the talk in a large room without sound amplification… or air conditioning.

And so we come to one of my biggest concerns.  Giving birth in the heat of summer with no air conditioning is an emergency c-section waiting to happen… for me anyway.  I know women all of the world do it regularly, but I’m a wuss.  I don’t want to pass out from pain AND heat.

Hospitals B and C had decent air conditioning in Labor & Delivery (L&D).  Only hospital B seemed to have it in the recovery rooms.

I’ve considered that getting in a birthing tub during labor might help with the August heat problem.  Thankfully, all three hospitals have birthing tubs, but only Hospital B has tubs in every room that are big enough for giving birth.  In Germany, it’s totally normal to have a water birth, and no midwife or physician would bat an eye at a woman’s request for one.  Not so in the US.

And, speaking of rooms, these hospitals are very small compared to my previous eleven-floor, swank, not-really-a-hospital experience.  Not one facility here has more than six L&D rooms.  SIX.

Another major concern for me is whether or not the staff in these small hospitals speak English.  I asked at hospitals A & B.  Both assured me that most do speak at least some English.  I didn’t ask at hospital C because I would only go there kicking and screaming… or unconscious.  Hopefully, the limited German I know and feel like remembering in labor coupled with the staff’s English will be enough.  Please, God, let that be true.

So, what about after the birth?  Another unpleasant subject, unfortunately.  Health insurance in Germany only pays for a three-bed recovery room.  If a hospital only has rooms for two people, then that is acceptable.

But, keep in mind this means that it will be the mother and her child plus at least one other mother and that woman’s child.  And perhaps her friends.  Or her husband.  Or her uncle, grandfather, boyfriend, teenage son, etc.  Just who I want to see after giving birth.

In order to get a private room, one must let the staff know upon arrival at the hospital.  And pay a fee.  (There’s always a fee, right?).  The cost ranges from 40-135 euros per night, depending on the hospital and type of private room (family rooms – where the husband can sleep over – cost more).  I’d say that’s peanuts in exchange for not having to share a hospital bathroom or bunk with someone else’s screaming newborn.

In addition to all the physical characteristics, I have to take into account the general attitude of the hospital.  Are they c-section happy?  Do they get a kick out of using a vacuum extractor?  Will they make it hard for me to get an epidural if I want one?  Are they irritated or indifferent that I’m a foreigner?

Considering all the factors, I’ve only been able to make one decision so far: eliminate hospital C.  Truth be told, this elimination mostly has to do with the lead doctor being about as warm and friendly as my building superintendent than anything else.

I only have a few weeks left to decide between A & B.  But, then again, honestly I don’t actually have to choose.  As long as I am 36+ weeks along, I can just show up at either facility.  So, perhaps I won’t make a firm choice after all.  Or maybe I’ll just do eeny-meeny-miney-moe.

But you can bet wherever I go and whatever happens when I get there, I won’t be without a story to tell.

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