Having a baby away from home can be a daunting experience. Giving birth itself is enough to paint horror in any mother’s mind, let alone going through it miles away from one’s family and relatives. As expats, this is often unavoidable though. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. When our spouse lands himself a dream job or gets a once-in-a-lifetime scholarship on the other side of the world, we come along. And life goes on, including having children.
I gave birth to both my sons away from my home country. First in Singapore, and then three and a half years later, here in the US. It’s interesting, when I look back, how different things were in the two countries.
My doctor in Singapore was a perfectionist and very focused on her patients. She was also very busy, as many OB-GYN are, and because of that, I think sometimes she forgot to smile. Don’t get me wrong, she was a very nice person. But coming in for a checkup always felt like going to a headmistress’ office after you did something wrong. I had gestational diabetes and she would scold me (albeit in a soft manner) if I didn’t eat right or document my diet religiously. And did you know that you have to prick your finger after every meal? Oh, the pain.
In the end, she ordered me to be induced (without asking for my opinion) because I was 5cm dilated even though my water bag was still intact. I responded with delight because I couldn’t wait to have the baby. From then on she was all smiles, like a mother’s smile of relief when she witnesses her wayward daughter’s graduation.
My American doctor was very friendly (and she often referred to me as ‘my friend’) and highly competent. Prenatal checkups were very enjoyable; It felt like when you visit your friend and the main topic to talk about is YOU. When my pregnancy reached 39 weeks and there was no sign of labor, I asked for her opinion on what to do and she gave me several options. Umm.. no, that’s not what I wanted, for I hadn’t a clue myself. Let me rephrase. I asked her to give me an order, to tell me what to do. She said she couldn’t choose for me.
I had imagined that this was going to be like my first pregnancy where I’d just be given an instruction and I’d do whatever it was, so I could be done with my pregnancy (I was always impatient about giving birth!). She finally caved in and advised me (carefully phrasing it with ‘if I were you’) to go through a membrane sweep. Less than 48 hours later I had my baby.
Two very competent doctors, but two very different approaches. I couldn’t say this for all, but I think culture plays a big part. In Singapore, top-down instructions are quite common while in the US freedom of choice is more celebrated. While both are done with good intentions, when it comes to medical advice, I personally prefer to be told which procedure to take, for I have very little knowledge there.
People treat pregnancy similarly in both Singapore and the US. They offer seats, graciously help, and put expectant mothers first in line. But my post-natal stories were in very different, in a funny way.
Remember how your stitches need to be checked before you’re dismissed from the hospital? I do. Because I can’t forget the look of horror one of the Singapore nurses gave me. It made me quite anxious too (and maybe a little offended). All right, lady, can you please not be too honest?
Meanwhile, nurses and doctors in the US never left my room without uttering words like ‘awesome’, ‘wonderful’, ‘beautiful’ or combinations of the three. One nurse even said my stitches looked ‘AMAZING!’ Oh come on! It’s raw flesh being sewn together after a big bloody rip! It may ‘heal quite well’ after two days but it couldn’t look ‘AMAZING!’, now could it? But she was very sincere when she said it. I couldn’t help but blush a little, although I knew it couldn’t be true.
The nurse who dismissed me here was obligated to brief us on some matters regarding handling babies, looking our for jaundice, and the like. She was very friendly and kind but the briefing was anything but brief. She told one story, and then another of her friend, then her friend’s friend after reading each point or two. I wondered if she would ever reach the end of the briefing page. A ‘briefing’ that I expected to be over in 5 minutes took almost 30 minutes!
In Singapore, efficiency is a top priority. For example, I have never seen people bagging groceries faster than the aunties in Singapore supermarkets. If there was a ‘grocery bagging’ Olympics, these ladies would hold the world record. One aunty even scolded me when I wasn’t moving through the line fast enough (yes, ‘scolding’ is a very normal thing in Singapore).
Yet, despite the Americans being a little less efficient, my husband and I left the hospital two months ago with wide smiles. A pleasant experience in the hospital made for a calm start to our parenting journey. Our American nurses might have been far from brief, but we didn’t mind trading a little bit of efficiency for more laughter and that warm, fuzzy feeling in our hearts.
What about you? Do you have any interesting international birth stories to share? Comment below!
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