Charlotte de Vreeze-Nauta explains why she wishes she'd been in Luxembourg for childbirth ... and not the Netherlands.
A dear friend of mine is about to give birth. It’s her first child, so apart from being excited and anxious, it is also nerve racking as everything is new and she has no idea what to expect. I gave birth twice and in all possible manners – I’ll get to that in a minute – so I wanted to share my experience with her. Obviously not the nasty details – we’ll do the birth-story-bonding once she has her baby in her arms – just to give her a few simple tips.
However, through our conversations, I discovered that she didn’t need any tips and that Luxembourg is a pretty good place to be in when giving birth. It almost makes me wish we had been living here when our children were born.
But we were still living in the Netherlands then and, the Netherlands, in my opinion, are a bit backwards when it comes to giving birth and rough on women that have just become mothers. I think that Luxembourg, in that respect, is far more modern, kind, and wiser.
No doctors and plenty of home births
I would have made a point of the fact that in the Netherlands, if there is no medical indication, a pregnant woman doesn’t see an obstetrician/gynaecologist during her pregnancy. As long as everything seems normal, women are under supervision of midwives, who deliver 68,1% of all babies, whether in hospital or at home.
But although it may seem strange not to have a doctor present during a birth, the numbers show that midwives are equally capable. From research I found on perinatal deaths in 2017, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between the Netherlands and Luxembourg. At the time, both countries were under Europe’s average of 4,7 perinatal deaths per 1000 births, with Luxembourg at 3,9 and Holland at 3,6.
So doctors versus midwives do not matter. Nor do home pregnancies versus hospital pregnancies. Although home pregnancies seem to be allowed in Luxembourg (I read this on this website in 2021), very few women choose this option. And I get it.
Of all home planned births, 25% end up in hospital due to a complication so it is not as ‘wonderful’ as Dutch midwives crack it up to be. But again, looking at numbers, this does not seem to have any influence on the mortality rate, at least not in the last 20 years.
So, when it comes to the baby’s safety, statistically it doesn’t make a difference whether one gives birth in The Netherlands or in Luxembourg. What does set the two apart is the level of comfort.
I say hallelujah to drugs, and I mean that solely in relation to this topic. But in the Netherlands, they are not so keen on handing out pain killers and giving epidurals…
My firstborn came into the world after induced labour that led to an emergency caesarean after hours of fruitless contractions. When I told the gynaecologist (I had one because of pre-eclampsia) that I was in too much pain during the contractions and begged him for an epidural, he shook me by my shoulders and yelled at me: ‘Your grandmother did it, your mother did it and you will do it too’.
I wasn’t a fan of his. He had already made an enemy out of me by requesting that his four interns could feel how much dilation I had and as I was in a bad shape, I hardly realized what I had said yes to. To this day my husband jokes that even the janitor in the hall popped in my room to have a go.
Actually, this is another advantage of giving birth in Luxembourg: correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think there are gynaecology interns here, so that means that a uterus is never touched for training purposes.
Anyway, it may have been a doctor that monitored me, but I remember that I thought he was a d*ck. He did not have a womb; he would never experience a single contraction and he sure as hell did not have to push a human being out of his body.
My second was born completely naturally. Contractions started early morning, and all was well enough. By 4pm the contractions came every five minutes, so we went to the hospital. By 7pm it was painful, by 9pm it became excruciating and by 11pm it was unbearable. However, they made me wait and beg until 1am before they finally brought in an anaesthesiologist to give me an epidural.
Nowadays, in Holland, asking for pain relief during labour is more ‘accepted’. But the numbers are still shockingly low: only 20% of women that gave birth between 2015 and 2020 asked for pain medication. To the Dutch, an epidural is considered weak. Women that were not on pain medication while giving birth actually brag about it a little bit. It’s quite sick.
Numbers in Luxembourg are different. Depending on the hospital, between 39% and 98% (!) women get an epidural during labour. And rightly so because it seems backward and very unnecessary to experience such pains when there is a wonderful little something called epidurals.
No time to stay
And then your baby is finally there. You’ve made it and you have a healthy baby in your arms. You chill out on your hospital bed, joyful but exhausted, drained, but exhilarated and you just want to hold your baby, close your eyes and relax. Well, not in the Netherlands.
Once you’ve given birth to a healthy baby, you are out of the hospital straight away. I was warned about this, so I cried so much and claimed to be in such bad shape, that they allowed me a few hours of sleep before we had to clear out of the room. Had I not been warned and had I not cried, we would have been out of the hospital by six in the morning.
Imagine. You’ve just pushed a circumference of 34cm through a hole of what, 10cm? You have been doing non-stop top sports for 24 hours, you are stitched up, can barely walk, feel like you’ve been hit by a truck and have completely lost your bearings. And then you are sent home with a tiny baby that completely depends on you. It’s not just harsh, it’s insane and irresponsible.
A friend in the Netherlands had to leave at three in the morning, after she had given birth, only to return a day later with a yellow baby because the liver wasn’t functioning properly. It’s medieval. And no, I don’t have high regards for medieval times.
In Luxembourg you are allowed to stay for four or five days. Heaven! You actually get to sink back in your hospital cushions, be fed, helped, taken care of and regain a bit of energy and clarity before the revolution of having to parent a tiny human being kicks in.
I am too old now, but given the chance, I would pick Luxembourg: a doctor at my bedside, an epidural at my disposal, NO interns during labour and four days of blissful care and nursing. I think it is about time for the Netherlands to follow Luxembourg’s example and ease up on the notion that suffering during labour is just the way it is.