When I found out I was pregnant with Lucy and readily assured we would have no visa issues to worry about throughout the pregnancy, I allowed myself to finally get excited about having a baby in Austria, which if you remember – that was the plan with Elliott, and yet he was born in the land of cowboys and constant earthquakes. I have several American friends who’ve had babies in the U.S. as well as Austria, and the majority of those women said that if they were to have more babies, they’d want to have them here – in Austria. Interesting, I thought, that my friends preferred another country, another culture, and another language to their own. What’s the pull, and would I feel the same way?
Now after having had a baby in the U.S. and a baby in Austria, I’ve come to my decision based on a few important factors:
Arrival – hospital process beginning from my arrival to being taken to Labor & Delivery
Staff (Midwives, nurses, doctors, additional staff) – personalities, interactions with Lucy and me, overall personal treatment
Layout – layout and aesthetics of LDR (Labor/Delivery/Recovery) department
Recovery – personal physical and mental recovery
*There is a difference between private and public hospitals in Austria, so it’s important to note that I was in a public one.*
My water broke, lots of pain, 20 red lights later Will and I arrived at the hospital. I couldn’t stand and was in unbelievable agony, yet the staff at the front desk had me fill out paperwork before they contacted someone to take me to a bed. I find this requirement to be ABSOLUTELY BONKERS because one, most people don’t like filling out paperwork even when they’re in perfect health and even then mistakes can be made, and two, WHAT. Why. It’s been 2 years since this moment, and I’m still not sure if I have it in me to forgive whoever’s responsible.
Zero paperwork. They had everything they needed either on file or in what’s called a Mutter-Kind Pass (mother-child pass). The pass comes in the form of a little booklet which a new mom receives the day her pregnancy is confirmed by the doctor. From then on, the doctor updates the mother’s health and pregnancy information as the pregnancy progresses. When it’s time for the baby to come, the mom hands the booklet off (or in my case, motions to the nurse as to its whereabouts) so the hospital’s midwife can see whatever is necessary for labor and delivery. Now, there were about 3 to 5 minutes dedicated to information-giving, but that was after I was put in bed, and my midwife was kind enough to ask me questions after each contraction.
Staff (Midwives, nurses, doctors, additional staff)
I’d say my experience with the staff was okay. My doctor, who was supposed to deliver Elliott, was out of town at a conference when I went into labor, so the hospital sent in a sub who I found to be… not great. He sauntered into my room and plopped himself down in a chair across from my bed, and silently watched me attempt to deal with my agony. No love, no encouragement, no support, just, “Soooo. Ya know how long an average labor takes the first time ’round? Might wanna consider an epidural. Up to you.”
Aside from him, all the nurses I met were kind and helpful. I also met tons of residency students who came in and out of my room to study me. Not necessarily a problem, but it was difficult to rest with all the foot traffic. After I had Elliott, I continued to think that those who I encountered were kind, but they never left me alone. It seemed like someone was always in my room to check my vitals and check Elliott’s vitals and have me fill out more paperwork and do this and ask that. The fact that I was asleep never stopped anyone from waking me up.
Doctors aren’t typically the ones who deliver babies which is why the hospitals are chocked full of midwives. Some women prefer to choose their midwife ahead of time in order to get to know them and talk labor and delivery techniques and wishes, while others, like me, just show up when it’s time for the baby and hope for a kind midwife. Fortunately, the midwife who was paired up with me was encouraging and supportive through the whole thing, though I do wish she had changed her clothes after her last cigarette. After Lucy and I were moved to Recovery, we had the exact amount of interaction with the staff that we needed. A nurse showed us to our room, explained everything, then left us alone. I was given an informational sheet with upcoming appointments and visits to our room so I always knew who was coming and when. Only once did a nurse visit me unannounced, but she immediately saw I was surprised (I had just woken up) and offered to come back another time. She handled it so well that I told her I’d be happy to do my stomach exercises – or whatever it was – right then and there.
My favorite part of my experience with the staff came at 7am. The head nurse came into my room, flipped on the lights and quickly exited to make way for the head doctor to enter followed by his gaggle of nurses and residency students. Both mornings, he strode to the first woman with his hands stuffed into his white coat pockets while his ladies quickly looked for the patient’s corresponding medical information. “Wie geht’s Ihnen?”, he’d ask casually. “Gut? Suuuuuper.” Two to four residency students then crowded around the mom and her baby to check their vitals and ask for further information as he and the rest of the female flock moved on to the next new mama. It was my entertainment for the day, and done in one go! Aside from his visit, I saw a doctor or two for necessities like newborn checkups and a dose of pain medication, and then no one else. I could actually relax there.
My hospital had a very clean look. My labor/delivery room had a TV, a couch, a couple of chairs, and lots of fancy medical things around. It was comfortable. My recovery room was about the same, and private. Will had a little couch to sleep on if he chose to do so, and there were chairs for visitors. Not a lot of fuss, but nice all the same.
My hospital was built in the 80s, and the paint and feel of the place will tell you the same story. It’s in need of a serious remodel. The walls are an unfortunate Hellman’s mustard yellow, as are the bed sheets and pillows and railings. It’s all very… yikes. The labor/delivery room was tiny. Before I totally lost my mind in contractions, I remember thinking, Hum. Lots of cabinets. That’s it. There was a bed, and a little space for the monitor, a desk for the midwife and her computer, and a bunch of cabinets. But I guess when you’re in a room for hardly any time at all, you don’t really care how big your room is or if there’s a TV around or why there are so many cabinets.
The room for my recovery was much larger, but that’s because I had 4 roommates, though the room is big enough to hold a total of 6 new moms and their babies. That may sound shocking to my American mom friends and readers, whom, I’m assuming, most likely recovered in a private room. In fact I’m not sure if I’ve heard of multiple roommates within a recovery unit after birth. Is that an option in the U.S.? It’s very common here to have anywhere from 2-5 roommates, and it may surprise you, but I was really excited about this part. Maybe it’s the extrovert in me or weird curiosity; I just really wanted this specific experience. And it totally lived up to my hopes! My roommates were from all kinds of walks of life: one with fiery red hair, covered in tattoos; another who wanted to talk to everyone all the time; another who had just had her 4th kid and wanted OUT; and two others who somehow managed to sleep through their babies’ loud screams both nights I was there. I loved it! Yes, it was difficult to sleep in the night with multiple babies in the room, but I figured I didn’t sleep in Oklahoma either because nurses kept waking me up for another vitals check, so if I was going to be woken up regularly, I’d rather it be because of itty-bitty babies trying to figure out how to live outside the womb.
They let me go too early. I know there’s a restriction on how long women can stay, and maybe there’s an option to extend if you feel it’s necessary and I just didn’t know? And insurance, of course. Whatever the case, I strongly feel that I shouldn’t have been discharged after 2 nights. I had barely practiced walking and no one suggested I do so. I hadn’t slept in days, I’d hardly gotten to know Elliott due to all of the interruptions throughout the day. But day 3 came and they just sent me out into the world with a knit hat and “Good luck!” That first night out of the hospital, my blood pressure crashed and I nearly fainted in our hallway, which led to my first of many postpartum panic attacks.
I realize this is a personal incident. Not everyone’s blood pressure plummets in the middle of nursing and has panic attacks after being discharged from the hospital. But I do wish there was more of a focus on the actual recovery of the patient – the patient’s mental state, how they’re walking, how they’re really feeling about this whole motherhood thing. Most likely the hospital didn’t intend to give off this impression, but personally, I felt like since my time was up I got tossed out in order to fix my room up for the next mom. It took me about a month to recover physically, and almost a year to recover mentally.
I knew ahead of time I could be at the hospital anywhere from 2-5 days. Back before I had Elliott, if anyone had told me I’d be in the hospital for that long I would’ve gawked at them and said no thank you. This time around, however, I knew I wanted to keep my options open so as to not go through the same postpartum experience as I did in 2014.
The first huge difference between my recovery experience in Oklahoma versus the one I had in Austria was the amount of encouragement I received to practice walking. If you’ve had a baby, you know this is a daunting task. But the nurses gave me immense support to do this, even a couple of hours after I had Lucy. The bathroom was outside my room around the corner. “Walk there every 3 hours”, the nurses told me. “If you need help, let us know. Otherwise, try to walk on your own.” On top of that, the unit scheduled Lucy for a few appointments that I had to take her to instead of someone from the staff taking her for me. When it was time for an appointment, I walked her down the hall to “the room with the storks”. When she needed her hip ultrasound, I practically walked her across the hospital. When she needed to be changed, I took her to a changing table around the corner from my bed. And when it came time for my meals, the staff placed the meals at the opposite end of the room rather than on my bedside table.
This may sound like an unfair way to treat a woman who’s just given birth, but I truly appreciated this particular approach to healing. And I’m convinced that it’s because of this approach that I was able to walk all over the mall a mere 5 days after Lucy’s arrival. When it was time for me to be discharged, I was asked when I wanted to go home – and the question came after I had talked to multiple nurses and doctors about how I felt physically and mentally. And when I did go home, I felt good about it. I felt ready, confident, and helped.
My experience in a public Austrian hospital versus my experience in an American one can be likened to the experience you might have in an Austrian restaurant versus an American restaurant. In an Austrian restaurant, you see the staff when necessary, but are for the most part left alone and you (try repeatedly, in some cases) wave someone down when you’re ready to pay. In an American restaurant, you almost can’t rid yourself of the staff who are there to fill your glass after every sip and clear your table even if you’re not close to being finished with your plate of chicken tenders.
Personally, I really like being left alone to finish my plate of chicken tenders. So Austria, I choose you.