As an American mom expecting her second child and living in the Netherlands, I can’t help but think about postpartum care between the two countries. It’s hard not to notice the difference – there is none in the United States.
In Holland, mothers getting back on their feet after delivery is a matter of national interest. All mothers are entitled to a kraamverzorger (a professional maternity nurse) for the first eight to ten days after giving birth. According to the pragmatic Dutch, a mother’s body has a lot of healing to do postpartum while also meeting the near physically exhausting, twenty-four hour demands of a newborn.
That’s where a kraamverzorger comes in – to help the mother rest, regain her strength, and bond with her baby in the comfort of her own home. A kraamverzorger is not only responsible for the well-being of the newborn, but also for closely monitoring a mother’s recovery’s process. It’s a gentle crash course in motherhood where a kraamverzorger serves as an invaluable resource for breastfeeding tips, bathing, changing diapers, dressing, feeding, and schedules.
She works closely with a midwife, or an obstetrician if any potential problems arises. An added bonus is that a kraamverzorger can take over household chores – cooking, laundry (washing, drying folding and ironing), tidying up, vacuuming, general household cleaning, and watching over older children.
Kraamverzorgers are a solidly Dutch middleclass experience. It’s not just for the fancy. I would know. We’re a single-income household. Kraamverzorgers are part of the basic universal health insurance and the cost of care is sent directly to the health care provider. There is an additional nominal contribution and depending on a person’s health care package, even this can be partially or completely reimbursed.
I initially found the whole Dutch approach foreign, frivolous, and a bit entitled. I was one of those first-time mothers-to-be who was confident that she could handle postpartum recovery all by her lonesome self. I had trusty reliable sources such as “What to Expect When You’re Expecting“(the ultimate pregnancy bible for stereotypical first-time moms), fail proof Google and mommy forums. . If my own mom was expected to hold the down the fort (cooking, cleaning, laundry, a newborn and two older children) a mere days after her second C-section delivery, why couldn’t I ? I was going to be a super-mom: no need for a stranger to come to my house to help me and my newborn. Hear me roar.
What I didn’t count on was making God laugh with my well-thought out birth plan of a picture perfect delivery and near instantaneous recovery. My son came exactly one month before his due date and not without a struggle (vacuum-assisted delivery and an episiotomy). While I had meticulously prepared for all the baby essentials and devoured all the pregnancy literature, I didn’t anticipate that I might actually need some personal care. There was also the initial difficulty of feeding a 36 week premature baby and getting the intimate breastfeeding dance started. And the hormones. Oh the lovely hormones.
My kraamverzorger, a matronly Dutch Surinamese woman named Rhada, was responsible for my change of heart. She’s like a modern day Mary Poppins but even better – she taught me how to embrace the new me. Not even my own mother could give the kind of care, patience, love, understanding and assurance Rhada gave me.
A friend recently shared with me that after her delivery, her Dutch midwife showed her the placenta and pointed out, “That’s the size of the wound left inside of your body.” Puts postpartum recovery in perspective doesn’t it? The midwife’s words speak volumes of the importance of allowing a mother to convalesce after she gives birth.
It’s a modern approach that sees the wisdom of taking care of moms so they can have a solid, positive start to the year long recovery process of childbirth. It certainly helps address potential issues such as birth trauma, postpartum depression, struggles with breastfeeding and physical injuries from difficult deliveries.
I can’t help but wonder if this kraamverzorger program is part of why Dutch moms raise the happiest kids in the world. Happy moms generally raise happy kids. And for a mom having her own private maternity nurse to help her recover and pamper her in the comfort and coziness of her own home can do wonders for a mom’s overall well-being. Wouldn’t you agree?
Now that I am almost half-way through my second pregnancy, I’m looking forward to the glorious first days with my newborn in my arms and my kraamverzorger by my side. I’m convinced that going Dutch postpartum should be the latest parenting trend that American moms would be excited to be part of.
(photo courtesy of Tanja de Maesschalk taken during my first pregnancy)