CONTRIBUTED BY MERIL CHICKINI
Having a baby a baby is a BIG deal. If it’s possible, having a baby while stationed overseas is an even bigger deal! It’s something lots of people have lots of questions about. Here, Meril shares her experience with off-post prenatal care. In the second part of the series, she will share her labor and delivery story as well. Thank you, Meril!
It feels like the US military carefully plans every aspect of our lives: we move every few years just to find ourselves once again in a new place, starting the search for a new house and schools, and making new friends. We expect deployments. We plan for promotions and retirements. But even with all these plans, life still takes its own course. Sometimes it’s planned and sometimes a surprise, but getting pregnant and having a baby happens to many while stationed in Germany.
I have heard so many stories and misconceptions about prenatal care and delivery in Germany. I’m glad I can share my story. It actually makes me sad that there is so much bad and wrong information out there. It will probably scare many couples from even thinking about having a baby here.
When we decided the time was right to have another baby, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t even think how things would work in a different country with most people speaking different language. I had a wonderful experience in Germany and would have another baby here in a heartbeat.
In most places in Germany your first step after the home pregnancy test would be seeing the discharge nurse in the clinic. You don’t need to make an appointment or call, you just walk in and fill out some paperwork. Then you’ll get your pregnancy test done and confirmed by the clinic. Depending on how busy the clinic is at the time, they might have you come back for the results or have you wait. I was the lucky one who got the results in an hour or so.
Your next stop is the Tri-Care office. For those of you living in the KMC (Kaiserslautern Military Community) you may be seen on or off-base/post for your prenatal care. It will depend on the space available in the OB GYN department at the LRMC (Landstuhl Regional Medical Center) and if you have Tricare Prime or Standard. For those of you living away from the KMC and LRMC, you will automatically receive your care off-base.
Since we live out of the KMC I was off to the Tricare office to get the list of recommended OB/GYNs who take Tricare and to get my referral.
Just like any other time you see a doctor off post and need a referral, you will need to get one for your pregnancy and delivery. Make sure to ask your Tricare office how long is your referral good for. Is it for the whole pregnancy or do you have to get a new one every 3 months? Also ask what is covered. Will you need a referral for prenatal care and a separate one for delivery? Will it cover an epidural?
I saw Dr. Eva-Martina Schultis in Weiden. Our first appointment was at 5pm and when we got there we still had to wait although there was no other patients there. It was worth it because I loved her from the second I walked in.
She is really nice, will answer all your questions, and is very straightforward. We always brought our daughter, who at the time was two, and it was never an issue. All the nurses, and naturally Dr Schultis, speak good English and are used to Tricare patients. Rescheduling, calling with questions or wanting to get checked between appointments were never issues. She and her staff really tries their best to make sure you are well taken care of and every question gets an answer.
Our first appointment was quite fast (30 minutes; normal appointments are usually an hour long). She introduced herself, asked about our medical history and did an ultrasound. Yay, we got our first three pictures of our baby and we had a due date! I was nervous and talked her out of the vaginal exam and pap that you would otherwise get as well. She had no problem with my decision. If you are a bit nervous type when it comes to OB/GYNs then I definitely recommend her.
One of the most important things when you are pregnant is the Mutterpass. You will get it after the 2nd appointment usually, and it will have all the info about your pregnancy. Every single test that is done will be written down there: your weight, your iron levels and baby’s weight from the ultrasound along with everything else. You should always carry it with you, and if you ever need to go to the hospital during your pregnancy that’s what they will want to see. It’s definitely a must when you go in to have your baby. I also used it in the windshield when parking at the Exchange stork parking.
In the first two trimesters you will have appointments every four weeks. Usually they check your blood and urine almost every time, check your weight, and the best part: you get an ultrasound and see your baby every single appointment! Most doctors will do the 3D and I even got a free video from Dr Erhardt in Amberg.
Vaginal exams are spread out and if you have no medical issues you can ask to opt out of them. In the last trimester you will be seen every two weeks and in the very end every week. Around 20 weeks they will also start checking your baby’s heartbeat and contractions by doing a test that consists of two belts around your belly (one to pick up your heartbeat and the second one to pick up your baby’s heartbeat). They usually let you sit or lay down for 20-30 minutes while they check everything. For that part I would bring a book or a magazine and also a bottle of water. At least in my doctor’s office, this part usually seemed to drag and I got super hot.
I have noticed that no matter what doctor you see off-post it will always take forever to have your name called so be prepared just in case and have a book or magazine with you.
Sometime in the middle of the second trimester we found out that I was high risk and had to see Dr Erhardt in Amberg hospital. She would check my blood flow every other week along with a long ultrasound appointment. She is very blunt. My first impression of her was that she is very straightforward to the point of seeming rude (she is not), and even a bit intimidating. It’s just the way she first comes off. She will answer every single question and take time to talk with you and your husband. She is a great doctor, but since she is chief of OB in Amberg Hospital it’s almost impossible to get an appointment with her. I do recommend her very highly. Again there were no issues with language barrier.
Every hospital and doctor, even the best of the best, will have patients who will say they absolutely loved them and there will be others saying they had a bad experience. So do your own research and try to find as much information as you can, but also take some things with grain of salt. It’s very easy to link a bad experience in general (such as a miscarriage when nothing could have been done) to the doctor you saw at the time. So always ask questions when hearing about other people’s experiences.
I would also keep in mind, that even though the experience in prenatal care and labor in Germany will be different than the States, it doesn’t mean it will be bad. It’s just different! Keep an open mind, always go in with positive attitude, and a smile on your face and things will go smoothly and chances are everybody will be nice to you.
Since I had a high-risk pregnancy and I also fell around 6 months, I was seen by several doctors, midwives and nurses. I can honestly say I did not have any bad experiences or issues with language barrier. It was a wonderful experience and both my husband and me have only good things to say.
Germans like to have more natural approach when it comes to any kind of medicine so be prepared to get the “maybe you should try this tea or that natural remedy” response first. Don’t expect to get tons of meds during or after your pregnancy. But don’t worry; nobody will let you be in pain either. Medical care is even better at some case than it would be in the States.
I have heard so many wives talking about how you won’t be able to have epidural or any kind of meds during labor….WRONG! You can have your epidural just like in the States. Just make sure you meet the anesthesiologist beforehand to sign the paperwork for stating that you understand the risks. Germans think once you are in labor you are not capable of making decisions anymore.
Although my high-risk pregnancy was stressful, and I was on bed rest for a bit, everything went smoothly and quite fast. Before I realized it, my due date had come.
To be continued in part two: Labor and Delivery.