For reasons of differing passport expiration dates, we had to apply only for Rowan’s German residency this year. At the start of our 3rd year in Germany, we did our best to complete all of our German paperwork ourselves with no help. Thanks to my husband’s conversational skills at the office, everything went fine. The fun moment of the meeting was when she explained that we needed to give a reason for why we applied for a 3 year old’s residency. She looked at Brian and said, “Just say,
Without getting at all political, I’m so grateful to be immigrating to Germany. But also immigrating with a husband who is so educated that Germany has welcomed us and in general, all of our application processes have been smooth.
But that’s not why we’re here today. We took this Family Forever and decided to up the ante. We’re now a family of 5!
Somehow, we’ll figure out how to apply for residency in Germany for a new baby who also needs to get a new passport… from the United States… while living in Hamburg. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
I wanted to give you a little window into what it is like to be expecting a baby in Germany… and yes. All the rumors of support and benefits are true. Lucky us!
But also: this is my third pregnancy. I was 28 when I got pregnant with George, and 29 when I got pregnant with Rowan. I’m officially 34 and those 6 years have led to an entirely different experience of pregnancy. Read: I’m older. And more tired. LOL. Other than confirming that we weren’t having twins, I wasn’t in any hurry to see a doctor. Which was ok, because…
It took me 6 weeks to find a doctor. Apparently, the offices are so full here that they aren’t accepting new patients. Even when I asked my “24-hour appointment making service” to help me, they took 3 weeks to be able to nail down an OB appointment for me.
The routine of prenatal visits, which is very similar to the US, looks like doctor’s visits every 4 weeks until later in the pregnancy when it’s every 2 weeks. After I finally got my first appointment, I was a bit shocked as the doctor asked me barely any questions. “Do you smoke?” “Do you have other children?” “How old are they and how was the birth?” Then, an ultrasound to confirm we had one happy baby and I was on my way. Generally speaking, I’m not sure if my experience is a language barrier issue, or if all OB maternity appointments are this low-key. With baby #3, I can’t say that I mind. Compare this to an entire folder of paperwork, 7 warnings about how to eat, vitamins to take, and classes to recommend, etc, it was a glaring difference.
Oh, and my records are kept in a book called a “Mutterpass”. This book contains a record of my visits, stats, blood type, etc. If I’m in a car accident, I’m expected to have this book on me. It will be how the ER doctor is supposed to know everything about me. Paper. Not digital. Paper. It’s crazy.
Unlike in the US, I’m entitled to 3 ultrasounds. I’ve had 3 already and I know I’ll have a couple more. I think getting more ultrasounds has to do with my doctor’s preferences, but it’s a nice perk getting to see the baby grow through ultrasounds.
In addition to an OB, all pregnant women are invited to sign up with a midwife. This is also covered by insurance. Ideally, she can replace all appointments that don’t require lab work or an ultrasound. She comes right to our house and brings her kit with her. She (typically) offers prenatal and post birth care, while a team of midwives working at the hospital will be the midwives for the birth.
I refuse to not mention this. Maternity clothes seem to be… just simply not as robust an offering here as in the US. The number of brick and mortar maternity clothes shops is equivalent to a ghost town. Essentially, Hamburg has one shop (which I hope to visit) and then everyone simply says, “Check out H&M”. It’s something… but it feels so different than my experiences in the past. I had a box left from the first two rodeos, but these outfits won’t survive me the full 9.5 months… or my fully-grown belly.
You can pick your hospital. I don’t believe there are “off limits” hospitals like there are in the US depending on your health insurance. I’ve got my list down to two possibilities based on conversations with other expats in my community here, but haven’t visited either yet because… #Deutsch. I don’t have to pick a hospital for a few more weeks and I’m not particularly worried about it. (I mean, I have to push the baby out no matter what building I’m in, right?)
There are a staff of midwives available at each hospital. I believe it’s typical, but not required, to stay 2-3 nights. That’s about the extent of my knowledge at this point… but in 4 months, I’m sure I’ll know more. : )
The same midwife from prenatal care will come to our home after the baby is born every 2 or 3 days for the first 4 weeks. After that, she’ll come once per week until the baby is 8-12 weeks old. She can help with questions, nursing help, weighing the baby, etc. And yes, this is all a part of the insurance-covered offerings.
About 6-8 weeks after birth, health insurance will also cover your Rückbuildung classes. This is a nice post on what they are, but essentially they help new moms build strength in their abdomen and pelvic floor, while offering a mat in the middle for babies to chill out while you exercise. You get to go for 8 weeks, one hour per week.
Another recommendation that my midwife gave me was to look into the Wellcome. This organization is a volunteer network of mostly older women (from what I can tell) who come to support families with new babies. A lot of people really like it. They come once or twice per week for a couple of hours and play with your older kids, taking them to the park, or hold the new baby while you shower, etc. A great idea for ex-pat women like me who have less of a community around them than they may be accustomed to.
Something that doesn’t exist here are Meal Trains. I’m guessing it’s an effect of paternity leave… (less need for the community to come together when the husband can take off), but that will be a major difference for us with this baby. I don’t think I cooked for a whole month after either of my first two babies. Oh, and? My freezer is still tiny. Sure, I could do what most Germans do and get an extra freezer… but I’m tempted to “tough it out”. We’ll see. To say the very least, I’m SO grateful to have my Mom coming for three weeks after the birth. I’m one lucky duck.
Federally Protected Benefits
Basically, all the memes are true. I will receive full (net) pay for 6 weeks before the birth (for me, starting at my Christmas holiday), and for 8 weeks after the birth. For 44 weeks after that, I can receive 65% of my net pay. (I can get the same amount spread over 2 years, if I wish… but I do not.) That’s a lot of support. In short, yes, we have to re-budget how we’re living a bit, but it’s nothing drastic.
The Dad can also take off for 2 months total (as secondary caregiver) and can split those 2 months. I’ve heard of many Dads taking the first month off for the baby’s life and then saving the second month for the end of the first year so that the family can take a one month vacation of sorts before everyone returns to normal life after maternity leave. What idea, no?
Oh, and when I give birth in a hospital, this decreased pay won’t be going to hospital bills… because I won’t receive a bill… unless I want a private room. I do, but the total on that (I hear) is about 700 € total for a 3-day stay. Completely worth it especially if you’re not paying the hospital bills for the birth… in my humble opinion. (But, I of course can’t just reserve one… I just have to pray that one is available. Feel free to join me.)
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So where does that all leave me? 24 weeks pregnant, needing to research how to apply for the above benefits, how to get a passport and residence card… and what to plan to do for a year with our new baby. The most amazing part? I won’t HAVE to pump! HOORAY! I’m sure I’ll be saving and pumping some, but I won’t have to frantically make sure I’m pumping in the very beginning so that at 3 months I can return to work peacefully. And THAT. That is a huge benefit.
Also worth a big shout out are our very generous neighbors. We came with a few items, but we have a changing table, crib, clothes, bibs, sleep sacks and more from several of our generous neighbors. We’re so blessed.
But also you guys. A Year. I am a taking a whole 13 months off. OK, so I’ll be responsible for a new human being who doesn’t even know that nighttime is for sleep, yet. So yeah. That’ll be the top of my priority list. However, this is not my first rodeo. And I’m not exactly the shining “Stay-at-home” type. So, yes. I’m thinking about how to survive a year.
The biggest most fun item on my to do wish list? Our yearly family photo albums… I’m halfway through 2016’s book, and need to start the books for 2017, 2018 and will get to add 2019 to the list before my leave even starts. Hah!
But mostly, I want to start thinking about creating a daily structure. Walks, books, games with the kids, and oh! I plan to grocery shop like a German: daily. Walking. And yeah. Maybe I’ll get around to dusting the house regularly, too. But don’t hold your breath.
…If you made it this far… Congratulations! We are so excited to welcome this new little one to our family. The only one of us born abroad and we’re all so lucky to be receiving the support coming our way in the next year.