I know people give birth every single day. And still, the entire idea of having a baby freaks me out. What's happening to my body? I'm supposed to squeeze what out of where?! And then there is the "Oh my gosh, now I gotta raise this baby!?" Now imagine that all of that is happening to you in a country you're not from, where you're just learning the language. Yikes!
And yet that is my friend Kimberly's story. Now, to be fair, she's currently living in Germany, not some war-torn country in political unrest. And her husband is German. But still, navigating a new culture while experiencing your first pregnancy sounds scary to me. Kimberly, however, is one brave and adventurous gal. She's lived everywhere from Turkey to India and Tanzania, and even met her hubby while living on a huge sail boat in the Caribbean. She's the coolest and is going to be the best mom!
I should mention that Kimberly actually went into labor while writing this, so infinity Hey Eleanor bonus points to her for actually managing to complete it during the contractions.
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How did a nice Minnesotan gal like you end up in Berlin?
I was a very curious teenager growing up in Plymouth, Minn., pushing my boundaries in many ways in life. One night, as I wandered alone through the racks of travel books at the Ridgedale Borders bookstore, (no doubt carrying some complicated coffee-to-go drink, dying to feel older), I stumbled upon a meeting for students interested in studying abroad. I filled out an application, was accepted and took a spot in Europe departing a few months later. After 15 years of moving between other states and countries for study and work, I'm still fulfilling that dream of exploring the world.
Along the way, you met your now-husband, David. You grew up in the states, David grew up in Germany. Was the decision to live in Germany a tough one? Do you see yourself being there forever or somehow splitting your time between the US & Europe?
Actually, yes, moving to Germany was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made because it had to be done with very little of myself in mind. At the time, David's job offer in Berlin was on the table, we were living in Tanzania. The two of us were running a safari lodge with equal responsibility as General Management and I felt entirely fulfilled by my work. The switch to Germany would allow us a stable environment for attempting a family, but also cripple me initially in terms of language and career. I had hoped our next move would actually take us closer to Minneapolis and my family, but in the end, nothing was popping up stateside.
We’ve made Berlin work for us in a way that I believe will keep us here at least 50 percent of the time in the future. Our hospitality consulting company has opened a second branch in Germany, allowing me to take on project work. I have spent the last nine months learning German intensively in an attempt to break down the language barriers. An ideal situation would be one that gives us reason to live and work from both Berlin and Minnesota in the future. I could actually see that happening with the Houseboat Company we are currently consulting. [Hey Eleanor note: if you're traveling to Germany, you should probably check out those houseboats... very cool!]
Last winter, you two announced you were expecting your first child. YAY! Did you have much anxiety surrounding the fact that you were new to Germany and their healthcare system?
That’s a great question with an easy answer: no. Honestly, the German healthcare system is what first weakened my critical eye on our new surroundings. After spending two and a half years in Tanzania, where healthcare still has a long way to go, the thought of giving birth in Germany was completely comforting.
I'm assuming German healthcare is different than the states. What surprised you? What's been fabulous? What's been less than stellar?
Midwifery is offered seamlessly alongside the normal doctor’s checkups for no additional cost. Each midwife advertises his/her additional certifications and meets the patients in their homes for treatment. I chose a woman that is trained in acupuncture and receive bimonthly treatments on my couch in my living room. It is a dream.
Due to insurance regulations, I will have a second midwife accompany me to the hospital for the birth. We have conjured up a birth plan together with points like “only English to be used in the delivery room” to make the experience more controlled and comfortable.
Any cultural differences that have taken some getting used to?
Germans are known to be quite direct, which can be jolting when spoken to in a harsh way by a perfect stranger. I had a woman on the subway the other day tell me that my freshly brushed and well behaved dog on a leash was dirty. Also, there is a general overuse of the prolonged stare. I cannot get used to catching so many eyes boldly groping my nine-month wide belly when out in public.
Has the language barrier been an issue?
After months of daily lessons, then private lessons, I would love to say no…but yes. The German language is notorious for making the speaker decide upon the entirety of their sentence before they even start speaking. The most important things you want to say must be conjugated in relation to the start of your sentence and then held onto, remembered perfectly, and left at the end of the sentence. My English has suffered immensely during the periods of time I have tried complete immersion.
I've heard you Europeans get, like, seven years paid time off to raise kids. What's the real deal?
Germany does a pretty good job with maternity leave, although I believe the Scandinavian countries still top the list as having the best benefits. We are given six weeks before the birth and eight weeks after of paid time off by the employer and insurance company. The government then sponsors a percentage of one’s income for the rest of the 12 months if the mother decides to take more time off. Additionally, day care is subsidized and can be arranged full time shortly after birth.
You once joked that dogs are more accepted in Berlin than babies, which I find to be absolutely fascinating. Please explain.
Our dog, Mickey, sits under our table at every café or restaurant with us without a second glance. It was just recently, however, that I started noticing how many establishments sport a decal on the door of a crossed out stroller. A coffee shop I visited last week asked for parents to be aware of the noise level of their children. But then again, this place also refuses to serve their filter coffee any way other than black, which may mean they are just too cool for me.
Sometimes sentiment gets lost in translation. Most awkward thing someone has said to you during your pregnancy?
I’ve had quite a few which I allow to roll off my back by sharing with friends and family and having a good laugh. My latest favorite came out after a nice dinner on the front of one of the houseboats where a Czech man asked me “if I would lose that FAT that I gained during the pregnancy rather fast or if it would take me a while." This is where I nicely wished him good night, but thought about pushing him into the water.
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Literally as she was typing that last sentence, David got "the bag" ready and they headed to the hospital, where Jakob Elliott was born at 4:58am on May 12. Congrats! Or should I say, gratulation!
I want to hear your Everyday Eleanor story. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.