The Expat Bump Diaries: Week 10
It was at the house of my parents-in-law, during a visit to Somerset in the UK, that we found out the news. First thing in the morning I came out of the bathroom with the stick bearing two crosses in my hand, and told my husband with a lump in my throat that baby number two was on its way. What a moment that is – the mixture of excitement and trepidation hits you all at once. Especially with your second baby, as memories of what you’re in for come flooding back.
So begins our journey of having a baby while living as expats in Switzerland. We’ve been in this beautiful country for just over a year now, having moved from Cambridgeshire in the UK to Richterswil on Lake Zurich with our then-seven-month-old daughter, Esme, and young Labrador, Betsy, in May 2015. Esme is 21 months old now, and we feel well absorbed into local expat life with a busy routine of playgroups and activities each week, though I’m sure that will be turned upside down in six months’ time!
The moment we returned to Richterswil after our visit to the UK in May, I booked an appointment with a gynaecologist in our village who had been recommended by a friend. Already a key difference is apparent between having a baby in the UK, with its publically funded National Health Service (NHS), and the private health insurance-based system in Switzerland.
In the UK, when you discover you are pregnant you first see your family doctor, and then you’re referred to a team of local community midwives. The midwives were generally great, but I rarely saw the same one twice at our practice in the Cambridgeshire countryside, and it was a completely different team that were there for my labour at Addenbrookes Hospital in Cambridge. I saw a gynaecologist only twice – first to discuss the delivery, because I had gestational diabetes, and second during labour when they decided Esme wasn’t coming out fast enough unaided. If it hadn’t been for these complications I’m not sure I would have met one.
Here in Switzerland you see a gynaecologist from the word go and for every check up. In theory, that same gynaecologist should be there at the birth (if you’re lucky enough to go into labour when they’re on shift). Amazingly, you can even pay extra to have your gynaecologist travel to the hospital of your choice when you give birth. There are bound to be pros and cons to each system. As I see it so far the continuity of care is likely to be a big plus. However, my gynaecologist can be hard to get hold of. You can’t help but feel guilty calling about straightforward things like prescriptions for medication when she’s likely to be in and out of a labour room trying to help with a complicated birth. It’s at moments like these that I wonder if straight-to-specialist is really the best use of resources.
A big downside to the private system is dealing with health insurance. In the UK, the question of whether our care will be covered financially doesn’t even pop into our minds. We didn’t know how lucky we were. Even before we started trying for our second baby here in Switzerland, we checked our health insurance policy to see what would be covered. We are lucky, as Samuel’s company provide good international insurance, but I am still tracking the bills as they flow in and making sure we don’t go over the annual threshold our insurer will pay.
On the plus side, without the funding pressure suffered by the NHS, the private system sometimes gives access to care you wouldn’t receive on the NHS’s dime. As with my first pregnancy, I am suffering from all-day sickness that makes me want to crawl under the bedcovers and hide away for several months until it’s over – not really possible with a toddler demanding very loudly to be fed and entertained. In the UK I had to endure this without any medication, as unless you’re unable to keep liquids down and are becoming severely dehydrated, they’re unlikely to give you anything to help. Here in Switzerland, the gynaecologist started me off with some homeopathic drops (which was met with a sceptical response from my husband, who works in the pharmaceutical industry) and now has given me some pills to try to take the edge off of it. I can’t wait for this stage of the pregnancy to end. The nausea makes me the most miserable person to be around, and I feel for my daughter who can barely get me off of the sofa at times. It ended at 16 weeks for me last time – I’m counting the days.
Our first meeting with the gynaecologist, at around eight weeks of pregnancy, had a few surprises. My husband and daughter came along, and it started off straightforward enough as she asked me about my previous pregnancy and as blood and urine samples were taken for routine tests. But then she asked me to strip off from the waist down and get up into one of those chairs with leg stirrups like they use when you’re in labour. Now I’m a typical English prude – when I take Esme swimming, all the other ladies are happily strolling around the women’s changing room naked and I’m there clinging to my towel trying to keep myself covered up while I change. It’s pathetic, I know, but years of English embarrassment have trained me this way. The NHS knows this about the Brits and examination rooms are equipped with a curtain that goes entirely around the bed. Not so in Switzerland, it seems – all there was to cover my modesty was a short, flimsy screen that barely covered the view from where my husband and daughter were sitting. Of course my husband had been there for the birth of our daughter, but there was a key difference in that situation – I was so high on pain and Entonox (gas and air) that I barely knew where I was. So as the gynaecologist put the scanner somewhere I wasn’t at all expecting, in order to get the ultrasound image (because this was an early scan it needed to be placed internally close to the uterus to get a good image), I was hoping and praying that my husband was managing to stay behind the screen, despite Esme trying to wander off. Still, when I saw that tiny heart beat pulsing away for the first time it was worth it. I’m hoping the next scan, at 12 weeks, will be a typical one taken from on top of the tummy, so my husband can get a good view of the heart beating, too. I’m sure there are going to be plenty of surprises along the way, and I’m looking forward to the rest of our adventure having a baby in Switzerland.
By Laura Hollis
Laura is a journalist from the UK who is now living in Richterswil on Lake Zurich. Her daughter was born in October 2014, and Baby Number Two is due in January 2017. Laura also runs Hummingbirds Toddler Music Group. Email: email@example.com.
Illustration by Kiki Kaisserian
Kiki is an Australian artist and maker who works in many mediums. She has two adult children and lives in a small country town. Her work can be seen here.
The scan is Laura’s actual ultrasound scan taken at 8 weeks.
The second installment of Expat Bump can be found here.