1.31.2015

:: Having a Baby in Wroclaw, Poland

No, no I am not going to tell you labor details you'd rather not hear about, I just want to share with you my hospital experience(s) being an expat in a foreign country. Reason being is that when I was pregnant, I tried to research online (in English) about having a baby in Wroclaw and didn't find much info. Plus, you're more apt to hear about bad stories than good ones. Therefore, I want to share my (positive) story so that if you are pregnant in Wroclaw, you know what you might be able to expect. I'm not saying my experience is best, or that it will be or is the same for everyone. I just know I had a positive experience having a baby in Wroclaw (well, technically Germany but I will get to that later) that I think warrants a share.
Here are the basics of what I am basing my opinion on: 

We live in Wroclaw, Poland.
We did all our prenatal care here in Wroclaw.
I went to a Wroclaw hospital at 35 weeks for early labor signs and was admitted for 4 days.
I delivered our baby in Gorlitz, Germany at 38.5 weeks with no complications.
I found an at- home lactation consultant in Wroclaw.
We speak very limited Polish and absolutely no German.

So, let's get this review party started shall we?

Prenatal Care: Medfemina, Wroclaw
Photo of Medfemina building 
Photo of Reception
Anyone who knows me knows that I could not have been more thrilled with my prenatal care here in Wroclaw. So much so that if I were ever to be pregnant again somewhere else, I would want to wrap this office up in a bow and take them with me wherever I am :) I loved the entire staff (most of whom speak English) and they are 100% the reason that my pregnancy abroad was so fabulous. I genuinely felt that my pregnancy was important to them (when in fact, they see many pregnant people each day). My doctor was amazing and responded to my every worry wonderfully. I am so grateful to have found this office and my doctor by chance. Seriously, grateful is an understatement.

Really, what I loved most is that at each visit during my pregnancy, I was given an ultrasound - and a 3D one at that. I must have visited this office every 3-4 weeks at a minimum, so that's a lot of ultrasounds. (From what I understand, in the US you only have a few basic ultrasounds covered by insurance unless you are considered to be high risk. And a 3D one costs extra.) I once asked my doctor about the number of ultrasounds and she answered something along the lines of, "You're here. The technology is here. If there was a problem, why wouldn't I want to find it now?" I liked that approach. Oh, and the ultrasounds were performed by my doctor; not a x-ray tech. Everything I heard was told to me directly through the lens of my doctor during the actual ultrasound - another thing I liked. Each visit lasted 1 to 1.5 hours. I NEVER felt my appointments were rushed. Can we also talk about how the office is open until 8pm every day and on Saturday mornings?! I cannot recommend this place enough.

I also just found out that Medfemina will be opening a private birthing hospital!! I am sure this will be absolutely amazing, too :) I am actually jealous. Future moms in Wroclaw sure are lucky!

FYI: We also had to get a special ultrasound of our baby's heart when I was a mere 15 weeks pregnant or so (everything was, thankfully, fine). We were referred to this place (Sonokard) for their neonatal cardiologist. The doctor we met with was also fabulous and spoke perfect English. We were able to make a same-day appointment, again at 7pm. I think this office also does prenatal care, but I can't speak to that. At the time of our appointment, the receptionist did not speak English so making an appointment here was a bit more challenging but my Medfemina ladies helped me out :)

KamieĊ„skiego Hospital, Wroclaw 
Photo of KamieĊ„skiego Hospital
As I mentioned, at 35 weeks, I was admitted to the hospital here in Wroclaw. There are a few hospitals in the city (all of which are public hospitals), but I heard time and time again that the Kamienskiego maternity ward is really the best in Wroclaw. I was told that the reputation surrounding the staff is what makes it best. Though I don't know about other hospitals in Wroclaw, my experience at Kamienskiego was pleasant enough and the staff upheld its reputation. In fact, many of the doctors at Medfemina (mine included) also work here in this hospital and so did the neonatal cardiologist.

One thing I feel compelled to add is that sometimes women in Wroclaw do not have their choice of hospital. If it is full when they arrive, they can be turned away and brought to another hospital. This made me very nervous when I was deciding where I wanted to have the baby. In fact, my hospital roommate had the option to leave but chose to stay for another 2 weeks because she wanted to have the baby in this particular hospital. Since she was already admitted, she didn't want to risk it. Now, I have no idea how often this happens, I just know it could happen. 

Anyways, it was a late Friday evening when I had to go to the hospital and I was referred by my doctor in Medfemina. She was able to write all my symptoms/any instructions in Polish for the hospital staff, which made it easier for me to get admitted as the medical clerk did not speak English.  It took about 2 hours before I was brought to the maternity ward. I was thankful my condition was not a real immediate emergency. Getting admitted was a confusing process (think: not being able to read the signs or ask people for help easily). When I got to the maternity ward, it was packed. (I don't mean like overflowing, just that all beds were full). Each room had 3 ladies per room (some with babies and some waiting for their babies to arrive). What I gathered is that the week I was admitted was very busy and usually women post-labor are taken to a different area of the hospital. At least, that's what my roommate said. I think there were 5 patient rooms (3 beds each) and two shared bathrooms in this particular area. It was a full moon, if you believe what they say.
This is what the room I was in looked like (photo from TVN24)
I apparently was not very well prepared for my stay, as I did not bring anything with me to the hospital and my husband had to go home and bring me some stuff (i.e. PJs, toothbrush, makeup, towel, hair dryer, etc.) What I did NOT know to bring was my own utensils and dishes... not kidding, you have to bring your own cup for coffee. This was a surprise (and made me cry when the lady asked me where my cup was. Oh pregnancy emotions.) Also, if you do end up having a baby here, know that you need to bring pretty much everything from home: your own diapers, wipes, baby clothes, maxi pads for mom, etc. - a big difference from US hospitals (and the hospital in Germany). The hospital was very clean and seemed to be getting cleaned all the time. 

I have no idea what the actual birthing rooms are like here, since I did not use them. I did hear that there are a limited number of anesthesiologists in the hospital and pregnancy ranks the lowest on the totem pole when using anesthesia - so the likelihood of being able to get a epidural here is slim. Though many ladies I spoke with had their forms for the anesthesiologist filled out, just in case. 

My roommate told me it is typical to meet with a midwife in advance to talk about your "birth plan" and then call them when you go into labor and they'll meet you in the hospital. Again, I didn't do this, so I can't speak much to it but I did meet with a lovely midwife who I would have called should I have delivered my baby here in Wroclaw. Really, coaching for breathing doesn't require words in the same language. The doctors and nurses at the hospital were fabulous, though the nurses spoke limited English, if any. However, my roommate spoke English so she helped me when I needed it, which was very sweet of her to do. I LOVED how the nurses were very unobtrusive to the new moms, just letting them figure it out and ask for help when needed, especially when it came to breastfeeding. (Don't take this the wrong way, they did vitals and came around to the rooms all the time - they just weren't 'in your face' about it. I don't really know how better to describe it.) 

Here's some other random facts about my stay in Wroclaw:
If I am being honest, the food provided wasn't much and it was not that great. But, there was a nice little cafeteria downstairs and my husband brought me snacks :) The maternity ward also had a shared fridge that patients could use if they wanted to bring their own food. My roommate told me that I was lucky to live close since my husband could visit so often. She said that many people travel many kilometers to come to this particular hospital and they can only have visitors on the weekends. It made me feel fortunate, no, I think lucky is the right word to use. 

The hospital also had free wi-fi. 

After a normal, routine birth, most moms here in Poland stay in the hospital about 4-5 days. Then, they are assigned a midwife to continually check in on mom and baby (at home) post hospital discharge. They make sure babies are eating well and mom is recovering ok. Babies receive HepB and TB vaccines before discharge. In the hospital, your baby stays with you at all times (pending emergencies, of course). Fathers/visitors cannot stay overnight in the hospital. Visitors usually were there from about 9am-7pm, though most seemed to visit about 2-4 hours at a time. There didn't seem to be an overload of visitors. My roommate told me that hospitals mean rest, so that may very well be true. 

Upon my release, I was able to just walk out of the hospital - no paper work AT ALL, which seemed odd to me. Albeit, I eventually received a bill in the mail.

Overall, I had a pleasant experience in Wroclaw but am relieved that I am not writing a review of the preterm delivery care. I am also thankful I was only in the hospital 4 days, and not longer - it is hard to rest in a ward full of new babies :) Ultimately, I delivered in Gorlitz, Germany because we were able to get a private room and my husband could stay with me. We decided that when you don't speak the language and you're exhausted from childbirth/your hormones are making you extra emotional (i.e crying over coffee mugs), it is best to have a companion to help you communicate with the staff.  So that brings me to....

Everything about my birthing experience here in Gorlitz was positive. I really cannot say enough great things about this facility. It took us about 1.5 hours to get here from Wroclaw, but we had plenty of time getting from point A to point B before baby came.

First things first, the maternity ward building was JUST rebuilt and opened in September 2014 so everything about this building is new, modern and shiny.
[photo credit]
Reception upon entry photo
The hospital itself is like a college campus - many buildings connected through walking paths. Really, quite beautiful, but is so large that it required a visit beforehand to know where we were going.
[photo credit]
At about 36 weeks pregnant, I met with the chief of staff for a tour of the hospital and to fill out admittance paperwork. (We actually did go here around 20 weeks for a tour, but the Dr. told us to come back once the new building was open and I was further along.) During this visit, they performed an ultrasound, took down stats, blood type, discussed payment, told us where to park, etc. It was really efficient. What I loved most is that at this time we also went through (step-by-step) a list of what to expect IF something were to go wrong during childbirth. They laid out: if X goes wrong, we will do Y. I was then required to sign this document (written in German) saying I agreed with their action plan. It felt really good having some kind of a plan laid out - almost like I knew more about what to expect even if I couldn't communicate with the doctors/nurses due to language barriers. If I would have had a birth plan (I didn't), it is what I would have wanted it to say anyways. Their proposed action plan pretty much just stated they don't do unwarranted medical procedures. Therefore, there wasn't really a need for me to write a 'birth plan' stating, "Hey, don't give me a c-section unless I need it." The doctors would have said something like, "Uh. Why would we do that?"

During birth, I was provided with a midwife on duty who was AMAZINGGGG. She seriously was the best thing ever. I actually didn't even see a doctor until Henry was well on his way. Every once in a while they would hook me up to machines to check baby's heart rate but other than that, I could pretty much do what I wanted - walk around, sit down, take a bath, whatev. This hospital (and I think most in this area of the world) is a proponent of natural childbirth, so you can find baths, birthing balls, ladders, etc. all here in the rooms. My midwife is the reason I was able to have a natural childbirth. Though I must admit that I did ask for meds... I am not sure if I was ignored or they just didn't understand, but in the long run I am grateful for whatever the reason may have been. I was up walking around about 2 hours after birth (though I got told to lay back down. Bad Jackie.)

After the birth, our baby was given to us immediately and the staff very much left us alone for a few hours before any tests/weighing was done, which was great for bonding. Again, something I would have requested in a birth plan, that is just part of the system here. One thing that is different is that Hep B vaccine is not given at birth and is instead given at 7 weeks (I think). My Polish pediatrician was appalled by this and Henry got his shots 1 week after birth (which is good because it put us back in line with the US vaccination schedule). However, Gorlitz did do all the newborn screening tests like they do in the US. (If you're curious, Poland does these screening tests, too.)

Gorlitz was what I would expect the US to be like in a way. The provided food was actually pretty good. They gave meals to BOTH my husband and I. The hospital gives you menu options, but we couldn't read it so our nurse just picked stuff for us ha. Here, diapers, wipes, clothes, pads, etc. were all provided - we didn't really need anything special for baby except a "going home outfit". In fact, the doctor thought it was weird that I asked in advance what to bring with us to the hospital. He was like, "umm I don't think I have ever been asked that. Just some clothes to take the baby home in, I guess." He didn't realize I had just been released from the Wroclaw hospital where you need to bring most everything with you.

Anyways, my husband and I had our own room with a private bathroom, changing table and co-sleeper for baby. However, since we did have our own room, we never left it so I wasn't able to make observations or speak with other new moms to learn about the German customs like I did during my Wroclaw hospital stay. It was just me, my husband and Henry in our room for 4 days. Our baby stayed in the room with us at all times. Even during routine checkups, dad was able to go with the doctor. No chance of baby mix-up here. Wi-fi was available, but not free.
Here's our room
Most staff did not speak English. In fact, only a few doctors did. One real challenge was getting breastfeeding help since I couldn't really communicate with the nurses well. They just answered all my questions with "it's good" in a cute German accent. But, again, breastfeeding is really presented as the only option here - we were constantly reminded how much better it was for baby during each pediatrician visit (maybe to give added confidence because it is so hard in the beginning? IDK.) Germany also appoints an at-home midwife to check on mom and baby post hospital discharge.

Another complicated thing was getting the birth certificate. They did not want to include my husband's name on it for some reason, so we had to show our marriage license and they eventually did. I don't know if it was just to appease the Americans or what but I am just glad it worked out. Also, in order to pick up the official birth certificate at city hall, we had to have our marriage license officially translated into German, which in-and-of-itself is a story involving payment via coffee beans but that is another story for another day.

Following the birth, our baby developed breast milk jaundice. Through extensive research, I was able to find an English-speaking lactation consultant here in Wroclaw to get my breastfeeding back on track. She said she didn't speak English (though I think she did) and brought a friend to help her translate. She was phenomenal and recommended by La Leche League International. If you're having issues in Wroclaw, please contact her. She was sweet and helped put my mind at ease. 

It is now three months postpartum and even looking back I could not have been more pleased with our experience both in Poland and Germany. We have even found a fabulous pediatrician who comes to our house for checkups. It's pretty awesome not to have to trek to a doctor's office and I will miss that when we have to leave Wroclaw. 

Throughout the entire process, I have found that, for the most part, people really do want to help you. They understand that you're away from your family, in a country unfamiliar. I can't even begin to count all the help we have received. And for that, I am both fortunate and lucky.

Overall, the best advice I have for anyone having a baby abroad is to be resourceful. It would be easy to wallow in sorrow saying, "I wish I was in my native country. It would be so much easier. WAHH!" Yes, it would be easier but that doesn't mean what you are looking for doesn't exist. No one told me about the lactation consultant I found through Le Leche League International...No one told me about the prenatal office I found online (hint: if the website translates to English, there is a good chance someone there speaks it!) No one told me to use Google Translate to translate all the information given to us by doctors. People did, however, tell me how horrible it would be to be pregnant abroad. How hard it would be. How they would never do it, "no offense." I wish I was making this up. I am just glad I didn't listen. My advice (really this applies to life in general) is to not let others form opinions for you (not even this blog post!). Use your own brain. Do your own research. Form your own opinions. 

7 comments:

  1. Thanks, very useful! Goes to my bookmarks :) Although I delivered a baby in my native country, now we are in Wroclaw and still in the age to have a baby, so maybe one day...:)

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    1. Great! I hope it is helpful to you one day/if not now :) xo.

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  2. Hi

    I love your blog!

    This post is so useful. I am currently 7 months pregnant and wishing Medfemina had opened their birthing unit already!

    I just wondered if you had found a good pediatrician in Wroclaw? attempting to get prepared!

    Thank you x hannah

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  3. Hi

    I love your blog!

    This post in particular is very useful! Im currently 7 months pregnant wishing medfemina would open their birthing unit already!!

    I just wondered if you had found a good pediatrician in wroclaw? Attempting to get organised!

    Thank you!

    Hannah x

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    1. I hope everything went wonderfully for you! Let me know if you are still looking for a pediatrician. Ours was great and came right to the house :)

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  4. Sorry, but why did you give birth in Germany? Were you directed by the Wroclaw hospital? How did you choose that place?

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    1. Hello! No, I was not directed. I visited both the Polish and German hospitals before I gave birth. Mostly, I just wanted my husband to be able to stay with me while in hospital overnight, which wasn't an option at the hospital I was considering in Poland. I think that was the biggest factor. I also didn't want to have to drive TOO far in case I went into labor early (which I did) so I didn't even look at hospitals in Berlin since I wasn't comfortable driving 3+ hours while in labor. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any questions :)

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