Second baby in Spain
SECOND BABY IN SPAIN
Most major life events are easier second time around - buying a house, moving jobs, having a baby... One of the many positives of having a second child is the benefit that experience brings - after having my daughter nearly five months ago, I was much less anxious than after my son was born, and less bothered about rushing back to work. In contrast, by the time my son was six weeks old, I was already working quite a few hours, determined not let a little thing like a baby slow down my career. And in terms of the birth itself, this time I knew exactly what I wanted and didn´t want; what I would accept, and what I would not.
I had both children at the same hospital in Seville, where I live. The Virgen del Rocio is proud of its ´´live birth rate´´, and of its staggering figures - 29 other babies were born the same day my daughter Lola arrived, with an annual average of around 8,000, one of the highest birth rates in the country
My first birth experience was not overly positive, which can be put down partly to my ignorance, or perhaps naivety, in thinking that my written wishes about my labour and delivery (´´birth plan´´) would be followed. I was well prepared, in that I had spoken to friends who´d given birth at the same hospital, read lots of books, been to meetings of El Parto Es Nuestro - which campaigns for better treatment of women during and after pregnancy, Spain´s version of the UK´s National Childbirth Trust when it started 50-odd years ago - all of which useful knowledge and information helped me write my birth plan.
When I presented this at the hospital, the midwife looked totally flummoxed. As far as she was concerned, I do the same as everyone else - obey their orders, do what I´m told, when I´m told, without daring to express an opinion or preference for how I am to be treated, either medically or psychologically. That was the attitude here in Spain until recently - added to which doctors are considered infallible near-gods here, their word is law and their status unimpeachable; noone dares contradict them. So where does that leave the patient?
I had stated explicitly in my birth plan that I didn´t want my waters broken, which they did; I wanted to choose my labour position - they tried to make me lie down; I didn´t want a monitor attached to be unless necessary - they put it on anyway; I didn´t want a large number of people present during the delivery, which there were; and I wanted to deliver the baby in a posture which felt comfortable - no go, I had the ´´potro´, a horribly uncomfortable chair with stirrups (I still shudder when I see one).
This ignoring of my birth plan was down to a concept which the Spanish love, and depend on, called ´´protocolo´´ - it governs set procedures, in this case, of a woman giving birth. I was lucky; it used to include an enema and shaving. If I had been pushier, I could have fought harder for my wishes as clearly expressed in my birth plan at every stage of the way - every time I did, or demanded, something against the norm, they would complain and tut and mutter, which made me even angrier - but as it was, persuading them that I didn´t want to lie down on a bed during contractions (very painful) was enough of a battle.
Armed with all this knowledge before my second child was born, I had a clear idea what to expect this time round - or more exactly, what I wanted and what I definitely did not want. I wanted no oxytocin (a drug used to speed up contractions), no epidural (an anaesthetic for your lower body), and to give birth in a small, quiet, simply-equipped ´´dilatation´´ room, not a loud, bright delivery room full of people and machines, like the first time, where I felt I had lost control of the whole process, which was very distressing. I was very clear that this was what I wanted, after my previous experience.
The most important decision I made - and it was fairly last-minute - was to hire a doula. This is a companion, without medical qualifications, who provides moral support to you and your partner, and who acts as an intermediary between you and the hospital staff. In our case, once I was admitted, she went off and found a midwife who was, crucially, willing to respect my birth plan - as natural as possible, with no intervention unless necessary. To be fair, things have changed considerably now; the hospital is part of a new government programme encouraging natural births in certain medical centres in Andalucia. So now forward-thinking midwives are more common; my wishes were respected, adhered to, and never questioned or ridiculed; and I was even offered a birthing ball (an inflatable ball you sit on) during labour, to use in my room.
I speak reasonable Spanish, so it wasn´t that I couldn't communicate all this for myself, but I had a fast labour, with strong, frequent contractions, and making yourself understood when all you can do in puff, pant and moan, is not easy - so I had my birth plan and Trini, the doula, to speak for me. She was my guard dog, and barked at anyone who came near me, or who suggested anything that wasn´t in the plan, leaving me and my partner to get through the labour. Thankfully, we were left alone, and, apart from regular checks of the baby´s heartbeat, midwives only came in to actually deliver the baby.
The key to a positive birth experience in Spain, as anywhere else, is knowledge - find out about the hospital´s policies on epidurals, natural births, birthing companions etc. Then make a plan and make damn sure they respect it - or, if your Spanish is OK, get a doula to take the stress out of the entire process, while you´re busy concentrating on the most important task you (or your partner) will ever have - pushing a new life into the world.