The world of being a foreigner, immigrant, expat, guiri – whatever you want to call it – changes the day you bring a little Spaniard into the world. In general, everything changes when you have a baby, but having a baby in a country where the language is not your mother tongue adds an interesting twist. Plus, the fact that you’re an American and bringing a little person into the world who will speak in Spanish without your accent in the future just makes you one more step closer to total spanishization (and to the day when your son asks why mommy speaks strangely…). I’ve only had one baby, and that happened over here in Spain, so I can’t exactly compare the experience of having a baby in Spain vs. the US, but I can share a few tidbits about how it was here. Fortunately, I have to say that the overall experience from the start with doctors, check-ups, etc. to the end, with little Nicolas’ arrival in Madrid was all great. No major issues or misunderstandings (only a few minor ones). Now I consider myself bilingual but would definitely not recommend going through this experience without someone native by your side. However, when it comes to the final moment of labor there are really just some key words that need to be understood. Translation almost isn’t necessary…
- Hospital – slightly different pronunciation, but completely understood
- Baby/Bebé – just point to the protruding bump and there shouldn’t be any problem
- Drugs/drogas – technically this should be medicina, but if you say drogas they’ll get the point
- Good/Bad (Bien/Mal) – also known as the universal thumbs up and thumbs down, so no issues there
- Epidural – This is key! Fortunately, like hospital, completely understood in both languages even with pronunciation difference.
- Maternidad/Maternity – close enough
- Cesarean/Cesárea – once again, fortunately the language gods decided not to make this difficult.
It’s a challenge not being in your home country and having your language be spoken, but what are the good parts about this experience as told from an American in Spain? Keep reading: The good:
- Four months maternity leave. Now, it depends on your company whether you’ll receive 100% of your salary or not, but in any case it’s a lot of time off compared to the US. In my case I was able to use my maternity leave, vacation time and breastfeeding time all together to take 5 full months off. When you realize your little one still isn’t sleeping through the night at 4 months (at least in my case) another month is welcome. Also, at least here in Madrid, you’re entitled to an economic stipend of 100€ a month if you’re a working mother.
- Labor room/delivery room. Now I’m not sure if this is something that’s universal, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that when the time came for the little guy to make his entrance, the “delivery room” came to me. I wasn’t taken to any other room and/or mixed with other people. It was nice to have a little “privacy”, or as much as one can expect, during this experience.
- Spain is very breastfeeding-friendly. In general there’s a strong culture and acceptance of breastfeeding, which makes it easier to get out of the house and do things. You can find “salas de lactancia” or breastfeeding-friendly areas at almost all major shopping centers. When I did a google search for this sort of support in Boston I hardly found anything.
- Work protection. As a mother in Spain you’re entitled to ask for a part-time schedule up until your child turns 7 (!), and the company cannot say no. Now, having said this, I have heard of several cases where mothers have gotten the “reduced schedule” and reduced pay, but end up with the same workload and end up working long hours. In my case, with my company’s massive global layoffs this didn’t happen; in general, though, I think it’s a nice working-mother benefit if it is properly executed.
- Most likely your closest family won’t be with you. You can never be sure really when your baby will come, so unless there’s someone who doesn’t work and wants to spend a month over in Spain, it’s a bit hard to organize.
- There’s a lot of baby paperwork after the fact. I’m not sure how this works in the US, but here there are several things that have to be done right after the baby is born: you have to go to the public health center with the birth form the hospital gives you to officially get the maternity leave form. Then this form has to be taken to your employee to get everything in order to receive benefits while on leave. Next, your baby has to officially be “registered” at the “Registro Civil” as a little person. At this point you’ll get all his information filled out in your “libro de familia” (family book) that you were given when you got married. Another step in the process is with Social Security. Your little baby will need to get signed up for a social security card which will then allow you to get him a public health card (another step). Fortunately your husband can do this paperwork for you since the last thing you can do after having a baby is run around. Alternatively, you can actually hire someone to do it (this is what we did in our case to not waste time running around to government agencies with http://www.pequetramites.es)
- Middle and last names. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, the whole “I only have one last name” thing here will never be fully understood here (See earlier post). In fact, when I had gone to the hospital a couple weeks before having my baby to pick up some medical records they couldn’t find them until they realized everything was filed under my middle name. Now, why am I bringing this up now? As soon as you have your baby there seems to be a parade of people who come into your hospital room to confirm official information, including the baby’s name and spelling. Make sure they don’t try to put your middle name as your baby’s second last name! Yes, read this sentence twice if you have to, but trust me on this one. (Spanish babies have two last names: the father’s first and the mother’s second).
- Certain translations. I may be bilingual, but it’s not the same as being native. I realized this right after getting an epidural when the doctor was asking me questions to see if it was taking effect. He asked me if I was feeling numbness, but for some reason I thought the word meant “cement”. Totally confusing. At least there were other ways to ask around this to make sure it was working! (see my recommendation number 1. This was the one and only time when my husband wasn’t in the room with me because it was too much, and the one and only time when the doctors asked me something I didn’t understand…)
- Private vs. public hospital. If you give birth in a public hospital (at least here in Madrid) you don’t have to bring much at all as they’ll provide you with diapers, etc. However, if you have your baby in a private clinic you need to bring almost everything with you (diapers, baby pajamas and onesies, baby bath towel, toiletries (both for baby and you), etc. Now, I’m not exactly sure why this is the case, especially considering that if it’s private you’re the one paying in general, but that’s how it works here. My baby was born in La Milagrosa, a private clinic in the center of Madrid. As I mentioned before the overall experience and treatment was great, but as it was a private hospital I had to go prepared with all baby items.
Overall, here are a couple recommendations if you’re planning to have a baby here in Spain:
- Whenever possible, have someone native (husband/partner obviously preferable) with you for any doctor visits or consultations. If not, something that really is nothing could get turned into a completely different meaning in your head. Or you could mistake an epidural effect for cement (see above).
- Get first-hand recommendations for your doctor and hospital where you’ll have your baby. Talk to people and pick a doctor who makes you feel comfortable and one who actually assists with births. This way you’ll avoid going to the hospital and having any Dr. Joe deliver your baby.
- Get everything ready beforehand and get informed about all the paperwork you’ll have to do afterwards. You never know when the baby is going to come. Of course this doesn’t have anything to do with Spain, but take this advice from someone who watched her husband hurriedly pack up his suitcase the morning of…
Good luck! Since this blog is geared toward a global audience without any real target except for those interested in hearing about Spain commentaries and customer experience tales, I haven’t gone into detail about doctors, the pre-labor doctor visits, etc., but if you’re interested in any more info please feel free to contact me.