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What It’s Like to Be a Pregnant Expat in Germany

Image: Meghan Oaks
Image: Meghan Oaks

I have to admit to you that the most adventurous thing I ever did while pregnant was take a kickboxing cardio class that involved a dangerous amount of jumping jacks and a water bottle that I definitely regretted downing halfway through the 60-minute sweat session.

For me, pregnancy is a time in my life that I really want to hunker down and stay home in my own little family bubble. But for Meghan Oaks, a 28-year-old Materials Engineer for BASF, a chemical manufacturing corporation, pregnancy is just another notch in her (maternity) adventurer’s belt.

We already know that pregnancy is a lot different in Germany, but Meghan is experiencing those differences a little closer than those of us who simply read about it — she’s currently expecting her first baby in Germany, as a U.S. expat. I was burning with curiosity to hear about Meghan’s adventures overseas as a first-time mom and after following along on the travel blog that she writes with her husband, Aaron, also an engineer, I had to know more.

First off — what the heck is an expat?

“An expat is short for expatriate,” Meghan explained to me. “It is a person born in one country, but currently living, and often working, in another. Typically, an expat maintains his or her citizenship in the country in which he/she was born. My husband and I are both U.S. citizens, but are currently living and working in Germany. Right now, we think we will be in Germany until at least June of 2016. However, our assignment here is dependent on a project, and that project timeline dictates how long our stay ends up lasting.”

Meghan and her husband planned to have their first child in Germany.

I realize that’s not a question, but interestingly enough, Meghan and Aaron purposefully planned to have their first child in Germany as opposed to the United States. “The medical system is on par, sometimes even better, than the U.S., and maternity benefits are generally much better,” she explained. “Combined with the fact that we were ready to start a family, we saw no need to wait until we return to the U.S., which, at this time, is a huge unknown for us.”

Maternity care costs a lot less in Germany.

We don’t always consider the very literal cost of having a child in the states, but Meghan points out that it’s actually kind of crazy how much cheaper having a baby in Germany is. “I hear of women in the U.S. paying hundreds of dollars for an ultrasound,” she says. “Here, I get an ultrasound at every doctor’s visit (usually once a month), and they cost 50 Euro (which is about $55). In general, each prenatal appointment costs me, in total, only about $100, but it is usually less. A typical office visit for something minor is even less — only $35-50.”

Pregnant expats get around.

Pregnancy is not a time to sit around and eat ice cream when you’re a pregnant expat. “When you live in the middle of Europe, it almost feels like a waste to sit at home!” laughs Meghan. Well into her third trimester, Meghan and her bump have already been to Paris (“but I had to skip out on the champagne tasting!” she notes), Barcelona, Austria, Poland, London, and many places in Germany.

“We’ve visited castles, gone on a river cruise, saw some stunning cathedrals, climbed the Eiffel Tower, visited the Tower of London and saw the crown jewels, ate Paczki in Poland, and even been to the top of a (small) mountain,” Meghan says. 

Parental leave is not optional in Germany.

Parental leave in Germany is federally protected and mandated,” Meghan explained to me, while I sat dumbfounded. 

“Mutterschutz, which literally translates to Mother Protection, starts at six weeks before the baby’s due date and continues until eight weeks after birth for a single birth, or 12 weeks for a multiple birth,” she continues. “The minimum time is 14 weeks, but may be longer depending on if a baby is born late. During Mutterschutz, if the mother is employed, she is still considered an ‘active employee’ and receives full pay and all benefits. After this time, the mother then may choose to enter into Elternzeit, or parental leave, which can last up to three years and be extended if she chooses to have more children. The 14 months of Elternzeit is partially paid. A mother receives 65 percent of her income, up to a maximum amount. 

The father may also choose to take Elternzeit, and it can even be split up between the mother and father. For example, the mother could take the first six months and the father the next six months. There are many, many options, but most commonly, the mother will take one year of Elternzeit and the father will take the first month or two of Elternzeit at the same time.”

Is anyone else having a hard time processing that information? Why did I not have my first baby in Germany? Oh, but wait — there’s more …

New moms in Germany get a free baby nurse.

Meghan, like all moms in Germany, will receive “Nachsorge,” which is the German word for postnatal care. “From what I know in the U.S., there is essentially no postnatal care, or it is at least not the standard of care,” Meghan says. “Here in Germany, it is a federally protected insurance benefit. A midwife comes to your home daily, from the time you leave the hospital until the baby is 10 days old. After that, she visits 3-4 times per week until the baby is eight weeks old. And finally, she has another 15 visits that can be scheduled at any time up until the baby is 1 year old or for the duration of breastfeeding, whichever is longer.”

During these visits, Meghan explains, the nurse can help with breastfeeding, infant care, and screens for postpartum depression. “In some cases, she may even be the one to remove stitches from a C-section incision,” she says. “From other mothers I know who have given birth, they even do the checkups on the baby that would normally be done by a pediatrician.”

There are major rules for naming your baby in Germany.

Although Meghan and Aaron’s baby will be a full U.S. citizen (Meghan explained that the only way to get dual citizenship in Germany is if one of the parents is a German citizen), they still have to follow the very strict German rules for naming their baby.

Apparently there is a thing called the International Manual of the First Names, which is a pre-approved list of names that the German government allows parents to choose from. Meghan detailed some of the rules for baby naming on her blog:

  • The name must clearly indicate the child’s gender.
  • You cannot name the child after a product or a place. (“No Apple Paris’s in Germany!” Meghan laughs.)
  •  No last names as first names.
  • ”Evil” names are not allowed.
  • No multiple names, although hyphenated names are allowed.
  • The name may not endanger the well-being of the child. (“I am not entirely sure what this means, it does leave quite a bit of leeway and is definitely open to interpretation,” Meghan says.)

Even pregnant expats aren’t experts in baby travel.

Even the most well-seasoned travelers know the No. 1 rule about traveling with a baby: you never really know what to expect. After her six months of leave that she plans to take, Meghan is looking forward to returning back to work and traveling with their baby. “We both feel that it will be much easier to travel when the baby is young as opposed to waiting until he/she is older,” she says. “In fact, we already have our first big trip planned for after the baby is born — a trip back to the U.S. to have him/her baptized! It’s scheduled for six weeks after my due date, so my hope is that he/she sleeps contentedly on the plane the entire way.”

We all hope the same for you, Meghan. And just in case, how do you say “pass the earplugs” in German?

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