On Becoming a Mother in Switzerland

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September 22, 2016

The photos in this post are by the exceedingly talented Hayley of Hayley Hay Photography. To learn more about her services and to see more delicious newborn photos, check out Tanya’s recent post.

I never considered myself a maternal person. Deciding to have a baby was an intellectual decision. It’s time, I finally said.

Even if the news of our pregnancy, received in an email while commuting home one dark November night, left me dazed with happiness and suppressing an irrepressible smile, the haunting doubts crowded in almost immediately. How on earth would I manage a demanding full-time job, The Lausanne Guide AND a new baby? My American upbringing had taught me that as a woman you were either a baby person or a career person. And for those of us in the latter category who also wanted children, the only course was to have an uncomplaining pregnancy, an uncomplicated birth and to get back to work as soon as possible. Keep your head down; grin and bear.

The key was to make it look effortless; and this, I knew, was going to take a lot of effort.

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For the first seven months, I managed to keep up the pace. But then finally the demands became untenable. On a third consecutive prenatal appointment, my doctor pushed for me to reduce my work percentage but when for the third consecutive time I launched into my usual reasons against her plan, she cut me off mid-sentence: “This isn’t a discussion,” she stated firmly. I shut my mouth.

I left the appointment, prescription for reduced work hours in hand, muttering and complaining to my husband. “Not a chance,” I told him. “Maybe you should consider it,” he said. My ego absorbed the blow.

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A couple weeks later I capitulated. A pregnancy complication sent me to bed for two painful weeks; my body was pushing back and it was time to listen. I submitted my prescription with shame and accepted the defeat of my alpha female fantasy. But as the pressure eased up and my body mended, any disappointment I felt was replaced by a profound sense of gratitude. Gratitude for my doctor’s wisdom and also for my adopted country’s health system that honors the sacred and demanding work of growing a human baby.

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I won’t say that Switzerland does everything right; I’m sure that there is plenty to improve. However, for me the experience of becoming a mother here has been extraordinary. When I finally delivered my son at the CHUV on July 29, the treatment I received was absolutely second to none. The postnatal midwife visits were a luxury beyond luxury. The childhood nurses who host daily weigh in sessions across the city and offer advice to a sometimes awkward and fumbling new mom like myself (oh, he should have a bedtime?), a reminder of solidarity and support.

And then there’s maternity leave. For context, my home country does not offer paid maternity leave, so I initially considered it like an extended staycation (finally, some time for The Lausanne Guide! Ha.).

Despite my completely unrealistic expectations, I fortunately had the forethought to arrange a photography session with Lausanne’s own Hayley Hay Photography to capture this rare a precious time. Now eight weeks into parenthood and plenty of baby equipment and investment later, I can say that these photos are without a doubt the most important thing we own. Oh, the emotion of looking through them for the first time! I even asked her to snap a few with my mom (a first-time grandmother!) who was visiting from Texas.

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If you’re looking for a collective baby shower gift to give an expecting mom, suggest to your friends that you all pitch in to buy her a session with Hayley. I can assure you that it’s the best gift you could offer. When the baby clothes have been given away and the stroller sold, these pictures will remain as a reminder of these most vulnerable, tender days and the people that I shared them with.

I go back to work full-time in January, and this sweetest season will inevitably come to a close. There will be balance to find and compromises to make, but until then, I will savor. He will nap on my chest and eat on demand. My nights will be short and my mornings bleary. But these are the good days, and I’m so so immeasurably grateful for this time and the care that I have received. From the very bottom of my overflowing heart: thank you, Switzerland.

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And one final caveat: can we just take a moment to raise a glass to the female body?! I mean, seriously. Talk about the REAL alpha female fantasy. We grow humans and then deliver them into the world. Mic drop.

Also, in case you’re interested, my doctor is Martine Francioli in Lutry and my independent midwife is Josée Bernard Delorme. I highly recommend both of them. Sadly, you can’t request your midwife for delivery at the CHUV, but anyone who gets Véronique (I’m looking for her family name) as I did, you are so lucky!

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