Spanishized: The good, bad and confusing of giving birth in Spain
You'll be thankful that Spain gives four months maternity leave and is breast-feeding friendly, although the post-birth paperwork isn't much fun.
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 a foreigner and bringing a little person into the world who will speak Spanish without an accent must at least bring you one step closer to total 'Spanishization' (and to the day when your son asks why you speak strangely).
I’ve only had one baby and that happened here in Spain, so I can’t exactly compare the experience of having a baby in my home country, the US, but I can share a few tidbits about how it was in Spain. Fortunately, I have to say that the overall experience from the start with doctors, check-ups, etc. to the end, with a delivery in Madrid, was all great. No major issues or misunderstandings, only a few minor ones.
Things you need to know about having a baby in Spain
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 labour 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 – say bebé, or just point to the protruding bump and there shouldn’t be any problem.
- Drugs – technically you can say medicina, but if you say drogas they’ll get the point.
- Good/Bad – bien/mal but thumbs up and thumbs down, so no issues there.
- Epidural – This is key. Fortunately, like hospital, it is understood in both languages even with pronunciation difference.
- Maternity – Maternidad is close enough.
- Cesarean – once again, fortunately cesárea is not too difficult.
It’s a challenge not being in your home country and having your language spoken, but are there good parts about having a baby in Spain as an American?
Four months maternity leave
Now, it depends on your company whether you’ll receive 100 percent 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 five full months off. When you realise your little one still isn’t sleeping through the night at four months (at least in my case) another month is welcome. Also, at least here in Madrid, you’re entitled to an economic stipend of EUR 100 a month if you’re a working mother.
Labor room/delivery room
I’m not sure if this is something universal but I was pleasantly surprised to find 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 centres. When I did a google search for this sort of support in Boston I hardly found anything.
As a mother in Spain you’re entitled to ask for a part-time schedule until your child turns seven years, 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 really sure 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 organise.
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 centre with the hospital birth form to officially get the maternity leave form. Then this form has to be taken to your employee to arrange everything 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 the information filled out in your libro de familia (family book) that you received 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 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 in Spain. In fact, when I went to the hospital pre-birth to pick up some medical records they couldn’t find them until they realised 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. Spanish babies have two last names: the father’s first and the mother’s second.
I may be bilingual but it’s not the same as being native. I realised 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'. At least there were other ways to ask around this to make sure it was working. 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 (hence number one).
Private versus public hospital
If you give birth in a public hospital (at least here in Madrid) you don’t have to bring much as they 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 centre 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.
Tips for having a baby in Spain
Overall, here are a couple recommendations if you’re planning to have a baby here in Spain:
- Whenever possible, have someone native with you for any doctor visits or consultations. If not, something that really is nothing could turn into a completely different meaning in your head. Or you could mistake an epidural effect for cement (as I did).
- 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 the birth.
Michelle Amato is a Bostonian living in Spain since 2006. She loves meeting new people and sharing her many expat experiences such as getting working papers, having a baby, marrying a Spaniard, getting robbed and more. Michelle is a bilingual marketing profesional. Find her on Facebook.
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