Expat ExperienceLife

Clear, Concise, Correct Communication, Missing.

April 25, 2023 47 views

It’s been 7 weeks since Amélie has totally changed my life. Having a little baby has been the most joyful and life-changing experience, something I could never have imagined. It’s also incredibly hard, especially if you’re in a non-English speaking country with none of your family or friends in your village to support you (physically) and the views of the country you’re in feel quite conservative and backwards. The biggest hurdle is the communication barrier; which for me, started in the hospital.

Amélie arrived after an 8 hour labour at home, an 8 hour labour at the hospital, and then a further 10 hour labour after the epidural, with 100% of my contraction pain in my back. I had no idea what back labour was, until after Amélie was home and I began to do some research as to why I didn’t feel my contractions in the front of my abdomen. Turns out, back labour can be 70% more painful than “regular” labour and there are other coping mechanisms to use for back labour. Spoiler alert: breathing does not help. So here I was, a full 16 hours of back labour – with no sleep – trying to breathe my way through it, when breathing doesn’t help. Part of me feels like the medical staff should have recognised that I was experiencing back labour and made some suggestions on how to manage the pain…no?

But once that epidural hit, it was like magic. Unfortunately, I felt I couldn’t take it without first feeling the need to say to my husband (through many tears) “I didn’t fail”, to which he responded as being my biggest cheerleader and telling me what an amazing job I had done so far; something I really needed to hear. I felt I needed to say that as leading up to the birth I had been surrounded by so much negative talk around how epidurals are unnatural, how a medicated birth is “less” and as the mother if you have an epidural you don’t get to feel the labour… which is a bad thing.

After the epidural started to work it’s magic, I was so exhausted from the previous 16 hours and no sleep that I instantly fell asleep and got some rest. Amelie started to get ready to make her debut around midnight on the 5th March and 2 hours later of constant pushing, she arrived happy and healthy on March 6 at 2am, but not without some communication breakdowns:

  • The midwife and doctor decided to use a vacuum without having a conversation with me or Remi, which lead to a bit of a traumatic experience of us wondering “what is happening” and “what is that” and “what’s wrong” which took us a couple of days to recover from.
  • After Amélie arrived, it was 5am before I got to my hospital room. Some time during the night / morning Amélie woke crying and the midwives had told me to ring the bell if I needed anything. After just giving birth and moving into my second day of no sleep I didn’t have the strength to pull myself up out of bed, reach across, lift her up and bring her out of her little crib. So I called the bell and asked for some help and also asked what they thought I should do to calm her.
  • I will never forget this moment, it was like it was out of a horror movie. I was so tired I felt delusional, one of the night nurses came in with awful teeth, wretched breath and unkept grey frizzy hair. It was dark, so I could only make out parts of her face (teeth and hair making the biggest impression). She leaned in so close to me it felt like our noses were touching, her face was right in my face, and she said, spitting through her teeth onto my face while talking in a thick, slow, German accent “we don’t know what the babies need either”. I was so confused and tired, I thought I was dreaming. Until she continued to say (while continuing to spit on my face) “We just try different things, just like you need to try different things”. In hindsight, she wasn’t wrong, but it really wasn’t what I needed to hear at the time. I felt abandoned and alone and like I had to figure it out by myself. There was nothing comforting about her words, there was no empathy in her delivery, it was just awful. Then she took Amélie away and I fell back to sleep.
  • My sleep didn’t last long, as I had been put in a room with a lady who had just delivered an ENROMOUS baby boy via c-section. All night nurses were walking in, straight past me, over to the lady next to me. In the morning, when I was wondering where my baby was, they kept just walking past me, almost ignoring me. We had the busiest room on the floor, this lady was getting so much care and attention, and no one stopped to ask me how I was doing or if I needed anything.
  • I didn’t get a wink of sleep as it felt like the lady was taking lead in a 16 piece brass band orchestra she was snoring so incredibly loud. I rang the bell to see if I could be moved to another room, or back to the birthing room (which I knew was empty) so I could get some rest. I asked the night nurses twice, and twice they said no. I asked if they could hear the snoring through the closed door in the corridor, and they said of course they could hear her snoring, she was incredibly loud, they’ve never heard anyone so loud before.
  • So after an incredibly long morning, with no sleep, I was trying to find someone who spoke English to ask where my baby had gone and I also wanted to know if it was okay to use the bathroom.
  • Someone finally entered the room who spoke broken English, so I asked: “Is it okay if I use the bathroom?” The lady replied, “It looks free.” And I said, “There’s nothing I need to do? All okay?” And her response was, “I don’t know, I’m the baby photographer.”
  • I don’t know if anyone reading this has been in this position, but looking for someone who speaks English while you’re recovering from labour just to ask if it’s okay to use the bathroom puts you in an incredibly helpless situation and you just feel so alone.
  • So I got up, and used the bathroom. When I returned, a nurse came in and threw x2 bread rolls across my table. I assumed it was breakfast, but I wasn’t hungry. I fell back asleep as the mum who had delivered her baby via C-section was finally awake and had stopped snoring.
  • When I woke, around 10am, one of the nurses finally came into the room to see me, and not the lady next to me. The first thing she said was, “Your baby fed well.” Being incredibly confused, I asked, “My baby?” she said “Yes” I asked, “How?” She replied, “with a little bit of formula in the bottle” and then left.
  • Again, just “waking up” after the second night of almost no sleep, it was like I was in a daze. I called Remi and told him I had to change rooms and get better care ASAP. I told him I think they fed her formula without asking me and I haven’t seen Amélie this morning because I can’t find anyone who speaks english and no one is coming in to check on me.
  • Remi arrived at the hospital within 5 minutes and sorted everyone out, in Swiss-German, very quickly. They moved me to a private room and the care instantly got better. It still wasn’t great, but it was better.
  • The most overwhelming and confusing part of being a new mother for me, was breastfeeding. And this is where the hospital care really did a number on me. I had never heard of a “lactation consultant” before, but I was being visited daily, at least 5 times / day with a different “lactation consultant” ALL giving VERY different advice, all in hindsight, not really knowing what they were doing or saying. I can’t tell you how confused it made me, to hear contradictory advice in broken english, multiple times a day, across the entire length of my hospital stay. Still, 7 weeks on, I am filled with anxiety just thinking about that part of the experience. Looking back, everyone was an expert, but no one knew what they were doing.

The birthing process (for the most part) was very good, all the doctors and nurses felt competent (aside from not recognizing back labour) and made me feel like they were well trained medical staff. It was just the piece around the vacuum where communication failed, and failed big time. The after-care birth however, was really quite awful. It felt like there was a different caliber of night-nurses, night staff and midwifes scheduled for after-care VS the staff who had helped me through the birth, and the communication gaps were free-flowing.

We are home and 7 weeks into Amélie’s life together, and the communication gaps have now been replaced with free-flowing unsolicited advice and opinions on what is best for Amélie. Here are some things that have been said to me (sometimes repeatedly), that are incredibly unhelpful and backwards; broken down by gender:


  • You have to breastfeed.
  • It’s better for the baby if you breastfeed, why wouldn’t you?
  • Epidurals are unnatural.
  • You should give birth the natural way.


  • Upon seeing Amélie with a bottle: is that mother’s milk?
  • Breastfeeding is so easy, just breastfeed.
  • Breastfeed as long as you can, it’s so easy.

Please, if you’re reading this and you know someone who has just had a baby and feel one of these questions or comments coming on; just don’t. Unless you are the mother of the child, just assume that this information is off limits to you. It’s really, truly, none of your business.

I don’t know if it’s a reflection of the country yet, as I’m watching what’s going on in America with abortion rights and I can see so many similarities between Republican America and Conservative Switzerland. I think the difference is that I was so lucky to live in my forward-thinking, blue bubble of NYC, I didn’t have to deal with any of this absolute rubbish on a regular, multiple-times / day basis. I’m so grateful mum & dad raised me to be strong and independent; otherwise this would have been a totally soul-crushing and identity-destroying experience. Luckily, 7 weeks in, Amélie, mum & dad are all having an incredibly wonderful and joyful time together.

So i’ll end on this note: please be kind to new mamma’s out there. If we want your opinion, we will ask.

Baby mamma’s: you’re doing an amazing job, keep going.

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