Friday, March 25, 2011

Guest Post: Giving Birth in Serbia!

Greetings, dear readers! Has anyone else noticed that I have been a very bad blogger recently? Yes, I've been in one of my non-productive blogging slumps - hopefully to be resolved soon!

However! In my mental absence I have something wonderful to share with you all - a guest post by a wonderful sister birth-blogger of mine - Olivia over at Write About Birth, which I am delighted to share! (And when you visit her blog, check out her latest entry with the pics of placentas from early-clamped v. late-clamped cords, and you'll see why I am 100% for delayed cord-clamping! Wow!)

And so, without further ado, here is Olivia writing about birth in Serbia. Thank you, Olivia!


Giving birth in Serbia

Having lived in the Netherlands for a while, homebirth was always something I considered to be normal. I have to admit to not having given birth and the issues surrounding it much thought before I actually became pregnant – even while I was trying to conceive my daughter. Then, pregnant and living in Serbia, I realized that I simply assumed that I would give birth at home in the absence of any medical indications that would prohibit this. I spent months looking for a homebirth midwife, and eventually found her. There is one, in the whole country, and I was lucky to find her. In the process, I learned a lot about the maternity “care”
system in Serbia, and resolved never to see the inside of a hospital unless there was absolutely no other way.

Medical birth advocates in the United States often wonder what “the natural birth crowd” is complaining about – after all, we are no longer stuck in the dark age of twilight sleep and a total lack of both choices and respect for laboring mothers. We no longer need to opt out of the system and turn to desperate measures such as giving birth at home. While I don’t think the maternity care system is perfect back in the States, and would give birth at home all the same over there, that dark age does continue to exist today, in Serbia and many countries like it.

Imagine joining the conveyor belt of laboring women to participate in the bureaucratic and inhumane process that is birth in Serbia. Admit your extensive paperwork of prenatal appointments, blood tests, and insurance documents to the shouting nurse while having contractions, and being scolded because the doctor at your local “health house” (the communist equivalent of a family practice clinic) wrote something down the wrong way. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to say goodbye to your husband before having your pubic hair shaved with the same razor all the other women at the hospital already met before you, and receiving an enema. “Make sure not to ‘redecorate’ the walls with your shit, because we don’t want to clean it!”

A friend who gave birth twice in different Serbian hospitals asked about refusing some of the many routine interventions – pubic hair shaving, enema, pitocin augmentation for every single woman, artificial rupture of membranes, giving birth flat on your back, an episiotomy, and an active management of the third stage of labor. She was informed that it is much better not to protest, because “they” would force the interventions upon her anyway, and would treat her with even less respect than they would otherwise.

Hundreds of women shared their story’s of what giving birth in Serbia is like with an organization that campaigns to make hospitals more humane.

One woman who said no to vaginal exam number five within the hour was told they she should stop being hysterical if she did not want the doctors to give her a general anesthetic and a c-section. Some refused augmentation, and were reassured that their IV drip just contained glucose, only to notice the label later on – pitocin. Almost all were shouted at and degraded.

The most common comments were “you didn’t mind spreading your legs nine months ago, now shut up!”, “don’t be hysterical, you spoilt bitch! You’re not the only one giving birth, you know!”, and “If you don’t push your baby out right now, it will die and it will all be your fault!” (after five minutes of pushing).

Babies are routinely taken away for days on end, and only brought for breastfeeding “sessions” three or four times a day for 15 minutes – after they were already filled up with formula. Unless you opt for the baby friendly program, in which case you’ll be left to your own devices entirely, including having to clean the bathroom you share with six other women yourself, if you don’t want to bath in other women’s postpartum blood.

But nothing quite compares to the stories of women whose babies “died”, or “disappeared”. The one I remember most vividly is the story of a single mother, who was told that her son weighed 3.6 kilos and was healthy. She heard him cry. They took him away without her ever having seen him, and when her baby was not among those brought for a breastfeeding session when the others all got to see their babies, she asked where he was. “Oh, your daughter weighed less than 2 kilos and would never have made it. We cremated the body.”

Every single time I hears other mothers’ experiences, I am so thankful I gave birth at home. But the midwife who attended my daughter’s birth also used to work in a hospital, and was dyed by the wool. She, too, yelled at me while I was pushing, saying that I was putting my baby’s life at risk by not pushing her out in two pushes. She, too, attempted to cut an episiotomy, and applied fundal pressure (AKA as pushing on the abdomen to get the baby to come out). I gave birth to my son unassisted. It was a wonderful experience.

Serbian women and babies deserve to be treated with respect, just like anyone else. Unfortunately, the efforts of the campaign group I mentioned earlier have been largely fruitless. Television shows that include their members portray them as a bunch of hysterical women that talk about issues that do not matter to anyone else. Patient rights exist on paper, but not in practice – especially when there are no witnesses.

What can we do to help?


  1. oh my... this reminds me of my birth experience... not much is different here in my country too...

  2. My friend gave birth in India (in Shantinikitan) by c-section - because the Indian doctor was unable to insert his whole first into her vagina, and said that "his other patients were more roomy" so she should have a c-section. I hear you :).

  3. Olivia... I too had a c-sec because the doctor felt i was "not the type that could go through labor pain". I still feel bad that i was not able to give birth to my son vaginally. BTW, liked your blog. :)

  4. Thanks!

    Sorry to hear about your experience. What is the general attitude towards VBAC in India?

  5. I have spoken to a few people about VBAC, and for the common man or woman, it is 'once a c-sec, always a c-sec". I find that most of the gynec's are money minded and that is the reason why I hear almost nil vaginal births in my community. So, VBAC does not seem to be favored by the medical community either. But many mothers given a choice, would go in for a VBAC, including me...

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  7. I'm a Dutch American citizen living in Belgrade and was starting to despare of finding a natural childbirth solution in Serbia. My (Serbian) husband and I were seriously considering uprooting and moving to the Netherlands for two months around my due date. Then we found the hospital in Pancevo, which specializes in natural childbirth (they pride themselves in being the only hospital in Serbia with this approach).

    We visited their maternity ward, where we and a group of women/couples got the full tour plus a maternity class. Their approach is entirely aimed at ensuring maximum comfort and mobility for the woman and coaching her through labor and delivery (a lot of emphasis on different positions, movement, breathing, etc.). Husbands are encouraged to play an active role, as are doulas. They don't induce unless there is medical cause, and while epidurals are offered as an extra service, they oppose it as a general practice.

    The facilities are modern and clean (better also than the rest of the hospital). They don't have a website, but Dr Vladimir Vajs (Weiss), head of the maternity ward, speaks English and can be contacted at 063/247 212. We're very glad to have found them and have decided to stay in Serbia to have the baby.

  8. Wendy - I'm so glad to hear about that! And I'm glad that anyone reading this article now has that awesome info - thank you for sharing!!!

  9. I am a Brazilian who lives in Novi Sad, I'm 6 months pregnant, and extremely worried of what's gonna happen during my delivery. I have been in 'Betanija' twice, and did not like at all what I saw inside there. Also heard many women who's given birth there and they are not content. I am desperate in trying to find alternative solutions, to have good experience rather than a traumatic memory for the rest of my life. Wendy, I would love to know how your delivery went, how was your experience in Pancevo, and perhaps more women with more updates...
    Thank you all for sharing your experiences!


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