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What All Moms Deserve But Can't Have in the US

Prenatal care in the Netherlands is rather basic: Unless there is a reason for a doctor, you see only a midwife who, once every three to four weeks (one to two weeks as you reach the end), will take your temperature, listen to the baby's heartbeat and feel your belly.

I've now had three children in the Netherlands, but the first time around meant adapting to a very new system and letting go of previously held notions—my ideas of how pregnancy and birth are supposed to work. It was a constant learning curve.

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When I was about 15 weeks pregnant, my midwife asked me if I'd yet registered for a kraamverzorgster, which, admittedly, sounds at first like a demon who comes to steal your baby's soul.

But it just means "maternity nurse." My midwife explained that this nurse would come to my house for six hours a day for a week after my baby was born. This is what my health insurance would cover.

To be honest, it seemed like overkill. Six hours a day? To do what?, I wondered. Anything I need, I was told, including cleaning, cooking, shopping and taking care of any other children in the household—even walking your dog, if you have one.

Let that sink in.

The kraamverzorgster is a major player in your postnatal experience. If you deliver your baby at home, she's right there, at any hour, getting the baby's clothes and bed ready. If you have your baby in the hospital, she shows up at your door the next morning.

For your first pregnancy, your kraamverzorgster visits your home before your due date, to see what preparations you have in place and get a sense of any special needs you might have. You receive a checklist of must-haves, which we diligently followed.

For example, you have to rent special lifts that raise your bed a good foot and a half so the nurse can examine you, and you have to have special metal hot water bottles—kruiken, they are called—that you use to prewarm your baby's bed.

[S]he unpacked and, for several afternoons, she ironed every stitch of fabric we owned, including sheets and underwear.

It may sound a bit "big brother," but with our first baby, my husband and I were quite open to input. If anything, we were overly susceptible to anything we read or heard about as far as what you needed to care for a baby—in effect, how to keep your baby alive.

We had read that blankets, for example, were no longer safe for babies. When the kraamverzorgster came for her house visit and asked whether we had a blanket for our baby, we said no, because babies were suffocating in America. "But it will be cold," she said, after a long pause and proceeded to illustrate, with hand gestures, the layers of mattress, baby, blanket.

I'm pretty sure she kept a list of couples who need the most help and that we were on it.

The day I went into labor, we were actually moving to a different house—we had the nursery set up and our room, but the rest of the house was empty. When the nurse arrived, she took my temperature, gave me a quick exam and then brought me a cup of tea. But there was really no place for her to sit.

About two hours later, the movers arrived. I tried to get her to leave, explaining that while some cleaning was part of her job description (the nurse must scrub your kitchen and bathrooms each day), unpacking boxes was surely not. But she stayed, and she unpacked and, for several afternoons, she ironed every stitch of fabric we owned, including sheets and underwear.

At the start, I was a little uncomfortable. The first couple of mornings I made sure I was showered and dressed to greet her. But she reminded me that I was supposed to be resting, that my body had been through a heavy experience and needed to recover.

Each morning after that, I would wake to her standing above me, holding a bowl of fruit salad and a cup of tea and asking if I would like a piece of toast.

She would sit on my bed and chat while I fed my baby. With no sleep, a new baby and a body jacked up on happy hormones, I began to really warm up to her. But then she'd catch me off-guard, saying things that made sense for a nurse but not for the fairy godmother I perceived her to be.

"Tomorrow, your milk will come and you will feel depressed," she said once, pulling on her jacket. Another time, apropos of nothing, she told me, "Tomorrow, you will defecate."

When she told him how warm the bath water should be, she would watch as he delicately dipped a thermometer into the tub to make sure it was exactly right.

For my husband, who was 50 at the time and had probably never held or changed a baby, it was an amazing opportunity to build his confidence and make him feel a master of baby changing, bathing and dressing. It was like postnatal care for the whole family.

He treated our week with the kraamverzorgster like a private course in how not only to care for a baby but how to do so in your own home, using your own equipment and resources.

The nurse was exceptionally patient with him. When she told him how warm the bath water should be, she would watch as he delicately dipped a thermometer into the tub to make sure it was exactly right.

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By her last day, I felt rested, confident and ready for her to go, actually. We proudly exited the house for our first family outing, pretty sure we had this parenting thing in the bag.

Some people find the concept intrusive or even condescending, but for us it was a godsend. And totally worth getting pregnant two more times—just to have fruit salad in bed.

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Image by Tracy Brown Hamilton

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