Hello to all (I hope I am not talking to myself),
I have to say: living abroad has never been easy. I have lived in four different countries all over the world, and while they have always been amazing experiences (except for *cough, cough* Thailand), but that is not the story I am telling in this specific blog. However, as much as I have loved getting to see other places and witness how people all over the world live, I think deciding to have a baby here in Hungary may have been one of the most stupid things I have ever done in my life; which is saying a lot because boy! have I done some stupid shit. I am sure some of you may be asking yourselves how I could feel this way. I come from the United States, a country notorious for having horrible medical care while at the same time costing so much, you may be forced to sell your baby just to pay for their birth. Notoriety aside, this is very true, and I do not dispute this fact at all. The United States healthcare system is absolute garbage. That being said, living in a foreign country with a public healthcare system that its own citizens bitch about is no picnic either.
I am lucky enough to have health insurance in Hungary, as I am a private business owner and pay taxes to the government to be able to have a pension and health care. Alas, the system here is so convoluted that I have avoided visiting any doctor, and therefore have not been to see a physician in the two years I have been here. I have been sick, don't get me wrong, but I would have to be on my deathbed to try and navigate the confusing system that is public healthcare. For one, you are assigned a doctor by your district, but you are never given the names of these doctors, nor are you even told how to find them. Apparently, this is just ingrained into Hungarians from birth so they are not as confused by the process, (unlike the ex-pats who live here, constantly posting things to Facebook groups and begging someone to help them make sense of the whole confusing mess).
When I got pregnant, I still refused to find an OBGYN, because after contacting several I was given the runaround about which of the doctors were covered under public health insurance. Many of them, while they do work in public hospitals, run their own private clinics because otherwise they would be paid almost zero. It was here I also learned that it is customary to tip public physicians. When my friend told me this, I literally did a spit take. I could not comprehend it! Like, yes: tipping your server or the stripper at your bachelor party, I get. But tipping a medical professional? Is it just me, or does this seem totally unethical and also a little bit shady? Like, thanks for the checkup, Doc, here’s a 50. Go buy yourself something nice. What kind of sideshow was running here?
And it doesn't end there. Not only do you have to get a doctor here, but you also have to have something referred to as a vedono (they are kind of like a midwife in the U.S.), then they make you see other doctors in between regular appointments for “special testing.” My Hungarian friend here who is also pregnant chose to stay the public route. She has complained to me multiple times that she has basically only seen her doctor twice the whole time she has been pregnant. When she goes for her exams, the results of her tests are never explained to her—she is simply passed from one physician to the next without being told a thing. She is constantly worried and panicked about the baby and feels utterly lost.
I am not thrilled to be paying out of pocket for these services, but I feel it was the right move. There are so many odd things about the system though for me, such as having all of these tests that seem almost unnecessary. I have had to have two genetic ultrasounds already and according to my OBGYN, I need one more at around 30 weeks. It can be reassuring for someone with anxiety (like me) to be able to see the baby with such clarity and have someone go over every little detail about the development, from his heart to his spine and everything in between. While my heart is comforted, my wallet is not, as I am going a little more broke every time the doctor orders another test. I go to the office holding my breath, praying that they just tell me everything is fine and they won't need to see me again for several weeks. These prayers are never answered though. From an EKG to seeing a dentist to getting constantly pricked and prodded for blood tests, each and every visit I am ordered to do something else that will drain me of my hard-earned cash. My parents have said it is preparing me for life with a baby, as I will never have any discretionary income after feeding, clothing, and entertaining him.
Even though I am paying for private health care, I still have to go to a vedono to qualify for my maternity leave and pay. Those visits are a bit of a nightmare. First off, I made the decision to hire a doula who could act as a translator throughout the pregnancy and birth. In fact, she was the one who helped me wade through the confusing process of the medical system here, and the one who found my vedono for me and contacted her. I am one of the lucky ones who has a vedono who speaks enough English that I can converse with her a bit. Some women have said that, although their doctor's appointments have been less than satisfactory, the visits with their vedonos were invaluable. Sadly, this has not been the case for me—visits with my vendono usually leave me completely bemused, unaware of what is required of me. I have a pregnancy booklet that is supposed to be filled out during each appointment, capturing the important information concerning the baby. It is in Hungarian, and so I don’t know where things should be written, or what the doctors are supposed to even write! I get blank stares when I hand them the booklet, unable to give instructions or point to important details, as I have not been given any info either. I am as lost as them! It definitely does little to reassure soon-to-be mothers who are usually panicked about every visit anyways.
Don’t even get me started on the idea of actually giving birth here. Living in Hungary, I have the added bonus of westernized medicine not being readily available. I mean, it is not a third-world country by any means, but hospitals are equipped as though they were built over a hundred years ago. I have also heard that access to things like epidurals is almost nonexistent—they are not as regularly practiced here. I am sorry. I am all for the heroic women who want to endure a natural birth and grin and bear through the pain so they can have conquered labor. These women are my goddamn heroes! And I do not want to be one of them! I am for being pumped up with every drug known to man and having the easiest labor I can have. In fact, if I could just get punched in the face and wake up with them handing me the baby hours later, I would not only accept this but I would be overjoyed.
I am just not built for pain in that way, but a shot, I can handle. 15 to 30 hours of intense pain followed by pushing something the size of a watermelon out of my hole that is the size of a lemon just does not sound humane. Please do not bother shaming me here, as I feel absolutely no guilt about this choice. My doula has tried to offer me books on breathing techniques and meditation to help with the labor, and I laughed hysterically. I do not participate in meditation, and the one time I went to a yoga class, the breathing portion led me into a hyper-aware state that ended in a panic attack. Also, the hospitals here (because they are public) have socialized medicine, which means that people share rooms, and not always with just one other person either. I have read that, in some places, they put up to seven women in one room together. Now, this sounds like some sort of awful social experiment to me. Let’s put seven, sleep-deprived women, who have just given birth, in one room together. They can have visitors, who will get to see each of them struggle to figure out this new wiggling human being with them, as each baby refuses to latch onto their breast. They can cry together with their raging hormones, and compound their sleep deprivation as the seven adults, seven crying newborns, and various visitors cram in.
I am probably one of the most anti-social people you would ever meet. I do not like to interact every second of the day, even with family and good friends. I am definitely not someone who likes to talk with strangers when forced into a room together. I am also not even going to process the fact that with Covid, the measures in the hospital will be stricter and I may have to go through labor wearing a mask for hours, all the while being scared that I will be infected while in the hospital. Obviously, that would be an issue no matter the country I was in.
Had I thought this decision over a little bit more, maybe I would have made a different decision regarding my pregnancy care and giving birth. That being said, so far nothing disastrous has taken place; so really, it will all be dependent on the birth of my baby in August. Wish me luck and stay tuned for updates regarding my life in Hungary and my impending journey into motherhood.
Signing off until next time,
The Mental Millennial Mom