This European country has recently changed its approach to childbirth, according to Tulin Sevil, who comes from the capital city of Ankara. As recently as 20 or 30 years ago, midwives supervised most of the births in Turkey, especially in rural areas. Doctors were in short supply and most tended to practice in metropolitan areas, such as Ankara and Istanbul. But as more university medical schools were founded and the number of doctors increased, care shifted away from midwives in favor of ob-gyns.
The shift toward doctors has also brought about a growing preference for elective c-sections among Turkish women. In a recent survey, overall c-section rates for private hospitals in Turkey were nearing a staggering 75 percent, according to Kybele, a U.S. nonprofit group that promotes safe childbirth practices in developing countries. One reason for this trend, according to Kybele, is that only a few Turkish anesthesiologists have specialized training in obstetric anesthesia. Many women know they will not have the option of an epidural, so they instead opt for a c-section with general anesthetic. Kybele reports that this use of general anesthesia may be a contributing factor in Turkey's having one of the highest maternal mortality rates in Europe. Kybele coordinates programs to train doctors in administering epidurals (the group maintains a database of U.S. doctors willing to go to Turkey to share their knowledge); the doctors then teach their fellow physicians. Turkey has been very receptive to the program, so the hope is that epidurals will be more widely administered in the future.
Local customs: Unlike in the U.S., baby showers are not given in Turkey -- all celebration is postponed until after the baby is born. According to Ahu Terzi, who emigrated from Turkey to New York City, mother and baby stay home for the first 20 days after the birth. Friends drop by and drink a special beverage called lohusa serbeti. After this period, the mother and child make return visits to gift-givers' homes, where they receive a handkerchief filled with a single egg (for a healthy baby) and candy (for a good-natured baby). They also rub flour on the baby's eyebrows and hairline, which is supposed to grant him a long life.
Women in the U.S. know they are fortunate to have access to arguably the best medical care in the world. After my very positive birthing experience in the Netherlands and hearing stories of other people's births, I realize we Americans have much to learn, as well as much to be thankful for. Now that we've moved from Holland back to Texas, I'm wondering how I'm ever going to survive the next time without my kraamhulp nurse!
Lara Schalken lives with her husband and son, Bram, in Frisco, Texas.
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