Expat Life: Having a Baby in Turkey

It’s amazing how things can change in just a few short years. Three years ago, I accepted a job in Turkey. Six months later I met my husband, and a year after that we were honeymooning in Rome. Today, I am at a cafe, one block from my home in Istanbul, drinking coffee and catching up on emails. This is especially delightful for me because it is one of the few times in the six months since my baby was born that I am alone. I am living my past, pre-baby life, if only for an hour. But, honestly, who am I kidding? That life is gone forever. When I was younger, I did think I would get married and maybe even have a child, but I never day dreamed over the details. Single at 35, I figured that I may be heading in a slightly less conventional direction. I certainly never pictured myself as a ‘yabanci gelin’ or ‘foreign bride.’ I never pictured a life in Turkey.

The first thing I did after accepting a job in Turkey was google “Country of Turkey.” I had only the vaguest ideas about the place. What language do they speak? Is it a secular country? Is it a ‘first world’ country? Is it safe? The answers are not always so clear cut and, indeed, have shifted even in my short time here.

Expat Life: Having a Baby in Turkey
Kaya & I

Getting pregnant opened up a whole new field of research for me. Many well-to-do Turks go abroad, many to the US, to have their babies. They do this for the Passport and not because the care is better or more advanced. In fact, both Turkey and the US have similar ideas about childbirth and share some of the highest C-section rates in the world. Practical differences in Turkey include access to affordable healthcare, maternity leave, “milk pay” and other baby benefits undreamed of in the States. Of course, there are some cultural differences, many private hospitals in Turkey include hairdressers and photographers as part of your birthing suite package. Accommodations for relatives and extended family are available, as they are expected to parade through the hospital during labor and childbirth. As a US citizen, my baby will not need to be born in the US to get an American passport. As a American citizen, I can apply at the embassy with a certificate of foreign birth. Many Turks seemed surprised that I chose to have my baby here, in Istanbul. Besides the expense, the inconvenience of it made it a non option for us. I wanted to take our baby from the hospital to our home. Not on a 12 hour flight back to Turkey.

When I was 4 months pregnant we took a trip to see my in-laws. My mother and sisters-in-law shared their birth stories with me. My mother-in-law has 8 children, all born in the East of Turkey in Diyarbakır. My husband, her last, was the only one born in a clinic. At over 4 kilos, and breech, it’s no wonder she decided to stop there. The baby of this big beautiful family, my husband wants a lot of kids. But, I remind him, we’re getting a late start and we have agreed to take it one baby at a time.

The summer of my pregnancy was hot and full of political drama here in Turkey. Our little hot box of an apartment near Taksim Square gave us a front row seat to the failed coup attempt. Nearby buildings were riddled with bullet holes and shattered glass from sonic booms. With just a little over a month to go, we moved across the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul. We found a new doctor and a hospital walking distance from our new home.

Expat Life: Having a Baby in Turkey
Pre-baby, with my husband and in-laws

I spent the first few days at our new place unpacking, washing baby clothes and napping in front of our glorious air conditioner. We knew our baby was on the small side so I was hoping to go late, maybe 41 or 42 weeks. One morning, not even two weeks after our move, at 38 weeks exactly, while assembling my new IKEA desk, my water broke. It was not like the movies. Thinking we had another two weeks at least, it was quite a surprise.

Our doctor said to meet her at the hospital. We took our time, I cleaned the kitchen and packed a bag while my husband finished the desk. I expected to be sent home until I was properly in labor, but we were admitted. For two days we waited for me to go into labor. We watched the Olympics in what we joked was our “expensive hotel with shitty food and no pool.” We ignored calls from our moms (how do they know?!) and generally laid low, hoping to avoid the crush of calls and visits. The risk of water breaking before labor is infection for the mother and or child. The accepted time frame before interventions maxes out around 48 hours. At the end of the second day things were finally happening. After 35 hours of waiting, blood draws and antibiotic shots, we were finally on a roll. At 11 PM on the second day I was in early labor when we decided to go to bed and rest up for the impending main event.

I turned off our mood music and blew out the candles. My husband and I got into bed feeling relaxed and ready. Seemingly even before my eyes closed an orderly barged in. Holding electric hair clippers she announced, in Turkish, that she was here to prep me for my C-section. I figured that she had the wrong room, I understood her just fine, but I was confused. The lights came on, the nurse came in and while my husband translated, it became clear that my doctor was on the way. My last blood test had shown a dramatic rise in my white blood cell count indicating the risk of infection was now high. Our doctor who literally wrote the book on “natural birth” was recommending a C-section. Even though I was in labor it could still be many hours until delivery. “We have waited as long as we can safely wait.” she explained, “The baby is not in distress, so now is the time.” Even though a C-section was not our “Plan A” we had discussed our wishes if that is how things turned out. It was an easy decision to take her advice, but the transition was a little overwhelming. The doctor left to prep for surgery and the nurse handed me a gown (I had been wearing my own clothes up until now). I got on the bed and suddenly, I felt like a patient, a sick person, not a pregnant lady. I cried for a second, but only a second as a big Turkish man with a big round belly and big broom mustache came in and lifted me onto what felt like a wooden slab. Naked except for my thin hospital gown, he wheeled me down the hall and we rode the elevator into the frigid, basement operating room. I could not understand a word he said – was this guy even speaking Turkish? He transferred me to the operating table – anesthesiologists, nurses and tech prep, were all business, speaking muffled Turkish to each other through their masks. No one talked to me. It was so bright. It was so cold. I missed our cuddly maternity suite. Just then my doula arrived in blue scrubs. She translated and talked me through the epidural. I was having contractions every few minutes, shivering uncontrollably and my teeth were chattering violently. “OK,” she said, “hold perfectly still. It’s very important.”

They threaded the epidural into my spine and I was going numb in no time. They strapped my arms down tightly to the table.  My doula said, ”Ok, I’m leaving now but your husband is coming, he’s dressed like me, but blonde.” This gave me a much needed laugh. I somehow knew what she meant. My husband, with his black hair and big black beard, came in all calm and cool in his yellow (blonde) scrubs. A few moments later our baby came out screaming, eyes wide open. It was amazing and surreal. I couldn’t see anything so I watched my husband watch our new baby. “Boy or girl?” he asked. “Erkek.” They said, in Turkish. A boy. After a quick clean-up they brought him over to me and put his cheek to mine. He stopped crying while I talked to him. “He recognizes your voice,” my husband said. They handed our tiny son to him and they left the room together.

Expat Life: Having a Baby in Turkey
My husband & Kaya

Now it’s just me again, and the workers. The techs were cleaning up and I could feel my body getting jerked around. The nurse told me in her best-effort English that they were cleaning my body. I was suddenly profoundly lonely. The big guy came back in, draped me with a sheet and wheeled me into the basement hallway. He left me there alone for a few minutes. Numb from the chest down, on my wooden slab. I could see into the operating room where they were removing bloody sheets and instruments, and chatting to each other. I didn’t understand one word. For a moment it felt like a sci-fi horror movie where I had been abducted by aliens, paralyzed and experimented on. “It’s over,” I told myself, “the worst is over.”

It was the last time in 6 months that I have felt alone and to be sure, I will never be truly alone again. Because even for one hour, in a coffee shop, 15 meters from my front door, I can’t stop thinking about him, my son. What is he doing? Is everything alright with him? Is he cold, hot, hungry? Does he miss me?

My son is a Kurdish, Turkish, American. He is adorable and at 6.5 months he can say “mom” in 2 languages.

I have written more about my son’s US passport, the coup attempt and other commonly asked questions about Turkey on my blog: http://latinforhoney.blogspot.com.tr/

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Missy Weimer
Missy is a artist and writer, born and raised in Chicago. She moved to San Francisco for graduate school and eventually made her way to Los Angeles. Currently living in Istanbul, she is making artwork (http://missyweimer.com) and writing about Turkey at latinforhoney.blogspot.com.tr.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Your little one is so cute and that picture of him with your husband is adorable. Congratulations! Having been through this experience, would you do it again? Would you go to the US (or elsewhere, instead)? Your description made it sound incredibly dehumanizing. It certainly made me think twice about having a baby here – but I don’t have another country to compare to.

  2. Reading this was quite the roller coaster ride. At some point I must have cried because my cheeks are wet. The ride down and time in the basement really got me. Your entire family, in-laws included are adorable.
    Gonna nap to recover.
    Wish you much happiness. Gonna nap to recover.

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