Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Dear Readers,
I am moving my blog to I've been using tumblr a little while privately and it integrates better with other services and devices I use and it's easier than Blogger for sharing things I'm interested in. This blog will remain up for now for my own archival purposes.

You can also follow Dexter's exploits at


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Motherhood in the Fatherland

I totally stole the title of this post. Motherhood in the Fatherland was a column chronicling the cultural quirks of having a baby in Germany, written by Sabine, a Canadian also living here in Berlin who Tiffany met through other Canadians, and who it turns out is also the wife of a colleague of Sebastian's.

While I've long since ceased to be a German health care noob, I've never had a baby here (duh) or known that many people who have. Sabine's column had me laughing in agreement or provided useful maternity tips.

As an expecting mother I can choose to be seen by a midwife, an OB/GYN (a Frauenarzt) or a combination of the two. If I choose to have a midwife do all prenatal checkups I would still have seen a doctor for the three prescribed ultrasounds as well as a few other tests. I chose to see a midwife and my doctor in rotation.

The first midwife I interviewed asked if my gynecologist was from the east or the west. I live in the former East Berlin and there is apparently still an east/west medical divide, with older East German doctors being less open to working with midwives. I don't know how true this is, but my doctor is in the west and was completely supportive of working with a midwife.

I've been with my OB/GYN for 6 years now. Before staying with this doctor, who I see at least yearly, I saw two or three others. Here, it's typical to see your Frauenarzt instead of your GP for your yearly check-up. I like my Frauenärztin, she's professional, reassuring and practical. And yes, German gynecologists talk a lot during exams, some typical questions during pelvic exams:"is work stressful, what sort of contraception do you use". Also, no curtains or gowns.

Throughout my pregnancy I've received no dire warnings or strange restrictions from her or the midwife that made me doubt the quality or currentness of care.

German health insurance covers a wide range of midwife services: prenatal check-ups, a prenatal course, at-home postpartum check-ups, daily and then tapering off, as well as breast feeding consultations, and finally a Rückbildung course for getting your abdomen, uterus and pelvic floor back into shape. You are free to choose a midwife for any or all of these services. Midwives offer a wide range of services not covered by health insurance, such as baby massage courses, weening consultations and acupuncture. Acupuncture said to help ease and reduce the length of labour is very popular.

Sebastian and I attended a partner birthing course in our neighbourhood held by a local midwife. It was very informative, with detailed information about labour and birth, your pain control options, hospital processes, when to go to the hospital, other practical tips and included a special 10min dramatic enactment of escalating labour pains. Mostly it provided reassurance that birth is normal.

Women are free to choose to deliver at a hospital, a birthing house or at home. For the latter two, you need to be having an uncomplicated pregnancy and get your doctor's ok. Labour and birth are always attended by a midwife, even at the hospital and even if a doctor needs to be called for any complications, and not necessarily by the person who has been doing your prenatal care.  Nevertheless, the rate of C-sections in Germany is still going up. Birthing houses have been closing and the number of midwives doing home births has been going down, supposedly due to the increased cost of insurance. I haven't investigated the causes thoroughly.

Despite being attracted to the idea of a home birth, we've chosen to go to a local hospital where the whole range of maternity and neo-natal care is offered. Early on we heard about and decided to engage a Beleghebamme, a freelance midwife with a contract at a hospital for deliveries. The Beleghebamme does my prenatal and postpartum care as well as delivering me at the hospital. We pay an extra fee to have the midwife on-call for the last trimester. The midwife is specifically at the hospital for us, does not have to care for multiple women at time unlike the midwives on-call and we won't have to go through a shift change. We've had a good response from doctors (including the east-trained doctor who did our prenatal screening, belying the rumour) and other midwives when they've asked after our birth plans.

My midwife, like my doctor, is reassuring and practical and I feel in good hands.

Now, with my due date only days away, I wait.

A selection of Motherhood in the Fatherland articles:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pre-baby Laundry

Monday, November 26, 2012


You know you want one for your next party:

The Mett-Hedgehog

Or maybe you'd prefer Kermett or some Christmas Hack-Plätzchen. Unsurprisingly the Mettigel was popular in the 70s.

Full disclosure: I like Mett. With onions and pickles on a bun. I'll have to wait until February before I can enjoy my next Mettbrötchen.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Week 29

Bump Photo Shoot
by Sebastian

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Women in Tech

A short little article  about women in the start-up and technology scene in Berlin was published yesterday in the International Herald Tribune.

Like many of my peers, I've experienced various subtle and occasionally less subtle sexism as a woman in engineering and technology over the years. One memorable moment being when a visiting parent at the U of T stated that I must have gotten my summer research position because I was "easy on the eyes." Happily between 1994 and now, I've gotten more mature at handling any issues and in my environment it seems that attitudes are always changing for the better. This doesn't meant I don't think there is room for improvement.

Like the use of "girls" in some contexts.

Next up, seeing if I can think and write rationally about the use of colour in marketing to girls.

Sunday, September 02, 2012


I hate the Leergut-Automat. Or, I hate using the Leergut-Automat. The principle is alright. It's a reverse vending machine at the grocery store where you return your glass and plastic bottles and get your deposit ("Pfand" in German) back.

Put your bottle into the machine. It gets scanned. The deposit is calculated and your bottle is whisked away to be presumably recycled. Put the next bottle in. When you're done, press the big button and get a receipt which you can use as cash at the grocery store where you just returned the bottles.

Sometimes you have to put a bottle in twice if it doesn't scan the first time. Sometimes the bottle is rejected because maybe that machine doesn't take that brand. If you put the bottle in backwards a loud alarm sounds. If the machine is full, an alarm sounds, and a not-so-friendly clerk has to come and clear the machine. There is almost always a queue. Sometimes you have more than five bottles. And most especially, almost always the people in line behind you are impatient. The little hut or room where the machine is located is also the land of beer drinkers and beer bottles and it stinks.

I hate using the Leergut-Automat. It's... stressful.