Expat Essentials

Having a baby in Berlin, Pt. 2: Learning German whilst pregnant so we’re not ‘those expats’

(Editor’s note: This is the second installment in the “Having a baby in Berlin” series. You can see Part. 1 here.)

Deutsch lernen, während schwanger (Learning German whilst pregnant)

LAURA KAYE SAVOURS HER ALCOHOL-FREE ERDINGER. GERMANY HAS NO SHORTAGE OF ALCOHOL-FREE BEERS FROM WHICH EXPECTANT MUMS CAN CHOOSE.

Two months after arriving in Berlin, we had managed the impossible: found and secured an apartment and registered as residents, all without being able to say more than a few words auf Deutsch.

(Only Berliners will truly know what an accomplishment this is.)

Go us!

But at this point, I decided that we were not going to be “those expats.” You know, the ones who live in a country for years without learning the language.

So I took the plunge and enrolled in an intensive German course.

What a great way to use this precious time I had before our new family member arrived. I would be fluent before the baby was born!

At 13-weeks pregnant, I turned up for my first day of classes (relatively) bright eyed and bushy tailed. I tried to ignore the fact that everyone else in the room was about five-to-10 years younger than I, and apparently here on some kind of student exchange or gap year stopover.

And I wasn’t going to let the mild nausea or the relentless feeling that I needed a power nap every two hours stand in the way of my new-found love of language learning. I would be speaking like a local in no time! Well, as it turns out, learning German whilst pregnant is no easy feat.

To be fair, it’s no easy feat at any time. But the idea of tackling German compound nouns and navigating German grammar whilst actively growing a tiny human is enough to give anyone morning sickness.

How are there so many ways to say “the?”? What on earth do you mean by the “accusative case?” And what the hell is a Geburtsvorbereitungskurs? (For those playing along at home, that’s a “birth preparation course.” Don’t worry, it’s not likely to come up in your A1 German class).

I quickly learned that trying to decode or retain any new information whilst pregnant was like attempting to collect water in a sieve.

Urgghhh! I finished the course and promised myself that I would come back to enroll  for the next level after a “short break” (read: never).

My pregnancy has since become a walking, talking 3-year-old … and I’m ashamed to say that we have most definitely turned out to be “those expats.”

There’s no place like home

So in all the time we’d been living away from the UK, I’d never really experienced true homesickness before. I mean, there would be little things I’d miss (tea and proper cheddar cheese featured prominently), but it wasn’t usually something that a care package from home and a Skype chat with family couldn’t fix.

However, there’s something about being pregnant and raising kids in a foreign land that really makes you realise just how far away from home you are.

My pregnancy cravings largely consisted of: anything and everything that was not available to buy in Berlin. And all those things that are new and complicated about pregnancy, birth and parenthood in general were massively amplified here.

“Anyone know where I can find prenatal yoga and a HypnoBirthing course in English in Berlin please?”

We found ourselves really missing family, friends, and just how easy everything is when you’re in a place where you know people and understand how everything works.

I worried that our baby would be born so far away from family, something we still find difficult.

I wondered how much time our parents would get to spend with our kids. And I also wondered how the hell we were going to do any of this without their help.

As everybody knows, having a baby is tough at the best of times!

But in our case, there would be no one to drop by in the first few days with a homemade meal to feed hungry, sleep-deprived parents who hadn’t found the time or energy to cook.

And there would be no grandparents, aunts or uncles to step in as babysitters to give us a chance to get a couple of hours’ sleep.

As the due date loomed, and I became increasingly exhausted, I started to question whether we could do this without our “village.”

Luckily for us, we were in Germany, a country that has a whole system designed to make things easier for new parents … if you can figure out how to navigate it!

Next time in Part 3:

Benefits and Bureaucracy, and a Berliner is born!

Resources for parents and parents-to-be in Berlin:

Supermamas Berlin is a volunteer network of mothers helping out other mothers who just gave birth by providing freshly cooked meals and a little chat.

• A useful list of German vocabulary for pregnancy, birth, and getting ready for baby. From the blog, ‘In Berlin, Baby’

A guide to having a baby in Berlin. From the very useful blog, ‘Berlin for all the Family’

• Another great guide to prenatal care in Berlin from, ‘The German Way’

• An up-to-date guide to Elterngeld from “Maternita,” a maternity concierge and baby planner service that provides assistance, in multiple languages, to parents attempting to navigate the German system

• A guide to Kindergeld and how to claim it.

The expatbabies and expatkids Berlin Facebook communities. Both are very friendly and incredibly useful groups. There are also lots of subgroups for various neighbourhoods and particular interests that you can find links to within the groups. They mostly operate in English, but have expat members from all over the world

About the author:

Originally from the U.K., Laura Kaye currently lives with her family in Berlin. Having left the U.K. in 2009 to pursue a career in the humanitarian and development sector, she has since lived and worked in multiple countries across three continents. Laura moved with her husband in 2014 and is currently taking a career break to raise their 3-year-old son.

More posts by Laura Kaye

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