16 June 2016

Speaking Czech in the maternity ward

My plans for my pre-baby maternity leave consisted of:
1. Organise the house.
2. Vastly improve my Czech so that I could calmly chat with the midwives whilst giving birth.

The Czech textbooks (yes, all three of them) were dutifully located and dusted off, but I spent about as much studying as I did organising, which was significantly dwarfed by the time spent wobbling from the sofa to the toilet, faffing with my collection of pillows, and eating antacids like (very subpar) bonbons.

I wasn't so concerned about actually giving birth. First of all, L was almost certainly going to be there. And secondly, the baby was coming out one way or another, regardless of my language skills. As it turned out (as mentioned in the previous post), the amount of vocabulary necessary to actually give birth was pretty much limited to some heart-felt moans and ‘HE’S COMING!’ from me.

However, my big concern was how comfortable it would be with my Czech for the pretty much mandated post-birth hospital stay. One big difference between the UK and Czech approaches to maternity care is that while the UK system is very eager to turf out new mothers at the earliest opportunity (or, even better! Just stay in your living room – we’ll come to you!), the Czech system is pretty insistent that one shouldn’t even consider leaving the confines of the hospital for at least three nights. 

Since I have a very bouncy four-year-old and a half-organised house, I decided a few days of having my meals delivered to my bedside wasn’t such a bad idea.

Not only did I survive on my sloppy Czech, my time in the hospital noticeably improved my language skills. In the postpartum 'I am amazing, look what I did!' haze, I lost nearly all of my shyness about appearing foreign. While previously, I would see if I could ‘pass’ as Czech through well-timed head nodding and stringent reliance on the words I know how to pronounce properly, in the hospital, I found myself cheerily telling all-and-sundry, ‘Mluvím anglicky a trochu česky.’ [I speak English and a little Czech].

I cheerily butchered sentence after sentence about newborn care and the state of my delicate bits. I learned a few new vocabulary words, including the delightful pupeční šňůra (umbilical cord). I tried to listen in on my roommate’s late night telephone conversations (which, if I understood correctly, detailed the process of her giving birth in the hospital car park!).

The first nurse I talked with following the birth set my expectations for the rest of the stay rather low when she turned to my roommate and tutted that it was so terrible with these women who don’t speak Czech. I thought this was a little unfair considering I had understood and responded appropriately to all of her instructions about caring for the baby, myself, the room, the bed and had only stumbled on filling in a form regarding permissions for a variety of procedures.

However, most of the other staff were lovely and patient. A student doctor and a very nice paediatrician both spoke very good English and helpfully translated whenever I was unsure about what people wanted to do to me or my baby.

Things were going so well that I even decided to ask for help with breastfeeding my sleepy newborn, and confessed to the paediatric nurse on her rounds that I wasn’t sure what to do since he didn’t seem to want to feed. The nurse told me I was clever, patted my shoulder reassuringly, checked my latched, told me not to worry – he was probably just sleepy – and to try again later. As she was finishing up her paperwork, she gave me another pep talk about my cleverness and more reassuring pats.

I was a little befuddled as to why she was being so terribly nice when I realised that instead of saying he didn’t want to feed (nechce kojit), I had said that I didn’t want to feed (nechci kojit).

So, bonus points to Nemocnice Hořovice for being breastfeeding-friendly.

My new plan for maternity leave post baby is to vastly improve my simple verb conjugations.