Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Part 3: All you need to know when pregnant in the land of windmills, bikes, dikes and tulips

This is part three of my article on All you need to know when pregnant here in the Netherlands. I hope that the tips I shared can be of great assistance to those who are pregnant and an eye-opener for those planning on getting pregnant and giving birth here in the land of windmills, bikes, dikes and tulips.

I could say that after visiting a couple of Filipina friends who have given birth here in the Netherlands, I am now to some extent familiar to the Dutch birth traditions. Below are three most common practices that you need to know and prepare na de bevalling (after giving birth), the typical Dutch way. Too bad I didn’t know these when Milos was born.

Birth cards are sent to family and friends to announce the birth of the baby. Essential information like height and weight and the time of delivery are written in the card. Please take not that here in the Netherlands centimeters and grams are used in reference to height and weight in contrast with the use of inches and pounds. It is also written in the geboortekaart the parents’ contact numbers and the home address for making visitation appointments and yes you just cannot go to the house to visit the family unannounced.

What to serve visitors when they come to visit the new baby? Particular to the Dutch new baby tradition is serving beschuit met muisjes(“biscuits with little mice”). The literal translation might be a shock to many but beschuits met muisjes are simply round, thick, toasted biscuits smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar coated anise seeds. This tradition dates back to as early as the 17th century wherein birth during those times were medically dangerous and thus a new baby born is a cause of celebration by the community. The new mother received food and treats of various kinds from neighbors. In return the new parents would give those who visit their house biscuits with colored muisjes (sugar sprinkles). In those days it was pink for a girl and white for a baby boy. Nowadays blauwe en witte muisjes (blue and white) are used for boys and roze en witte muisjes (pink and white) can .

One might ask, why anise seeds? It was believed during those times that anise seeds can drive away evil spirits and is also good for the mother’s uterus to reduce to its original size. Where the name “muisjes” were taken from is still not clear but some say that it could be in reference to the belief that “mice” are a symbol of fertility.

Just another tidbit of history: The De Ruitjer, the well known company that makes muisjes, as part of their marketing and publicity created in 1938 the oranje muisjes (orange) and presented it to the Paleis Soestdijk for the birth of Princes Beatrix. It is now a tradition that oranje muisjes are served at the birth of a prince or princess. Even the “birth” of the new pope, Pope Benedict XVI, was treated with muisjes by the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands. On April 3, 2005, geele en witte muisjes (yellow and white) were made available as symbol for the papal colors.

One might also notice the stork (de ooievaar) hanging outside the new proud parents’ balcony or garden which signifies the arrival of the new baby. The stork as a symbol of birth is not a very long practice. It came to popularity after the birth of Princess Juliana in 1909. It is initially believed that the stork will bring the “ziel” (soul) to the baby so that he/she will be happy. It is also considered to be a symbol of luck (geluksbrenger).
To date, there are a variety of storks that can be rented or bought. Inflatable ones up to 3.5 meters height can be rented for a whooping 50 to 150 euros per week or you can opt to buy the 3D ones that are placed in the window. Nowadays there are also inflatable baby figures (oplaasbaby) in place of the stork that can be rented. Raamstickers (window stickers) with the name of the baby and cute caricatures are also in the frenzy among new parents who want to announce the arrival of their new baby.

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