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Berlin and Beyond

Tamsin Walker Berlin
April 20, 2018

Amongst the news about Germany scoring its highest number of births per woman since 1973, are warnings about making sure the infrastructure is there to keep it that way. And a more personal one from Tamsin Walker.

Tamsin Walker with a pram and kid in the background
Image: DW/Tamsin Walker

Berlin and beyond: Oh baby!

So it's happened at last. Germany has started producing more babies. An extra 54,556 of them in 2016 compared with the year before, which although not enough to offer long-term population stability, is sufficient — for now at least — to quieten noise about a shrinking population.

A toast then to the foreign women and their 30-something German counterparts who've collectively bucked a trend stubbornly sluggish enough to prompt Angela Merkel's various governments to introduce a succession of financial and childcare incentives to promote procreation.

No, don't pop the corks just yet, for riding on the fragile back of that cause for celebration are warnings about shortages of daycare centers, school places, and midwives. I get that.

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Midwife holding newborn
Midwives are responsible for ensuring a safe passage into the world - for mother and childImage: Dieter Seitz

When I had my last and final child six years ago, I decided to go to the hospital alone. Remembering earlier births in which a midwife seemed to be present more or less throughout, I blindly assumed capable and cheerful company would be on hand to talk away the pain — seeing as how drugs had previously never been on offer. Turns out that was a romantic fantasy. There was no soothing chat, just moments stolen from women screaming behind the doors to other delivery rooms.

It wasn't a one-off. According to the Berlin Association of Midwives, they're often expected to juggle as many as five or six births at any one time. That's neither tenable nor safe. The city is now planning more training, increased investment and improved working conditions. A no-brainer if the nation wants to keep making more babies.

Which it does. It's a big issue that is clearly on the country's collective mind. I've lost count of how often I've been offered an awkward pat on the back for having done my bit for the national birth rate.

What's all the fuss about?

I've also lost count of how many times I've been asked how I mother five kids (two of whom have flown the nest). That one stumps me. All I've got is that I make it up as I go along. That I follow my instincts rather than tips in all those parenting books that coo in their cutesy covers from the shelves of abundant pastel shops devoted to all things baby. Most of them unnecessary.

Because though Germany's birth rate has been slow to grow, the industry around it has exploded, seducing the pregnant to indulge in maternity massage, Pilates, hairdressing and workshops on what to expect, and luring new mothers into a sense of insecurity.

Pregnancy and parenting books on a shelf
So many books, so many schools of parenting thoughtImage: DW/Tamsin Walker

Watching from the sidelines of playgrounds, kindergartens and classrooms, I've seen the emergence of unaffordable prams, breastfeeding scarves, designer baby and kid wear and mothers so convinced they to do it "right" that they become stressed, nervous and nigh on incapable of enjoying themselves or their kids.

And as I've watched, I've wondered, loudly and profusely, why the sudden fuss about the one thing we've categorically been doing since the earliest of beginnings.

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Without wishing to sound like your grandmother, it wasn't like that when I had my first kid, or my second. But all too often, it is that way now. I hope that as, when and indeed if my bunch should ever make their own contribution to the German birth rate, the warnings about the need for more midwives, day care and schools will have been heeded.

But I hope too that they hear my own warning to keep the parenting industry at arm's length and make at least some of it up as they go along.

In Berlin and beyond, British-born Tamsin Walker takes a closer look at some of the quirks and perks of life in Germany, which has been her home for almost 20 years. She tweets as @TamsinkateW

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