Part one of a two-part series on giving birth in Costa Rica.
When I first moved to Costa Rica from the United States in September 2000, my plan was to live abroad for one year. More than six years later, I am preparing to give birth to my half-Costa Rican child in the country that has become my home.
Life takes us on winding twists and turns, and this turn toward the path of motherhood has been one of the most beautiful. As a first-time mother-to-be, I can’t make a comparison about what it would be like to travel this same path in the United States, but I do know my trip toward a Costa Rican birth has been full of blessings and discoveries.
My unborn child has been blessed wherever I go, whether at the supermarket, walking down the street, in taxicabs or by everyone at BlueValleySchool in the western San José suburb of Escazú, my place of employment.
The overwhelming support and encouragement I have received from both loved ones and strangers have made the journey truly blissful.
The greatest discoveries I have made are in the areas of preparing for birth naturally through classes in hypnobirthing and learning what it takes to arrange the details of a licencia de maternidad, or maternity leave, which here in Costa Rica is very generous and reflects the society’s appreciation for motherhood.
We stumbled upon the Centro de Balance Integral Gaia in the eastern suburb of San Pedro and its hypnobirthing classes, which have turned me into a great believer in the importance of natural childbirth. The rate of Caesarean births, or C-sections, is on the rise in both the United States and Costa Rica, and many women and medical professionals are moving away from valuing the process of giving birth naturally, with a natural course that takes time and physical energy.
I always knew I wanted to have a natural birth, but did not know how to prepare. During the five-week course at the Gaia center, my partner and I learned how to erase the fear surrounding the pain of childbirth through relaxation techniques, and changing the vocabulary used to describe the “contractions” and “pain” of giving birth to the “uterine waves” and “sensations” that are part of the inevitable process your body goes through in giving birth.
The philosophy behind hypnobirthing is that once the mind and body are relaxed through breathing, meditative and massage techniques, women, with their birthing partners, can achieve the experience of an artful, joyful, comfortable delivery free of “pain” and medication. Founded in the United States by Marie Morgan in 1989, hypnobirthing emphasizes the belief that once body and mind are in harmony, they function naturally at the time of birth as they are designed to do, as with all other creatures in nature.
The course was an incredibly positive experience offering practical techniques and a chance to form bonds with other couples as well as learn about the birthing phases, and how to physically prepare throughout each phase. The last session was particularly helpful and practical in explaining about how to care for the newborn and breastfeeding.
The course packet comes with two books and CDs, so you can continue to prepare on your own after the course, and all the relaxation materials are there to use during the actual labor and delivery.
The Gaia center also offers many other services and classes, such as yoga for pregnant women and infant massage (see separate stories). Our instructor, Ansu Coto, is a doula and provides services for home births.
For more information, contact the center at 224-0883 or visit www.gaiacostarica.org.
Another excellent organization supporting natural childbirth with extensive courses is PreVida; for info, call 291-3640 or 231-1365, or visit www.previda.org.
The other great discovery I made as a pregnant working woman in Costa Rica is that maternity leave here is a blessing indeed, with its time span of four months –one month before and three months after the birth – compared to the six weeks of leave women are given in the United States.
There’s a bit of bureaucracy involved in arranging to get paid for this time, but it is worth it.
First of all, if you are in the practice of visiting private physicians, as I was, you will need to get a carnet, or identification card. I took care of this at my local EBAIS, a public community health clinic managed by the Social Security System (Caja), present in many communities.
You will need your most recent orden patronal, a pay stub showing how much you have paid into the Caja, proof of address through a telephone or electric bill, and a copy of your passport or cédula (Costa Rican or residency identification). After going through this process, a public doctor at the clinic must confirm the dates of your pregnancy.
My private doctor filled out an official form stating the recommended time for my maternity leave.With her recommendation, the public doctor, at a separate appointment at the EBAIS clinic, just confirmed the dates and gave me the form for my employer to fill out. After getting my employer’s confirmation of the dates and its seal on the form, I was ready to go to the Caja office in downtown San José (Av. 2, Ca. 7/9, 295- 2000) to turn in the form so they could process my payment.
During my four-month maternity leave, I will receive my full salary, 50% from my employer and 50% from the Caja, which must be picked up at the main office in San José each month. I am told that picking up this money is an easy process, and you can send someone else to pick it up for you.
My due date is May 16, and we have decided to have the baby at Clínica Bíblica in San José, which is close to where we live in San Pedro. We have visited there twice and have given them our written birthing plan, which outlines our desires for a natural birth, and the response has been very positive. The facilities are new and beautiful, and we have decided to make the financial investment of close to $1,000 to feel comfortable in this setting.
We could have gone the route of going to a public hospital, which I believe would offer excellent service but lack privacy and full involvement of the birthing partner, or we could have opted for a home birth with a doula, or a water birth, which are the most natural routes. But given this is our first birth, we are opting for the peace of mind of more medical support.
Being pregnant in Costa Rica was not always in my vision of my life journey, but as love and language and cultures draw me in deeper, I feel blessed by all the inner discoveries I have made and will continue to make here.
Stay tuned for the second part of this series, in which the author will share her experiences of birth, early pediatric care and the process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for her child.