From Poipet to Bangkok: A Pregnant Expat’s Experience

User Rating: 4.6 (16 votes)

Last February, I gave birth to our first child in Bangkok. And it was the best experience I could have asked for.

My husband and I lived in Poipet, Cambodia for two years before we decided to take the plunge into parenthood. The first year we were here we didn’t even consider having a baby. But living in family-centered Khmer culture changed our thinking, and we decided to let nature take its course. Two months and a pregnancy test later, we found out we were expecting.

Poipet is located on the Thai-Cambodian border, and it isn’t known for being a family-friendly city. We’ve lived and worked here our entire stay in Cambodia and have come to love this unusual community. But local healthcare is far from optimal. Even our Cambodian friends travel to neighboring cities for prenatal care if they can afford it. And as a pediatric nurse and a first-time mom, I wanted the best care possible for our child.

Deciding on Our Child’s Birthplace

Pregnant Expat’s Experience
Even before we were pregnant, my husband and I decided Bangkok was the best place to give birth. Most expats living in Cambodia fly to Bangkok to deliver their babies, even those living in the capital, Phnom Penh. We knew we would only feel comfortable delivering at a hospital with international-standard medical care.

Because Poipet is only four hours from Bangkok by taxi, it made sense for us to travel there for prenatal visits and delivery. I already traveled to Bangkok every few months for other appointments, so we were comfortable traveling to and around the city. This gave us an advantage, as we wouldn’t be traveling to a completely unknown place for our delivery. And it was easy to travel to Bangkok from the border via taxi, van, or bus.

An American physician working in Poipet gave me monthly check-ups, such as urine screening, fundal height measurements, and blood pressure checks. But for the more thorough lab tests and ultrasounds, we needed the higher-level care Bangkok offered.

After asking our Bangkok-dwelling friends for suggestions, we decided to visit Samitivej Sukhumvit Hospital for our first trimester check-up. We chose that hospital because of their natural-birth-friendly reputation. Their certification by the Joint Commission, the same agency that certifies hospitals in the United States, also assured us we would receive high-quality care there.

Although I received a few recommendations of specific doctors, I let the hospital decide for me – a choice that worked out well. I filled out the appointment form on the Samitivej website, asking them to give me a physician who spoke English fluently and who supported natural birth. The appointment staff know what they’re doing, because they assigned us to Dr. Yaowaluk – a fluent English speaker and natural birth advocate.

Dr. Yaowaluk immediately put us at ease during our first appointment. She performed a thorough first-trimester check up and explained to us the services Samitivej offered. We returned to see her several times during my pregnancy for prenatal visits.

The hospital gave us thorough ultrasound and lab screening to ensure both our child and I remained healthy. During the second trimester ultrasound, the hospital’s free Wi-Fi came in handy. My husband was in the Philippines working, and when the radiologist told us we were expecting a son, my husband was “present” via Skype video on my phone.

Waiting in Bangkok

Dr. Yaowaluk told us we needed to move to Bangkok when I was thirty-six weeks pregnant. We are fortunate to have many friends living there, and we stayed with a family in Bang Na, a suburb about forty minutes away from the hospital. Throughout the pregnancy, it was easy to set up or change appointments at Samitivej via their email contacts.

We also decided to hire a doula for several reasons. We don’t have any family living in Southeast Asia who could be at the birth with us. Although my parents were flying to be with us, we doubted the baby would wait until they arrived!

Having strong emotional support during our first birth was crucial for us. We also knew our chance of achieving a natural birth – no medications or interventions unless a life was threatened – was highest with a doula at our side.

After searching the Internet, I contacted the Doulas of Bangkok Facebook group. The administrator put me in touch with Mandy Smith. I immediately knew she was the perfect match for our family. She shared our faith and cultural background, and she was an experienced mom herself, with six children of her own. Mandy met with us a couple times before the birth and provided one-on-one birth education. She also gave us a clear picture of what to expect from Dr. Yaowaluk and the hospital. Mandy and Dr. Yaowaluk have worked together frequently, which was also reassuring.

While we waited for labor to start, we made an appointment with the US Embassy to apply for our son’s passport and citizenship. Their appointments were sparse in March, and we made one for March 4 – the day before his due date. We knew it was a gamble, but the next appointment wasn’t until March 18, which would delay our return to Cambodia.

We also printed off and prepared all the application paperwork while waiting, so it would be ready to go. The last thing we wanted to do after giving birth was to try to make sense of government documents.

Giving Birth

Pregnant Expat’s Experience

At thirty-nine weeks, I went into labor at 6:30am on February 27. My husband kept our doula updated about our progress throughout the day. After 5 hours of laboring at home, he decided it was time to drive to the hospital. Amazingly, our hosts – who were normally gone during the day – were at home that day and able to drive us. Otherwise we would have taken a taxi, which would have been much more complicated.

And it was a good thing they were with us. I went through transition during the forty-minute drive to the hospital. The wife, who was supporting me in the back seat, called Dr. Yaowaluk and told her to have her medical team meet us at the Emergency Room entrance. We pulled up to the door, and the staff rolled me onto a gurney and took me straight to the delivery room.

Samitivej has amazing natural birthing rooms, which was one reason we chose the hospital. But that day, all the rooms were full. Instead, the staff put me in a small room for patients with epidurals. At that point, I didn’t care where they put me, as long as I could start pushing! Our doula met us in the room, and I started pushing immediately. Thirty minutes later, our son Declan James was born at 1:38 pm.

I felt so fortunate that I had an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. I was able to avoid all unnecessary interventions. I did not even have an IV placed, and the staff supported us in our natural birth plan. Having the doula with us also gave us the ability to achieve to our ideal birth experience.

After delivery, we stayed at Samitivej for three nights in their maternity ward. The extra money spent on the “platinum” three-night package was well worth it. Recovery after natural birth is just as painful as everyone says! However, the nurses were incredibly helpful in those long hours right after birth.

Since we weren’t staying in Bangkok long-term, we asked the pediatric hospitalist to provide Declan’s in-hospital care. Dr. Raungpung was an excellent pediatrician who respected our decision to delay certain vaccinations. Also, Dr. Jalad performed our son’s circumcision, after which Declan returned to our room without any crying or distress – a good sign! The staff gave Declan a pacifier dipped in sugar water during the procedure, a technique I had used in the US to ease pain for newborns.

The US embassy requires the Thai birth certificate and an English translation to issue a passport and certificate of birth abroad. For a fee, Samitivej offers to process and translate all the paperwork necessary for the application. But it takes seven days, and we only had four days before our embassy appointment. We received the Thai birth certificate two days after his birth. My husband found a translation office near Ploen Chit, emailed a scanned copy of the certificate to the office, and picked it up a few hours later.

Returning Home

Pregnant Expat’s Experience

After being discharged, we stayed in Bangkok two more weeks for check-ups and to get our son’s passport. Unfortunately, Dr. Yaowaluk wasn’t available for my following weekly check-ups. But the staff assigned me to Dr. Khemawan and Dr. Siranart. Declan also had appointments in the well-child clinic for check-ups and vaccinations with Dr. Passorn. All the physicians gave us excellent care.

On our way home from the hospital, we took Declan’s passport photos at a Kodak shop in Central Mall. We went to the US Embassy when Declan was five days old to submit the paperwork. Although we were told it could take up to two weeks for his passport to arrive, it only took nine days. We picked it up the day before we returned to Cambodia.

I also needed to renew my tourist visa during our first week after delivery. For an extra 500 baht, staff from Samitivej took me to the immigration office, filled out and filed the paperwork, and made what could have been a chaotic experience very simple. I received a medical tourist visa good for ninety days.

Two weeks after his birth and after being in Bangkok a total of five weeks, we were ready to head home. On crossing the border at Poipet, we showed the immigration officials our son’s Thai birth certificate. They stamped an exit stamp inside our passport and let us through to Cambodia.

Reflecting on our time in Bangkok, I can’t imagine a better experience. We received excellent care, and I never questioned the expertise or knowledge of the people caring for us. I know I would not have had the same peace of mind or access to resources had we stayed in Cambodia.

Whitney
Whitney Conard is a tea-drinking, extroverted book nerd and travel junkie. She hails from Kansas City, USA and lives in Poipet, Cambodia with her husband and son. You can find her blogging about faith, family, and life overseas at http://www.journey-mercies.com.

4 Comments

  1. Lucas Davis  /  June 25, 2014, 8:52 pm Reply

    I’m so glad the birth and pregnancy went well and was comfortable. I can imagine most people panicking about giving birth abroad. Did you always have maternity cover under your expat health insurance? Or was that something that was later added? I’ve heard that Bangkok has a rather good health system and high quality facilities. From what you have said, the staff seem to have been very helpful and prepared. I’m assuming this really does depend on the hospital you choose to go with. In this case, your hard research paid off but I think with something as important as expat health insurance, research is essential.

    • Whitney
      Whitney  /  June 26, 2014, 5:53 pm Reply

      Hi Lucas, our health insurance was actually a big reason we decided to deliver in Bangkok. We had special expat insurance that covered prenatal care and delivery. If we went to the States, it would only cover 80%, whereas overseas it covered 100% (after the deductible). So it made a lot more sense to go to Thailand.

      • debbie  /  August 24, 2015, 3:43 pm Reply

        Hi please can you forward me all the doctors names and numbers and the hospital. I need a 20 week anatomy scan done but there is so much confusion in explaining to the hospitals in thailand. What is your doulas name and number? Maybe she can help me through my pregnancy. Who do you get your medical insurance through? We have been told to contact BUPA.
        Kind regards
        Debbie

        • admin  /  September 2, 2015, 3:01 pm Reply

          Hello Debbie,

          If you would like to be put in touch with someone at Samitivej Hospital who can answer your questions in English, we would be happy to. Please let us know.

          The Expecting Expats Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>