2 years ago I had my first baby, Jordan, here in Saudi. You can read about my experience with my first baby here. This post is an update to that one and incorporates information about our new medical service provider here and a few lessons learned from my experiences.
Some of the initial post is copied and pasted here. Sorry for the redundancy!
Before we moved here, I remember scouring the internet to find info about having a baby in Saudi or at KAUST. I wanted to know if I would have options and if it was safe. I wanted to know if it would fit my philosophies and if I would look back and be happy that I had a kid here. I remember searching and finding pretty much nothing that would ease my fears or at least make me feel more informed. It wasn’t until I arrived here and started talking with new parents that I started to understand what it’s like. So, this blog post is for the former me… and for all the people out there that are searching like I was!
Being pregnant and having a baby at KAUST is like having a baby in the West. We have good, highly-trained medical professionals and safe facilities. My grandmother had a baby in India in the 1950s and before I moved here I wondered if there would be similarities. Let me be clear: my experience was nothing like hers.
Here are a few questions I had before we moved here, and some answers for you:
Is KAUST a good place to start a family?
KAUST is a great place to start a family – and a lot of people are! I don’t have exact numbers but I hear that there are around 4 or 5 KAUST babies born every week, in a community of around 6000 people. It is a very safe community and pregnant women are well supported. There is good medical care, children are welcome nearly everywhere, and it’s easy to get around with small kids.
How far is the nearest hospital? Is it any good?
There is a clinic here on the compound where you can have routine check-ups and emergency care. This is good for check-ups, blood work, ultrasounds etc. Appointments are easy to get and don’t take much time.
Babies are not delivered here at KAUST (except in the case of a true emergency) rather they are transferred by ambulance to the hospital of their choice in Jeddah. Unfortunately, all babies in Saudi must be delivered in the hospital and there are no home birth or birthing centers in the Kingdom. I hope that one day this will change!
I had my first baby at the International Medical Center (IMC) and my second at Doctor Soliman Fakeeh Hospital (DSFH). Both are about 1.5 hours away (depending on traffic). This is quite a bit farther than I liked being from the hospital and I did worry about complications from the distance.
Both hospitals are very good with highly trained medical staff and friendly, helpful nurses. I recommend that you become familiar with the KAUST Patient Relations teams (link only accessible on campus) at the KAUST clinic, the IMC, and/or DSFH. This team is incredibly helpful for getting things done quickly and easily.
What is it like to deliver at the IMC?
I had my first child at the IMC in 2013. I always felt very safe, and in case of emergency, I’m sure they would have gotten me through just fine. They also had very good service – it was like staying in a 5-star hotel. I had my own room with a pull-out couch for my husband, and they brought us (both) extravagant 3-course meals. I had a normal delivery and it was standard to stay for two full days – I think you stay longer if there are complications/c-section. The nurses were helpful and everyone seemed to take excellent care of my baby. They didn’t give my baby a bottle, and took him away to the nursery for about 2-hours a day to get him checked by the pediatrician (I would have liked him to not be gone so long, though).
The downside for me was that, as crunchy granola kind of girl, I wanted to have a crunchy granola kind of birth. I would have liked to given birth in a tub with soft music and a doula by my side. There really aren’t options like this. I was only given the option to have a standard hospital birth – no tub, no doula, no soft music… heck, I didn’t even have a birthing ball (actually I brought my own, but the baby came so quickly I didn’t get a chance to use it!).
I did still have my heart set on a natural birth. I didn’t want an IV or drugs, or medical interventions. This was definitely a problem for the delivering doctor. She simply couldn’t understand why I didn’t want an epidural and seemed very concerned that I would want to put myself through “unnecessary pain”. I absolutely insisted on skipping the pain and induction meds, though I did give in and take some breaths of nitros oxide near the end. but the doctor did get her way and do some minor medical interventions which I told her I was really hoping not to have. In the end, she convinced me that they were “medically necessary” and I gave her permission… though I still have my doubts about how necessary they really were.
So, overall it was a good, safe experience. It just wasn’t the birth I’d gone for if I had been given more options.
What is it like to deliver at Dr. Solimon Fakeeh Hospital?
DSFH is the new service provider for on-campus clinic support and interfaces well with the DSFH hospital in Jeddah.
DSFH is a good hospital and I liked my doctor very much. It isn’t much to look at, but I felt well cared for throughout my numerous prenatal visits as well as for the birth.
Unlike the IMC, DSFH is an older hospital and much more confusing to get around. The patient relations team (mentioned above) were crucial in scheduling and getting me to my appointments on time.
I hoped for a natural, unmedicated, and intervention-free birth, which I was able to successfully achieve. This is an unusual choice in Saudi, but I felt very well supported in this path all along the way. This made a big impact for me both in feeling comfortable and confident in my choice to deliver at DSFH.
I had a great doctor at DSFH. I was particularly impressed with his ability to see things from the patient perspective and encourage me in my wishes for a natural birth. To me, this was quite astonishing, reassuring, and empowering. He understood my wishes and coached me in ways that I could balance my ideal plan with the understanding that the plans could change at any moment should an emergency or anomaly occur. This again, was very empowering and exactly the kind of care I was looking for – and needed.
I encourage all women everywhere to find a doctor who makes them feel this way.
What’s it like to be a new parent at KAUST?
There are tons of young families for a good reason – it’s a safe, easy place to raise kids.
It’s hard to find organic foods and good quality baby products (the baby food is pure sugar and there aren’t really any options for green-diapering) – but this does seem to be getting a little bit better over time.
KAUST is not well-equipped for feeding and diapering. Good luck finding a changing table in most buildings, and If you’re planning to breastfeed in public, I’d just be careful not to show too much (err.. any?) skin. That said, I understand that you can breastfeed in the women’s prayer rooms all over Jeddah.
But, there are parks, pools, beaches and activities for kids of all ages and you can bring kids anywhere at KAUST, which is a huge help.
What activities are available for pregnant women?
The clinic provides classes for pregnant and new parents – one for educating on pregnancy and new babies and one to encourage movement and stretching for moms. The gym offers several prenatal yoga classes every week. You don’t get all the choices of a big city, but we are well supported for a small town.
There are a few mommy-groups which you can join, as well.
How else can I connect with other new parents at KAUST?
Definitely check out the activities listed above to meet new people. There is also a Facebook group for Pregnant and New Parents at KAUST, which is a great resource for both new and existing community members
Is there a La Leche League rep for breastfeeding support nearby?
Yes! La Leche League is an international nonprofit that helps support women who are breastfeeding. While there is not (yet!) a LLL group at KAUST, there is a rep and a group that meets in Jeddah. If you are struggling to breastfeed, you should really get in touch. For more info go to: http://www.llli.org/saudiarabia.html
What about working moms? (UPDATE: This section added Jan 20, 2015)
There is an excellent Day Care facility run by Building Blocks where you can have your children looked after. My 2 year old attends day care and I’m very happy with the facility, the teachers, and the things he is learning there.
There are also part-time nannies available by Saudi Oger and many other families hire full-time live-in help.
Working moms can have access to a private room on campus for pumping or nursing. You can obtain the keypad code from HR help desk by request. Refrigeration is also generally available.
How can I ask more questions?
If you have a question about your specific medical situation, please get in touch with the hospital or your KAUST relocation advisor directly. If you want to know about the community here feel to leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.