Cultural: Giving birth in Poland 20 years ago

Twenty years ago today my fifth child was born in Poland

Twenty years ago today my son, Daniel was born.

I thought the occasion warranted a post about giving birth in Poland exactly 20 years ago today.

Daniel was my 5th child. I had had 3 children in the US and one other child in Warsaw. I wanted to give birth this time closer to our home, so we chose to go to Otwock, a town about 2 miles from our home - the hospital is about 10 minutes from our house.

Entry into the Hospital

The  year was 1997 and life was still pretty basic in Poland.  The hospital was pretty drab. When we went to the hospital to check in, they opened an old huge book  - looked like the size of an old timey scrapbook or big ledger and hand wrote in all the information about me, our address, etc. The paper was newsprint quality - not really a stark white, but a sort of taupe color.

I went in about breakfast time as I had been having contractions in the night.  By the fifth child, I knew that my body did not work like most women's do  - I didn't have a normal routine of giving birth meaning I didn't have contractions starting a long ways apart and gradually getting closer and closer.

My body would have erratically spaced contractions, so I was just guessing that today was the date. My due date was December 27, but I had been a week to 4 days ahead of my due date for 3 out of the 4 other children I had.  

When I got to the hospital I wasn't ready to give birth so they told me to walk up and down the corridor, trying to speed things along. I was also allowed to take a shower and try to relax so the contractions would normalize and begin to come faster.

A Cozy Birthing Room....NOT!

Finally they figured I was ready, and we went to a big room with multiple bench type contraptions on them. These benches/tables were separated by things - pieces of furniture - as there were probably 4-6 in that one big room - no private birthing room for me at this public hospital! 

I am so grateful I was the only one giving birth at the time because otherwise, there would have been no privacy and all the cries of pain would have been heard by the other people around me.  Not nice. I am grateful to this day that I was the only woman delivering right then.

Hospital Food

I gave birth to Daniel about 1-2 pm that day. I don't remember a lot about it exactly, except that I missed dinner - the big meal of the day. They didn't save it for me either. I remember being hungry as I had skipped breakfast as I wasn't feeling very well - contractions make it hard to want to eat.

This was not the exact food I had, but was the amount. This was all I had had all day since I missed breakfast and lunch. When a person gives birth, they are very thirsty afterwards and ravenous - especially when nursing.  I found this clip on line This is a typical "kolacja" meal (evening) in a public hospital. Sometimes the kielbasa is switched for ham.

This was not the exact food I had, but was the amount. This was all I had had all day since I missed breakfast and lunch. When a person gives birth, they are very thirsty afterwards and ravenous - especially when nursing.

I found this clip on line This is a typical "kolacja" meal (evening) in a public hospital. Sometimes the kielbasa is switched for ham.

I got all cleaned up and put in the recovery room - another big room with 6 beds in it - 6 women with no privacy screens or curtains. I had a basic hospital bed and a bedside table. Our bathroom was down the hall. We had to get up and walk there and share with a bunch of other people.

I made it to the recovery room in time for the evening meal. In Poland, however, the evening meal is more like a snack. They gave me a white cheese - sort of like the curds of cottage cheese, some milk soup and some dry bread and hot tea. I really didn't like the cheese, the bread needed something like margarine or butter and I almost can't get down hot milk. 

I have a lactose intolerance and this much milk product was a lot - in fact, it was way too much for me.

Breakfast the next morning was a watery hot cocoa, more white cheese, some milky porridge, and more tea. I'm not really a tea drinker - though I can drink it more now than back then. I was so hungry by then. I asked my husband to bring me some more food. 

I began to realize the truth that people regularly bring their friends and loved ones food while in the hospital.  For my first child I had been in a different hospital and we had not supplemented the hospital food with our own food - I didn't know that was done at that point as my first child was born in the center of Warsaw.

So my husband kindly brought me some juice - we had had no fruit or juice - and some soft drinks and other things easy to keep and easy to eat. I remember the lady in the next bed over asking the nurse if it was okay for me to drink orange juice. I think she didn't realize I understood her. Thankfully the nurse said it depended on on the person  - I was nursing and at that point they were telling nursing women not to drink o.j. - something I ignored since I had drunk it after every other birth and nothing bad happened.  If the nurse had actually said it was bad I was going to speak up, but since she didn't say I was wrong for drinking it, I just kept quiet and acted like I didn't understand the lady.

I gave birth in three different hospitals in the USA. The hospital food was always quite good there. You wouldn't complain about it if you actually had bad food - guaranteed.

Basic Conveniences

At that time the hospital didn't use disposable diapers - they used cloth diapers but no diaper pins.


I remember that later they brought my baby to me and he stayed beside me in a movable cart type contraption. I needed to change his diaper as he was crying and crying, but when I opened up his diaper and saw there were no diaper pins, I had no idea what to do!  No, they weren't fancy shaped diapers - they were big, flat pieces of cotton cloth - stiff as they were, no doubt, air dried. 


I felt really stupid! Really stupid!  I had to call the nurse to come and help me figure out how wrap up my child in this cloth diaper, washed and bleached until it was like rough cheesecloth, with no pins!  I almost cried. Here I was, the oldest woman in the room of 6 - I was 35 - all the rest of the "girls" in the room were 20 or 21 and giving birth to their first child. I was literally the "grandma" of the group at 35. I felt like the stupidest person alive.

I remember another lady trying to get out of her bed to go the the bathroom and she was so weak that she almost fell down. I bolted out of bed as fast as I could and grabbed her - fast is a relative term when you've recently delivered a baby - and asked people to call a nurse. I felt weird since I was the one who had most recently given birth and yet I was the one helping the poor, weak young mamma.  But a nurse finally came and helped the lady make it to the bathroom.  It was a rather scary moment for me - to see a new mamma almost go down in our 6 person recovery room.


Since Daniel was born on Saturday, December 20, I was afraid that they were going to try to keep me in over Christmas - back then women typically stayed in the hospital much longer after birth than we did in the states, but thankfully they let me go home on Monday - and we were able to have a very "normal-ish" Christmas at home. I remember I was making my two girls dresses and had some hand work with me in the hospital room to finish up.

The Cost

They released us and let me go home and told my husband to come back after Christmas and pay for it. (They wouldn't do this nowadays!) My husband went back after the new year and paid. I remember to this day it cost 42 zlotys!  At that time that was about $13.  Yep. $13. That was it. No separate doctor's fee and no other charges.


To be honest they didn't know how to charge us as they weren't used to people paying privately. But by comparison, our vehicle insurance was well over 1000 zl - the whole thing seemed so 'odd'.  Life and death issues like giving birth was dirt cheap and car insurance was not at all, by comparison.

Was it a fun experience? Not at all.

I am not sure that giving birth is "fun" anywhere - but it went uneventfully and I did like the fact that there was not a lot of extra technology and stress on me.  I felt like I truly went "back in time" for the delivery of child number 5.  But in the end, he was born healthy and with no unnecessary intervention or threat of drugs/c-section, etc. I was grateful for that.

And now you know what it was like for me to give birth 20 years ago in a public hospital in Otwock, Poland.  

Don't forget  - if you need something from my sister - be sure to look here first!




Becky Petersen9 Comments