Stella and I went to a local hospital, the AK Harburg (Harburg General Hospital), for an informational evening which introduced the hospital as a place to give birth.
We started off in a room off the hospital cafeteria, with a midwife and a highly-ranked doctor (the second-in-command, apparently, since the head doctor had a commitment that night already), and they offered to answer any questions we might have regarding giving birth, the hospital, and all that.
There were quite a few people there: probably around twenty women and nearly as many men.
The midwife also talked quite a bit about what things would be like, how birth works, what they do during birth, what happens to the baby immediately after birth, and so on. The hospital, she said, has a fairly hands-off approach to birth since they found out through experience that nature nearly always works just fine and, in fact, works better the less external influence you have.
They also have a much lower incidence of episiotomies (about 16%, compared to a nationwide average of 60%), and a good track record of giving birth to breech babies naturally, without a caesarian. I also like the fact that they place the baby on your breast after birth since, as she says, you can always weigh and measure the child two or three hours later since it doesn't grow or gain (or lose) weight much in that time, and it's more important to give mother and child time to bond—and things such as listening to its heart or drying it off you can also do while it's on its mother's belly.
We also talked about midwife-assisted births: this is really new in Germany, with first tests beginning last June in Bremerhaven. As I understood it, AK Harburg is introducing this to Hamburg for the first time, and we're just in time to take advantage of it: they'll make the public announcement this Wednesday.
That way, midwives go back to their traditional roles, helping the mother give birth, rather than assisting a doctor in doing so. Doctors will be on call should something extraordinary happen, but otherwise, midwives will also do such things as sew a mother up if her perineum is injured or perform the initial examination of the child "U1". (Midwife-assisted births are only carried out on request of the mother, though, and if they expect a "normal" birth, i.e. without complications.)
Later, we went up to the delivery rooms. We had a look at a preparation room with a bathtub where you can relax during labour, then went into a delivery room to have a look at what it's like.
Since it's a public hospital, the midwife said, the furnishing wasn't quite what she might have liked due to the limited budget, but it was still better than five years ago and they do try to make it an inviting place. They are also equipped for nearly any sort of birth position—in the bed, sitting, standing, whatever. (However, not hanging from a rope: the ceilings in the building aren't strong enough to support a hook and rope with a pregnant woman hanging from it.)
She said they supply women with drinks and also with food, though women giving birth typically don't want to eat much. But they also supply the men with food while they're there with their partner in the delivery room, partly to alleviate the women's worries about their poor guy not getting enough to eat :) Oh, and she strongly recommended bringing someone along with you—preferably the father, but if that doesn't work out for whatever reason, some other person you trust who can accompany you and support you. (Preferably not your own mother, though, she said ^^.)
After that, we went one floor further up to where women lie who have just recently given birth. She showed us a typical one-bed room; all rooms have space for changing babies, so you don't have to go elsewhere for that.
She said that they aim to have 24-hour rooming-in: that is, the child stays with the mother at all times, under normal circumstances. They also offer partners the possibility to spend the stay there with the mother; they can share a two-bed room and the partner pays about €25 (US$ 30, £16, CA$ 40, AU$ 45) a night, which is really quite modest a fee compared to hotels, for example. (A one-bed room costs quite a bit more: about €75, so three times that.)
She said that women can choose themselves how long to stay; gone are the days when there were certain "release days" and you had to wait for the next one. If you feel up to it, you can even go home the same day. You can also take care of naming the baby; a civil servant visits the rooms and you can take care of the paperwork, then pick up the stuff from the local council a week later.
All in all, I was very favourably impressed by what I saw and heard. We may not even bother having a look at the informational evening at the other hospital we were considering since we've all but decided on this one.
So we'll probably have to make an appointment soon; Stella would like to have only midwives attend her, so we'll have to make an appointment with them soon (the leaflet they gave us said first appointment in 25th to 30th week, and she's in her 29th). Regular appointment with the hospital about four to six weeks before due date, and second appointment with midwives before birth to discuss things in about the 36th week.