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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Having a baby while stationed in Spain

When we first moved to Spain, we figured of course we would not want to have a baby here. Give birth in a foreign country? Without any family around to help out? No way! We wanted to have more children, but figured we would wait 3 years until we were back in the States.
My first week here, I met a mom with a newborn. "Wow, did you have him here?" I asked. When she answered yes, I think I stared at her in awe and confusion. "Weren't you nervous?" She just shrugged and said, "Not really. It isn't any different from any other hospital."
After hearing similar stories from other moms for over a year, I realized they were right. The Naval Hospital on base has a limited staff, but the OB-GYN office is great, and the Labor & Delivery floor is also fully covered at all times. So the mere fact of being in another country should not be a big deterrent when planning your family. At least, that was our conclusion when we decided to have our next baby while stationed here, and we ended up with wonderful Mary Catherine!

It's true that the process of giving birth at Naval Station Rota is really the same as any other military hospital (this is my 4th child and 3rd naval hospital). The staff is all American Navy personnel who speak English. You will receive regular pre-natal care, check-ups, vitamins, ultrasounds, etc. The only differences arise if you have a high-risk pregnancy or are carrying multiples. In those cases, the on-base hospital will automatically refer you to a hospital off base for your care because the Spanish hospitals have specialists and equipment to handle those situations. You will have either an English-speaking doctor or a translator. The base Naval Hospital will perform regular scheduled c-sections. However, they will not perform emergency c-sections on women less than 36 weeks along, because there is no NIC-U or breathing equipment to help pre-term babies. So in those rare cases the mom would be rushed to a hospital in town. Rota's hospital is just minutes away. The larger hospitals in Jerez and Cadiz are 20-30 minutes driving.
Currently, the base Naval Hospital delivers an average of 1 baby per week. This means that the patient receives very personalized care and attention! The staff includes 2 OB-GYN doctors, so there is always one on call. There are multiple nurses, corpsmen, and a lactation consultant. Prior to delivering, you will tour the facility. The delivery and recovery rooms are very spacious and comfortable (with room for my whole family to visit !) Plus, after delivering, you receive a complimentary steak and seafood dinner! I had no complaints about the hospital, the staff, or my care, and would recommend it to anyone. (Caveat: I was delivering my 4th child, and all my pregnancies and deliveries have been fairly routine and normal without complications. I think a first-time mom would understandably be a little more nervous, but there are still plenty first-timers who deliver there each year).
Once you have your adorable child, the next challenge is obtaining all their paperwork. You may wonder what citizenship your child receives when born in another country. Well, if both parents are American citizens, then the child is automatically an American citizen, whether they were born on base or in a Spanish hospital. In fact, I don't think you can even attempt to get Spanish citizenship for the baby unless you have 1 parent who already has citizenship, or if the child lives here for more than 10 years. So even though our baby has never been to America, she is an American citizen with a passport, birth certificate, and Social Security number. How did we get them? Well, it's a bit of a process. Thankfully, the hospital staff will walk you through it all before the baby is born, so you know what to expect. But be aware that it can take several months to receive these documents, so your baby will not be able to get on a plane or be included on your taxes until you get the paperwork back.

How to obtain documents for your baby:

If your baby is born in a Spanish hospital, they will receive a Spanish birth certificate, which you will then use to apply for their American certificate. If they are born in the base hospital, you have to take some additional steps.
1. Fill out the paperwork you are given prior to the birth, and complete it when the baby is born. Turn it in at the hospital records office, and they will assist you with completing the Spanish birth questionaire. This takes a few days to process, and when completed you will receive a record of live birth. This is NOT a valid birth certificate.
2. Take the record of live birth, the questionnaire, and the other required documents to the Courthouse in Rota (not in the castle, you will be given an address and directions). Check their opening hours first, because they do close for holidays and siesta. Only 1 parent needs to be present. They will enter your names into the Rota record book, and then print out a Birth Certificate for you on the spot. In fact, you will receive 10 copies, because the only way to get a new certificate is to appear in person. So don't keep them all in one place! We mailed some out to family members for safekeeping, so if we need a copy years from now we don't have to make a trip to Spain! Now you have the baby's Spanish birth certificate. This still won't work for most American transactions without a translation, so now you have to get the American document.
3. The American document is called a Certification of Birth Abroad. This will be your child's birth certificate when applying for schools and any American activities. To apply, paperwork needs to be filed and sent to the American Embassy in Spain. There are several ways to do this.

- Option one: Complete the process on base through PSD (Personnel Support Detachment). You can turn in all your paperwork on base and simultaneously apply for the baby's Certification of Birth Abroad, Passports (Tourist and Official), and Social Security card. It is convenient, but also unfortunately the slowest option because it has to pass through several levels of bureaucracy. It will take several months to receive the documents, and there is no way to predict or track the completion date. The process has undergone several changes in the past year, but unfortunately there are still many reports of documents being lost, misfiled, or delayed. Hopefully the process will improve soon!

- Option two: Take your documents to Seville, where there is an American consulate. Here you can apply for everything at once except the official passport (I believe that can only be done on base through PSD). To use this option, first call the American Consulate to schedule an appointment. (The contact number will be in your pre-birth paperwork). You can't make an appointment until your baby is born, and there is sometimes a wait of a few weeks to get the appointment. They will tell you exactly which documents to bring. Make sure you have photocopies, because you cannot make copies at their office! Also, both parents must be present to apply for the passport! Once you apply, they will send the documents to base, and they usually arrive within 1 month.

- Option three: Go directly to the American consulate in Madrid. This is the fastest, most guaranteed method to get your documents. We had to use this method, because we had family travel plans when the baby was exactly 8 weeks old, so we needed a passport quickly. Yes, we had to bring our entire family to Madrid, since both parents have to be present when applying for a passport. It's about a 7-hour drive, and we just spent one night. We had to make the trip, because when she was born in April they were temporarily not processing any passports on base, and when we called Seville, there were no appointments for 1 month. So we made an appointment at the Madrid Consulate, and brought copies of all our documents. We spent about 2 hours total at the consulate, and thankfully there was an area for kids to play in the waiting room. You will have to pass through metal detectors and cannot bring any phones or computers into the consulate, so don't plan on having those to entertain your kids! We had hoped to walk out of the building with her documents, but that is only the case with an actual EMERGENCY passport, and they are a little strict on handing those out. However, they sent the documents through the company SEUR, and we were able to pick them up in Puerto about 8 days after we went to Madrid. (SEUR is in the industrial area of Madrid, near the Mercadona grocery store, but off to the right under the bridge.) This was plenty of time to give us peace of mind about traveling with our infant!

So, if you follow all those steps, you can get your baby's documents about 6 weeks (or more) after they are born! And then your baby can spend the rest of their life surprising people with the fact that they were born in Spain! :-)

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