Having a Baby in the U.K., Part 1

After a lot of research and back and forth, I finally made the decision to go the private health care route for giving birth. Ultimately, I just felt like it was a little more similar to what I know and am used to from the States, someone I know recommended a doctor, and I was able to get an appointment right away. Though everyone says the free care from NHS, the national health system, is fine, and I’m sure I have an equal chance of ending up with a healthy baby either way.

There are quite a few differences between prenatal (called antenatal here) and postnatal care in the United States and the United Kingdom. Other than the big one of being able to birth your baby for free, here’s what I’ve managed to glean so far:

A lot of women opt for midwife-led care, rather than a doctor. If you go the private route like I’ve decided to do, your doctor is called a “consultant,” and he or she will see you for all your visits and deliver your baby (most likely, anyway). If you go NHS, you will primarily see midwives. A home birth is also an option.

They have a lot more intermediate options for labo(u)r pain management than we do across the pond. In America, it’s pretty much epidural (all numb) or natural (all pain). Here, you can use a little machine with electrodes that you stick on your back, the kind I’ve seen used in physical therapy for people recovering from athletic injuries, called a TENS machine, in the early stages of labor. My doctor said she’d give me one to use at home, before I come to the hospital. Then there’s an injection you can get to help with pain that lasts about three hours, called Pethidine. And then there’s what they call “gas and air,” which apparently the women here love. Getting into a warm-water birth pool also seems to be a more commonly available option, and my doctor said it can really help during the transition phase. Finally, you can get an epidural, but it seems like they suggest you try the other options first and see if the pain is manageable before they full-on deaden your lower half.

After the baby is born, when you are being moved from the delivery room to your recovery room, if you are an NHS patient, you will be on a shared ward with other mothers and their babies, with just curtain separators. No thank you, please. With private care, I will have a private room, which is what I had when I had my first baby. It’s hard enough to get any sleep in a hospital with a newborn, I think it’s probably downright impossible in a shared recovery room. Then again, it’s probably only for two nights, so if this is the only reason you decide to go private, that’s an expensive private room you’re renting.

After you go home from the hospital, for the first five days a midwife actually comes to your house to check on the baby every day. Isn’t that amazing? House calls! I don’t have to take my four-day-old baby out into the rain for her first doctor’s appointment! And this is true for everyone, not just private patients.

From my initial visit, it felt sort of like having a first class ticket for a flight and passing all the people waiting to board the economy section. I followed the signs to the Private Wing, where I was buzzed in the door and immediately helped. As I sat on the leather sofa near the self-serve espresso machine (yep), I eyed the cork board displaying birth announcements sent in by past patients. No joke, these were some of the baby names: Constance, Florence, Ambrose, Zane, Rafe. And Alfred Aldwinkle.

“Sounds like you’re in the right place,” texted back my husband, when I texted him the list of names.

Welcome to the Private Wing. Cappuccino? Silver spoon?

My doctor was very nice, and spent about 40 minutes with me going over my history and medical records I had to have printed by my previous doctor and hand carry over, as well as discuss what I’d like for my “dream birth.” Seriously, she used that phrase more than once.

I’m to call her by her first name, and she gave me her mobile phone number and double cheek kisses when we said goodbye. So yeah, just a little bit different than the typical American doctor-patient relationship.

I went back this morning for my glucose test, the standard test they give around this week of pregnancy to check for gestational diabetes. In America, they give you the orange glucose drink and watch you down it, then make you sit there for an hour to make sure you don’t eat or drink anything, and then draw your blood. Here, they tell you to go to the store and buy a bottle of Lucozade Original Energy Drink, drink 300ml, then show up at their office an hour later. “We trust you here,” my doctor laughed at my reaction to this. Ummm, right.


The Social Network

I scored two chicks’ phone numbers at the playground this morning—can I get a high five? Already set up play dates with both of them, too. Mummy’s on fire!

This area we live in is known as “Nappy Valley,” and that’s for very good reason. You can’t swing a Cath Kidston nappy bag without knocking into a pregnant woman pushing her other young kids in a “buggy.” I’ve seriously never seen anything like it. Walk down the high street and it’s pregnant woman after pregnant woman, pram after pram, little gangs of kids on three-wheeled scooters. (Side note: I think if E were to have her own blog about living in England, it would be called “Scooters and Scones.” Side-side note: If blogging (or WiFi, for that matter) had been a thing when I’d studied abroad in Bath, how good a title would “Beth, Bath, and Beyond” be? I digress, badly.)

The playgrounds are all packed. And yet several people have told me that it’s actually quiet right now, since it’s August and so many people are on holiday this month. I can’t imagine how busy our street gets during term time, since we have a primary school right down the block (which E will attend next year).

Welcome to Nappy Valley.

It’s been great to have such perfect weather lately so we can do lots of playground time, since we have one suitcase of toys, which has gotten a bit stale. We keep reminding ourselves that this is not representative of what it will really be like to live here for most of the year. I keep wondering if you can store up a whole bunch of Vitamin D for the winter, like squirrels store acorns. I’m going to need it this winter when it gets dark at 3 in the afternoon.

Anyway, having a little one is a great way to meet people around here, because you instantly have something in common. The owner of the house we’re letting (renting) emailed several ladies she knows in the area with little ones to introduce me, and I already met up with one of them last week for two play dates. E and I went over to her house one morning and then later in the week we met at one of the local restaurants that features an amazing play room for lunch and playtime. (I can only imagine how chaotic places like that get in the winter when no one can go to the playground.)

“Here’s your wine, Mommy!” Making a good impression at the play place.

I’ve also ended up chatting with other mums at the playgrounds and other play facilities—there are a lot around here, obviously—and so hope to start establishing some friendships. There are loads of classes to sign up for, too, both for E and for me as a pregnant woman. Birth refresher courses for second-time mums, pregnancy yoga, etc. The great thing about living here is the number of places that cater to people in my stage of life.

We also had another play date last week with the wife and daughter of one of M’s coworkers who also moved over from America, back in January. They have a daughter six months older than E, and just had another daughter in May, so they basically do everything six months ahead of us. It was so great to talk to someone who’s been through the whole process of having a baby in America and then having one here, and can actually explain what’s different and what to expect. I did just choose a hospital and have scheduled my first “antenatal” appointment there to meet my new doctor this week. It will be a relief to have a doctor and hospital and get my name in the system for prenatal care.

It feels like we’re living in this weird limbo right now. We are in our house and M is going to work, but we don’t have our big sea shipment of our furniture and other household items yet; E is not in school yet so we don’t have an established daily routine; we’re still eating out all the time (I think I’ve cooked dinner maybe twice); and we’re about to travel to Oregon to meet the new family member, which means pulling an 8-hour time difference on everyone for just over a week and then doing it again coming back. At least after that, we’ll have a week to get back on London time, then E starts school, and I can begin the Great Organisation Project, as we should have our shipment by then. (It was supposed to be delivered tomorrow. Received notice just this evening that, just kidding, how about Friday. Not holding my breath.) Then we can really start to settle in and unpack and get our rhythm and routine going… before everything upends again around the 7th of November.

I feel absolutely terrible leaving the dog so soon in a new place. She’s already exhibiting separation anxiety anytime we leave her in the house. And she’s not allowed in the playground areas, so when I’ve taken her with us to the park I’ve had to tie her up to the fence, and she has chewed through TWO leashes to free herself twice, so obviously that’s not working. (Pretty impressive for a pooch who’s had nine teeth pulled.) We found a lovely person who babysat for E when we were here in June and went to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on two nights, and she has agreed to stay at the house as our dog sitter. I feel comfortable with her, but I know Wren won’t at first. Unfortunately, we can’t take her with us, so it has to be this way. Poor pup.