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.

At the Weekend

Our last two weekends in London couldn’t be more different from one another. The last weekend before we moved to our house, when we were living in the City, we took advantage of our location right next to the “Walkie Talkie Building” (aka 20 Fenchurch Street) and went up to the Sky Garden at the top. You have to book a time slot in advance, but it’s free. It’s definitely worth doing, especially on a clear day like we were lucky to have! I would love to go back in the winter at night (so, anytime after 3 p.m.) and see the city all lit up from there. They have restaurants and bars in there, too, but we just walked around and enjoyed the view for a bit.

We also went back to Columbia Road Flower Market (and adjacent playground) on Sunday morning and then went in search of the “crone”—an ice cream cone made out of cronut (that’s croissant-donut) dough. It’s made by a donut shop called Dum Dum Donutterie. M got one, E got a crème-filled donut, and I got a chocolate cronut. Then we went to a bike shop so M could get yet another (eyeroll) bicycle. He picked out this gorgeous blue single-speed/fixed-gear bike with bull-horn handlebars, which he purchased from a tattooed Frenchman. I don’t know when my husband became such a hipster, but I just hope he doesn’t venture into manbun territory.

This Saturday, by contrast, was like your typical American suburban Saturday, in that the big events were trips to Homebase (the UK version of Home Depot) and IKEA. Except it’s way more complicated to do these errands without a car.

We took an Uber to and from Homebase, and then in the afternoon I walked to the train station, took a train, transferred to a tram, and then walked from a tram stop to IKEA. I spent the majority of the afternoon there, which was exhausting. But productive—I am sitting in my comfortable new wingback chair! We have a place to sit other than the bed and the hard bench and stools in the kitchen, hooray!

Well that was a little different.
My haul. Had to head to the home delivery queue after realizing that wasn’t going to fit in an Uber.
Don’t IKEA whilst pregnant.

As I sat by myself in the backseat of an Uber on the way home, next to my bag of toilet brushes, gobbling up Swedish candy and listening to some strange British radio show I understood maybe half of, the sunlight streaming through the window, I thought, this is the most relaxed I’ve felt in weeks. Though I suppose after a day of home improvement warehouse and IKEA shopping, anything would have felt relaxing.

Moving In

Husband: “Did you notice we don’t have a bathroom door?”

Me: “Oh. My. Gosh.”

And so the couple who has lived together for 10 years and never shared a bathroom has lost ALL privacy. This should be interesting.

Regardless, we are in! We moved in, and our air shipment was delivered, and about half our Amazon order, and our mattress but no bed frame, and E’s bed frame but no mattress, and we are MAKING THIS WORK.

The dog gives Clapham Common four paws up. She hadn’t seen a fraction of that much green space in over two weeks, and she was thrilled.

I love this house. The natural light in the kitchen. The big (though doorless) master bathroom. The closet space!!! The closet space in our bedroom is spectacular. (Though storage elsewhere is a bit lacking, from an American perspective, when we had a basement, a garage, AND a shed.)

The first items delivered were my new fun, aqua-hued retro-looking mixer and our groceries, so E and I set out to make some American chocolate chip cookies. I ran into some conversion confusion, though. Betty Crocker calls for 1 cup of butter, but the butter here comes in a package measured in grams.

Hmmm… I scratched my head for a while, googled it, and finally just let it soften until I could smoosh it into a measuring cup. Then I had to figure out the oven. I google the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion pretty regularly, because I really cannot figure out how to convert that in my head. So I went to set the oven to 190 degrees. But European appliances just baffle me. I at least got it to heat and bake the cookies, though they didn’t turn out as well as they normally do. Whether that was due to slightly different ingredients or the oven, I’m not sure. But at least they taste pretty good.

Me: “And they taste so good because they were made with…?” (Prompting her to say “love,” like in one of the books we have been reading a lot lately.)

E: “Chocolate chips.”

Well, true that, child.

The biggest snafu today came at the end. I had really been looking forward to taking a nice relaxing bath in my new tub. I’d even ordered some fancy lavender bath milk on Amazon. My pregnant body is pretty achey after all the unpacking and everything today, especially since E didn’t nap and I didn’t get a break all day. But I discovered tonight we have no hot water. Or at least we don’t know how to turn it on. I’d noticed earlier when washing dishes that the water never got hot, but it didn’t occur to me to check to see if it was more than just that tap. Nothing we can do about it at this point tonight, unfortunately. Ironically, we can’t figure out how to turn the towel warmer off.

So a cold shower and a hot towel, anyone?

Points to the husband who brought me pretty flowers to brighten up my currently messy kitchen! Too bad we didn’t put any vases in our air shipment, though. Or hangers. We forgot hangers. Back to the Amazon…

Keep Calm and Carry On

One minute you’re standing there helpless while you miss not just one, but both elevators you had hoped to get on because your upset child has spilled her bag of “crisps” (she actually called them that) and is now eating them off the dirty science museum floor, and you feel like you really might be losing; the next minute a nice lady is handing your child a free children’s magazine and offering to carry your stroller down the stairs for you, and at the bottom in the subway is the very same busker playing guitar and singing in French who so entertained your child at a completely different place across town last week, and hey! a familiar face! and maybe things are going to be just fine.

Such is the constant mental rollercoaster of adjusting to my new, very different life as a stay-at-home mom in a foreign city.

Not everything is working out perfectly smoothly with the move; we’ve had some complications arise. Transferring money from our American bank accounts into our new UK bank account has been a lot harder than expected. M has opened three new American bank accounts with different banks in the last week just trying to find something that works. (Thanks for nothing, Bank of America.) He’s spent I don’t even know how much time on the phone with various banks trying to find a solution so we don’t have to pay huge fees every time we want to transfer money. He thinks he may have finally figured it out, so fingers crossed money arrives on Monday!

We had hoped to move into our house tomorrow, but the person/company managing our air shipment and getting it through customs was lazy and now it won’t be delivered till Monday. So we could move in tomorrow, but we’d have no bedding or kitchen items or anything at all. And I ordered E’s mattress from a store because they assured me it could be delivered by the end of this week, but then they called this week and said, sorry, just kidding, you can’t have it till the 12th. Grrr. So I guess she’ll sleep on a blow-up airbed mattress from Amazon for a week. (Thank goodness they have Amazon over here. I currently have 36 items in my virtual shopping cart.)

So two more nights in our little slice of heaven noisy little flat with the world’s hardest mattress. In our bedroom, one wall is all windows looking at some sort of office building. The shade is broken, so we either have to leave it all the way closed or all the way open. We go with open so we can have some fresh air in here, otherwise it gets really stuffy. The office building behind us has nighttime cleaning staff working, and lights randomly go on and off on different floors late at night.

Last night, for who knows what reason, all the lights were on all night. They’re obviously not aiming to win any green business awards over there. It was so bright in here, it was like that scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where the snooty yuppie couple next door is trying to have a romantic moment in the dark and the Griswold house lights up like a zillion-watt lightbulb you can see from space and blinds them. Except without the weird 80s matching track suits and the romance. I just wanted to go to sleep.

And why is the carpet all wet, Todd? I don’t KNOW, Margo.

And so, onward. Three more nights till I can sleep on my new mattress on the floor and I can’t wait. (Though I will miss my husband bringing me a coffee each morning from the coffee shop downstairs when he comes back from walking the dog. Can we keep that up somehow, please?)