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.

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