And FINALLY finally, the UK maternal health system. Overall, I was quite pleased. They are heavily midwife run, which, having a low-risk, uncomplicated pregnancy, I really enjoyed. I saw the midwife 10 or 12 times, went to the hospital clinic twice for ultrasounds (appointments at which I was seen by a doctor), and once for the actual birth, which was attended by midwives. I never had to have a glucose test, which I hear is all the rage in the US and also not the most fun in the world. I had an internal exam exactly once, when I showed up at the hospital in labor ready to be admitted, and the only monitoring during the birth was an external fetal heart monitor from time to time.
I was able to have a water birth without all the hassle and risk of filling up a wading pool in my living room. I was able to go home (though Alice was not) 8 hours after the birth, and in the first 2 weeks, a midwife, health visitor (RN with additional baby training who is available for consulting for up to 5 years), and lactation consultant all made house calls, some more than once. Alice was in the hospital for 6 days, completely free of charge, and I was able to stay in a private room with her there for 3 nights.
The maternity ward at our hospital is midwife led, so they handle everything unless there is a reason to bring in a doctor. They are much less likely to intervene medically (fewer episiotomies and C-sections). The primary drawback is there’s no way of knowing who will actually be delivering your baby—the “community midwife” I saw throughout my pregnancy only did one shift a week in the maternity ward; I had never seen the two midwives who delivered Alice before in my life. Along with this, since I didn’t have a primary obstetrician, sometimes the left hand didn’t quite know what the right hand was doing, but it worked out fine in my case.
My only other complaint was that whilst I did get to stay in the aforementioned private room, the “meals” they provided left something to be desired. The first breakfast I had before I got smart and started having Stephan deliver consisted of one piece of toast, one small banana, one of those tiny boxes of Rice Krispies that your mom never lets you buy because they’re too expensive even though single-serving cereal is obviously the most amazing thing ever invented, and one of those orange juices they give you on the plane in a plastic cup with foil on top. And I’m supposed to be feeding an entire other person on those calories?
One final complaint: the pediatric system is similar to the maternity system, in that you never see a specialist (ie, “pediatrician”) unless there’s something wrong that your GP doesn’t know how to fix. I am not entirely comforted by this—while I’m sure Alice’s GP is competent enough (we haven’t had to test her yet!), I kind of think that babies should have their own special doctors whose caseloads don’t include newborns, old-age pensioners, and everyone in between. The health visitor came 4 times in her first 3 months, primarily to weigh and measure, but now won’t see her until she’s almost a year. There are no well-baby visits.
But all of that aside, it’s free. Free, free, free and more than adequate. I can’t imagine what we’d have had to pay in the US for Alice’s hospital stay, and she wasn’t even that sick or there that long. It was a great relief not having to even think about the money once, because it’s not like you have a choice when it comes to your child’s health.
This concludes my report on pregnancy and childbirth in the UK. I hope you have enjoyed this report.