Last year, my family and I moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace for a year. In my series Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our 3-year-old daughter, and my newborn. Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.
Now that I’ve had two kids on two different continents, I’m ready to declare a winner (as in the better healthcare system, not child). I could simply say that childbirth is free in the UK and leave it at that, but let’s call that one a given, because I’ve got a few more reasons. In both America and England I’m lucky to have had beautiful, fat, healthy babies with the help of knowledgeable, experienced midwives, but there is more to having a baby than the actual labor and delivery. There’s taking care of the little buggers, too, and that’s where things start to differ. Curious? Here are five reasons why I think they’ve got it pretty good on this side of the pond.
I wasn’t forced to watch disturbing PSAs at the hospital. Back at the hospital in Brooklyn, after my daughter’s birth, a nurse handed us a TV remote and said, “Watch the video on channel 55,” then made us sign a paper saying whether or not we’d agreed to do so. What’s on channel 55, you ask? A creepy video on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Imagine having just gone through untold hours of agony, feeling exhausted and hormonal, and then being forced to watch bad reenactments of people treating infants like cocktail shakers. The video is on a loop, too — I think we watched it twice before we scooped our jaws off the floor and remembered to turn it off.
I didn’t have to schlep to the pediatrician’s office. Those first days after your baby is born are terrifying. You’ve been sent home with a total stranger who screams and/or sleeps and/or poops brown tar, and you’re supposed to keep it alive? Whaaa? You’re about to start crying when there’s a knock on the door … it’s a cheerful, qualified midwife! And she’s at your house (every few days in the beginning), to check on you and the baby and to answer any questions (Or ask questions — after one visit, the elderly midwife put her notebook down and said, “Now, I have to ask something important. Are there benches on the Brooklyn Bridge?”)
My midwives weren’t total alarmists. Most babies lose weight immediately after being born. That’s just how it goes, and it can take a week or two for a baby to get back to his birth weight and start packing on the pounds. Sounds logical enough, but my New York City pediatrician scared the hell out of me back when my daughter was born. “Ooh, she’s lost a lot of weight,” the doctor said gravely. Tears streamed down my face as I cursed my inferior mammaries. I thought for sure I’d have to switch to formula … but then, lo and behold, a week later she gained the weight back and everything was fine. If only the pediatrician had been more like my midwives, shrugging off the weight loss and reminding me how normal it is…
Vaccinating my kid has been quick and easy. In the UK, they don’t call vaccinations shots, they call them jabs. Makes sense. It’s a needle digging into your flesh, after all. With my daughter, I remember feeling my heart break when the nurse came in, unwrapping needle after needle, stabbing her again and again to ward off disease while my baby sobbed. Well, in England, the tots still wail, but instead of shot after shot, they tag-team it. With one midwife per thigh, they go for the one-two punch — jab! jab! — and voila. Job’s a good’un.
Everything I’ve needed following my son’s birth has been right at my fingertips. Just down the road in my lovely little town there is a children’s centre, and it is magical. Stop by and sign up for baby massage classes, a quick weigh-in, or get advice on breastfeeding, weaning, teething, and more. Sounds pretty great, right? And it’s free. All the advice, all the appointments, all the vaccinations. Free. Kinda makes you want to just keep on having kids, right? … Well, maybe not.