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The Ups and Downs of Pregnancy in England

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My family and I have recently moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Bradford-on-Avon, England, for a year. Our mission: try out life at a slower pace. In my new series Brooklyn to England, I’ll write about the weekly adventures of living in the English countryside with my British husband, our three-year-old daughter, and my baby-bump (I’m due in September!). Come with me as I go from strollers to prams, diapers to nappies, and whatever else it takes to raise a family abroad.

Delivering my daughter in Brooklyn sucked. I didn’t like my midwife, I didn’t like the hospital or post-delivery care, or the hours and hours we spent sitting around waiting (namely, for a lousy pediatrician to come in and say, “You should use my practice because I’ve got free parking.”).

So, when it came time to go through it all again with baby number two, I decided to move to England and really switch things up. Okay, so it wasn’t that simple, but I was excited to give a different health care system a try. All those midwives! All that prenatal care (that’s antenatal, in England), and the postnatal home visits! A more intimate maternity and birthing experience could be fantastic.

Well, now I’m two-thirds through my pregnancy—half in Brooklyn, half in Britain—and here’s what I’ve learned.

First of all, in England they don’t check your weight at every appointment. I repeat, THEY DO NOT WEIGH YOU. Right now, in New York, OBGYNs are giving pregos dirty looks, reprimanding them for extra weight gain and reeling off condescending lists of veggies and healthful snacks, but here in England, they don’t care. The Brits don’t care!

They also don’t force that nasty glucose test. Remember sucking back mouthfuls of thick orange syrup on an empty stomach, woozy and winded, to see if maybe—just maybe—your baby had gestational diabetes? Well, here, in the land of awesome, all you have to do is pee in a cup, and you’re done. (Slight clarification: If your sugar count is high, they might make you take the glucose test, but it’s not a prenatal obligation, as it is in the states.)

And the appointments are always prompt. You walk into the waiting room—with no receptionist or sign-in sheet—and come appointment time, BAM!, a smiling midwife emerges to usher you into her office.

Having a baby in the UK sounds pretty fab so far, right? And I really think it will be, but it’s not all pee tests and unbridled weight gain. For one, there’s the folder. You have to bring along your pregnancy notes—lab work and test results, mostly—to every single appointment (not to mention when you go into labor). Sounds easy enough, but when you factor in pregnancy brain, that folder becomes an albatross.

Fine, so I have to carry a folder with me to each appointment. Not a big deal. Not as important as where I plan on delivering this baby. At my first appointment, the midwife explained that I could deliver at the big fancy hospital in Bath, or at home, or at a birthing center in Trowbridge (near where we live). Well, I delivered in a big hospital in Brooklyn and I wasn’t thrilled with my experience, so my husband and I happily went on a tour of the Trowbridge birthing center. The first room we went into was typically sterile, small and beige with a giant bathtub in the center, oh, and a disco ball over head. Cool but meh. The second room … well, I can’t tell you much about that one because a woman had just had a baby in it. And, she was still in there, smocked and holding a newborn. Oops, ‘scuse us!

In my mind, the best decision was homebirth. Why not? I had a straightforward birthing experience with Trixie, and it sounded so much more comfortable. Having heard countless stories of the local midwives singing the praises of home birthing, I naturally assumed my midwife would applaud my choice and we’d move on. But no. She took one look at my notes, and when she saw the word fibroid — a non-cancerous tumor growing outside my uterus — her face began to sour.

“Well, we’ll support whatever decision you make,” she said politely, “… but if you have a home birth, it could really hit the fan.”

My face fell. Even though I’d started to envision a fairy-tale birth in my cozy countryside cottage, I may now reconsider and deliver at the big hospital.

“Okay,” I said, wrapping my head around the news. “But you’ll still deliver my baby, right?”

The smile on my perky-yet-brusque midwife’s face turned cold. “No,” she said flatly. “Who knows when you’d go into labor — or for how long — and I can’t very well work 24-hours-a-day, now can I?”

“Um … of course you can’t,” I said, suddenly blushing.

In the blink of an eye, my midwife hated me. 

I understand her defensiveness — there is a huge midwife shortage in the UK — but I wasn’t trying to be a prima donna. I was simply comparing it to New York. At the practice I went to in Brooklyn, I was encouraged to meet every midwife in an effort to familiarize myself with each one so I’d at least recognize the person delivering my baby. Made sense to me. But in England, I was told specifically to have all my appointments with one midwife, for the sake of consistency. And yet, wouldn’t the biggest inconsistency of all be popping this kid out into a complete strangers arms? 

“Besides,” said the midwife, filling the awkward silence. “In Bath, there is an entirely different team of midwives and obstetricians. I’m in charge of all your antenatal care.” 

My mind was blown.

“So, there’s no chance of having any idea who will deliver my baby?” I asked.

She shrugged sympathetically. “Unfortunately, there isn’t.”

Oh.

After that, the conversation ended. I lay on the table to hear my baby’s galloping heartbeat, then scooped up my folder and went home with a bewildered look on my face.

Suddenly my caring, intimate, English birthing experience was starting to feel like the Mega-Millions lotto draw. But as I rode home on the bus, watching a new mum shake a rattle at her cooing baby, I realized something: ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. Did I love my Brooklyn midwife? No. But did she help bring my clever, hilarious, sensitive, beautiful daughter into the world? Yes. And chances are, a random (maybe gruff, possibly friendly, but definitely competent and experienced) midwife in Bath is going to do the same thing.

 

Photo: Getty