Believe it or not (and those who have known me for many years may have trouble believing it…), despite the fact that I am home all day every day, I very rarely turn the television on. Once Mark is home, we usually watch something we’ve recorded or downloaded, but this never amounts to more than an hour or so of television per day.
However, there is a certain part of me which is drawn to a certain type of television show – namely, the documentary/reality situational show. In the US, I would probably be tuned in to TLC or The Discovery Channel all day long, but over here, there’s not such choice. But recently, and in large part due to my own fears about childbirth, I’ve been addicted to the Channel 4 program, “One Born Every Minute.” For those not familiar, it is basically an hour-long program which usually follows 2 – 3 women who are giving birth at the Princess Anne Hospital in Southampton. They each have their own story, from the straightforward to the emergency scenarios. Some women handle it with grace and beauty while others scream and curse and generally make me shy away from the screen.
But in the end, I do hugely enjoy the program, despite the occasional annoyance at some of the midwives or the frustration I feel when I think that a patient hasn’t been treated well or has been rude to a staff member. Overall, I love the show and feel that it has given me a much better understanding of what I should expect to happen once my time comes (all too soon!).
But then, while reading my pregnancy forums yesterday, I found out that America has brought out its own version of this great show, though the reviews from the women on the boards was anything but favourable. Not having access to it, myself, I’ve been very surprised at the sheer amount of anger and annoyance the program has caused. In my searches for reviews, I did not find one single positive thing said about the show. One of my favourite bloggers, The Feminist Breeder, gave an absolutely SCATHING review, which made me want to watch the program all the more – not for entertainment, but simply to see for myself the apparent horrors that were shown on the Lifetime Network.
In reading some of the commentary, I was surprised to find that a number of women actually saw commercials for the show and thought it was a Sitcom/Mockumentary. Not an ACTUAL factual program. For a network that prides itself on its relationships with women, I am shocked that they would market it so badly. Even the picture ad I found makes it look like a comedy.
But ALL of this aside, it’s not the program that I wanted to talk about today. The apparent differences between the UK/US versions simply got me thinking about the ACTUAL differences between UK/US births.
Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been part of anyone’s pregnancy before. By that, I mean that no one I’ve been close to has ever been pregnant where I could actually keep track of their journey. My sister had a baby nearly 13 years ago, but she lived in another state and I think I saw her once during it. My best friend in high school had her son when we were 17, but I never took the time to talk to her about the minutiae of her situation. I was content to just let her get on with it in her own time and waited until she popped him out so we could resume our partying and fun lifestyle (that totally didn’t work, btw… apparently having a kid means very little social time). And the rest of my friends/family have had their babies after I moved to the UK, so I was not a part of any of it.
And I’m not thick. I’m 29 years old, which means I have at least a general understanding of how pregnancy works. Granted, some of it has shocked me along the way – random things you just don’t expect to happen to you (like peeing oyourself when you sneeze!). But the actual child birth part…. everything I have ever known has been gleaned from movies.
So in my mind, here’s how I thought it would go down:
I’d obviously be out somewhere shopping or dancing or eating at a restaurant, when SUDDENLY, with NO WARNING, my water would break. I’d turn excitedly to Mark and say, “This is it! Get me to the hospital!” We’d drive erratically toward our destination, and the whole time, I’d be breathing in a strange cadence of “Hee hee hooooo. Hee hee hooooo.”
Once we’d arrive, I’d be whisked straight into the labour ward and immediately change into a gown. A nurse would look at my vagina for two seconds and then stick her head out and tell me that I was dilated to 10! I would start screaming obscenities at Mark and yelling at the doctor to “GET ME SOME FUCKING DRUGS!” Then I’d push for a good two or three minutes, sweating profusely, and out would pop a beautiful baby, covered in strawberry jam. He’d be immediately wrapped in a lovely fluffy white blanket and set in my arms, and I’d be left alone with my boyfriend and my new child.
Then all would fade to black, and the next day I’d be back in my pre-pregnancy clothes and completely at ease taking care of a newborn.
Unfortunately, I only realised AFTER I was pregnant that this is SO not the way its done. So I started asking questions of friends and family. What should I expect? How long does it take? What happens?
Having no motherly friends in the UK, I asked my US friends about their birth stories. And I was simply told (by each one of them, and in no uncertain terms) that I should accept an epidural as soon as I get to the hospital as there’s NO WAY in HELL that I or anyone else can make it through birth without one. It’s far too painful.
I was told about Pitocin and Vitamin K and Pethidine, but no one told me much else. The most graphic thing I heard was from a friend who told me that when it came time to push, she thought she needed to poop and made her husband get her a nurse to bring her a bed pan. That was the first time I learned that you don’t push with your vagina, but with the same muscles that you defacate with!
Having seen a few episodes of various UK baby shows, I had been contemplating the idea of a home water birth, something that appealed to my hippy nature but which also seemed to be quite acceptable over here. As all care is midwife led, a stress-free birth at home with my partner and a caring professional sounded exactly right. And when three of my girlfriends all gave birth within a few months of each other late last year, two of the three of them did it at home in a birthing pool.
When I mentioned my desire to try this to my mother (the NURSE), I was met with complete incredulity. I would be INSANE to try it. I was told again that there’s no way I could handle the pain without loads of medication. My mother claims that I have NO pain threshold and that I’ll be BEGGING for an epidural from the beginning.
Hearing her say this, and adding it to the advice of all my US girlfriends really defeated me. If I hadn’t been exposed to a different way over here, I’m sure I’d be planning the same type of birth as they did.
But here in the UK… I have options. Now, unfortunately due to me being high risk, it is not possible for me to have a home birth like I wanted. And neither am I allowed to use the birthing centre, as there’s too much chance of something going wrong with me or the baby. But even in the labour ward, I’m going to be having such a different experience than any of my US friends. Here, I will have a mobile birth, with a birthing ball provided in the room so that I can take control of the situation. I won’t be just given an epidural as a standard procedure, but rather offered gas and air to take the edge off my contractions and help me through the pain. I will be encouraged to birth in the position which is most comfortable for me, whether on my hands and knees, sitting upright or even squatting.
I will be overseen by a midwife in a soothing, quiet environment with music playing, lights down low and my mother and boyfriend there beside me to offer extra encouragement. If (and ONLY if) something goes wrong, the doctor will be called in, and I will be given extra help and/or prepared for a section.
I’ve already been booked in for an induction on my due date, as it is dangerous for me to go overdue because of my diabetes. So preparations are already in place to get me going if I don’t get there naturally on my own. Some of my friends in the US went to 42+ weeks and wound up giving birth to giant babies because no one was monitoring them properly.
And the biggest difference of all, of course, is the cost associated with having a baby. The average cost AFTER insurance of a US hospital birth is about $7,000. But over here?
Since I got pregnant, I have been entitled to free prescriptions and free dental care, which will last until a year after I have the baby. My son will enjoy free prescriptions and such until he is 18. And all medical care over here is free, whether you’re pregnant or not.
I know this is a long and dithering post, but there’s a lot on my mind regarding the differences between the US and UK these days. Mark and I have already talked about it, and we hope that we will have two more children in the next five years, and we want to have them all here for all the reasons I listed above.
And one more thing I hadn’t thought about, but which is an interesting bonus – being born in the UK will make my son a British citizen and therefore given the rights of a citizen of the EU. This opens up the WORLD to him. And while we’ll make sure he is also an AMERICAN citizen, it is amazing to think that when he’s old enough, he can live wherever he likes and not have to worry about the constraints put on him as a foreigner.
I think I’ve babbled enough, but if anyone out there has any thoughts about it, I’d be very interested. Especially women/men with experience of two different cultures.