May 29, 2005

Giving Birth in England: Whum, Bum, Thank You, Mum

You'd think that giving birth in country that gave the world Laura Ashley, and that practically invented flowery wallpaper borders--and which has a national health care program--would be a comfortable, frilly, positive experience. And you'd be wrong.

The Sunday Observer chronicles a litany of impersonal, assembly line, cost/benefit- and CYA-driven crap that many British women have to go through when having a child. The forced inductions to keep the baby trains running on time have been discontinued, but the widespread institutional opposition to home birth--a popular British option when the Man United game's on, I guess--continues, as does the aggressive ignoring and warehousing of mothers right after the baby's out.

Reading this, I wondered where the dads were while their partners were being so ignored. Off at the pub? Being chased out of the maternity ward by militant nurses? Who knows? They're not mentioned hardly at all. Next week's installment: 'I cut the cord and all I got was a boot in my arse.'

'I felt isolated and uncared for. I needed a friendly face' []


Sure, NHS is widly underfunded, everone in Europe knows that. Here in France with public health insurance you get a week in a hospital that looks more like a country bed and breakfast when you give birth.

Given that America spends more per capita than ANY country on healthcare, seems they should be able to match the better national healthcare over here, not sad NHS

That article sounds remarkably like what happened to me in recovery after my first birth in an NYC hospital three years ago. No nurse, shared nasty dirty bathroom, no cup to get water to drink. Thank goodness for early discharge.

The contrast between the physical and emotional support you get at a homebirth vs. the "care" you get at an understaffed dirty hospital is stunning. It just seems so foolish to discourage low-risk women from having homebirths when this would free up staff and resources at hospitals to give quality care for the women who need to give birth in hospitals.

As with most of the print media in england and perhaps the rest of the world stories of perfectly happy well organised births are unlikely to be printed due to lack of newsworthiness (probably not in any dictionary!). My contact with the NHS in general and more specifically at the birth of my daughter showed the staff and facilities to very good. In Yorkshire at least, the mother makes all choices and friends who have decided to have home births have encountered no hostility to the idea. Also fathers are encouraged to be there all the way. It would perhaps be better to take newspaper stories like this with a pinch of salt.

I agree completely with the previous comment from Duncan. Don't believe everything you read -- particularly in the British press!

My wife (an American) gave birth to our first child last July here in London at one of the very hospitals mentioned in the Observer article (Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital). It's an excellent facility (you can take a 360 degree tour of one of the delivery rooms at and we were very impressed with the treatment we received from the NHS staff.

The care and attention provided throughout my wife's pregnancy was first rate, particularly from the three midwives who assisted us through a 39 hour labour! Our assigned midwife even visited us on several occasions at home long before the birth.

So, the Observer's description of British maternity care is definitely one-sided.

I had my first son (second child) at a hospital in Hove, actually it was a hospice, whatever that means. It was a pleasant experience, no complaints whatsoever. The nurses were spectacular and the doctor was caring and steller. My other four were born here in Canada, and I really didn't notice a difference, except that Coronation street is, like, a YEAR ahead of us in England.

Kevin, I had almost the same experience as you (though I'm the American and my wife is British). We were scheduled to give birth at Chelsea hospital, but the night we needed to go in, all their beds were full. We were transferred to St. Georges (across from the Houses of Parliament) where we received excellent care - also from three midwives and also through a 36 hr labour. Even though the complications led to an emergency caesarian, we felt it could be a lot worse. I've since seen another (post) birth in the UK (to my sister-in-law in Yorkshire) and felt the same. It's not all bad at the NHS.

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