My husband and I are from Connecticut but have been living in London for the past 7 years.
In the UK, prenatal care and labor are midwife lead meaning you only see an OB if you have complications. You are assigned a midwife team and will see one of them for your prenatal appointments. All of your maternity medical notes are written in a “maternity notebook” that you bring with you to each appointment and to your birth. It was a bit unusual to me that they were not making electronic records of all this information.
I had a great pregnancy, with no morning sickness, and generally just felt great. My pregnancy was going along smoothly but at my 34 week appointment the midwife suspected the baby was breech. This news caught me completely off guard. I had been hoping to have a natural unmedicated delivery in the Birth Centre at the hospital and always thought my worry would be if I could manage the unknown pain of labor. I had never thought that I might not even have the option of natural delivery and might need a scheduled c-section. After an ultrasound confirmed he was breech, I was referred to a midwife that specialized in breech babies. She gave me a few home remedies to try for the next week to see if I could get the baby to turn on his own including going to the chiropractor, sitting upside down on the sofa and even burning a Chinese herb called Moxa on my little toe twice a day. Unfortunately, I had no luck with those methods and at 36 weeks the midwife performed an ECV (External Cephalic Version) to try to turn the baby before he became too engaged in my pelvis. Basically what this means is she would attempt to turn him head down in my womb from the outside. It is performed in a Labor & Delivery room in case of any complications. It took 3 attempts for the midwife to get the baby’s bottom far enough out of my pelvis to start to turn him. She used an unbelievable amount of strength to push him up and around. All the while I’m trying to stay relaxed as tensing up makes it harder to turn. It was uncomfortable and a bit painful but as soon as she stopped I felt fine.
Thankfully the ECV was successful and my pregnancy went on as normal. If the baby flipped back into a breech position they would consider doing another ECV, if he continued to stay head down I could plan on a vaginal delivery.
My due date was January 7th but a week later I still had no signs of labor. At 9 days past my due date the midwife performed a membrane sweep. She said his head was very low and labor would probably start soon.
Another difference to the US is the midwife never performs a vaginal exam during your prenatal appointments and never checks for dilation. I believe this is to protect the area from infection and unnecessary disruption. The sweep was the first vaginal exam I had during pregnancy.
At 4 am the following morning I woke up to period type cramps. They weren’t very painful, more making me uncomfortable so I couldn’t stay asleep and kept tossing and turning. My husband had gone to sleep on the couch and came in at 9 am to see how I was.
The contractions still weren’t too bad and I really thought since they were on the mild side they would slow down. Friends had told me contraction frequency would come and go for up to a day. I assumed I had hours maybe days left of labor. I was in such denial that I wasn’t even properly timing the contractions. Meanwhile my husband was a bit more aware of how fast this could go and was texting with a friend who is a Labor & Delivery nurse. She said he should start getting me ready to go to the hospital. And most importantly, if I felt like I needed to push do not let me on the toilet and we should already be at the hospital.
Around noon the contractions started getting stronger. I really didn’t want to get out of bed but my husband insisted I needed to start getting ready to leave so I begrudgingly got into the shower and brushed my teeth. When I got out of the shower I felt like I needed to push.
We left our house in an Uber at 1:34 pm and were dropped off at the hospital at 2:04 pm.
I had a contraction as we walked into the Birth Centre and they immediately took us into a birthing room. Along with no pain medication in the Birth Centre, there are no delivery beds. You can deliver in a birthing pool, on a ball, standing, seating, etc. I went over to a mat on the floor and the midwife helped me take off my pants and shoes to check if I I was fully dilated. She checked the baby’s heart rate with a hand held fetal monitor and told me at my next contraction I could push. My husband, on the other side of the room with the bags, ran over realizing he might miss the delivery if he didn’t hurry. Kneeling on the mat, holding a bar on the wall, out came his head with the first push. On the second push his body was out and all of a sudden I was holding my baby. There was a look of absolute shock on my face – it all happened so fast I wasn’t prepared to meet him so quickly. Our son Alessio was born at 2:20 pm, less than 20 minutes after arriving at the hospital. My husband jokes that I almost ruined his Uber rating.
We could have gone home that evening but we stayed in the hospital for one night. One of the best things about the medical care here is that the midwives come to check up on you and the baby in your home in the days and weeks after birth. They make sure the baby is gaining weight, breastfeeding is going well, you are feeling well, etc. I do not know what it is like to have a baby in the US but I feel so lucky to have had such a great experience here in the UK.