Six months after giving birth to a healthy baby, it is very easy for the memory of the whole experience of pregnancy and birth to start to fade, despite it being an extremely frightening and overwhelming experience. This is because, although it's a cliché to say it, the result is a baby that you could not imagine your life without.
My experience of pre-natal care was slightly outside of the norm because when I became pregnant I had already been diagnosed with an overactive thyroid. On first visiting the midwife at the GP's surgery I was told that from then on I would be seen at the hospital for my pre-natal care because my pregnancy was technically classified as 'high risk'. I wasn't alarmed by this, if anything I felt happy and reassured that that the baby and I would be more closely monitored.
The midwife told me that she would be referring me to the 'bond team' at The Royal Sussex Hospital, which is a team of midwives experienced in dealing with expectant mothers with existing medical conditions. It enables continuity in care, so when you go to hospital in labour you see the same midwife who has cared for you pre-natally. I was really impressed by this and came away from the surgery satisfied and with high expectations.
A couple of weeks or so later I hadn't heard anything from the bond team so I gave the hospital a ring to find out when my first appointment would be. The hospital switchboard had never heard of them. The switchboard put me through to the maternity ward – they had never heard of them either. Perhaps I should have seen this as an omen.
Eventually a nurse was found who had heard of the team and I got to speak to a bond midwife. The bond midwife had not heard of me (my referral had not turned up), but she was very nice and invited me in the following week for an appointment.
During my pregnancy I was seen every few weeks at the hospital by a bond team midwife and every couple of months by a consultant obstetrician. Everyone I saw at the hospital was friendly and professional, but as 'D-day' approached, I became more and more anxious about giving birth at the Royal Sussex. I tried to tell myself that I was overeacting because of my nervousness, but there seemed to be more and reasons to feel that way. For example: I asked for a tour of the delivery suite and was told that none were available; I was told not to be alarmed if, when I am in labour, I call up and find the delivery suite is closed; and every time I went to the hospital I saw a different midwife because of high rates of sickness and resignations (so much for continuity of care).
Moreover, stories of nightmare birth scenarios at the Royal Sussex kept appearing in the local papers. I was given a pager number for the bond midwives and, when I used it after having some bleeding during month six, there wasn't any reply. To top it all off, I was told that they were only called the bond team because their extension number was 007.
There were no National Health Service ante-natal classes available in my area but, luckily, my husband and I were in a financial position to be able to afford the National Childbirth Trust ante-natal classes. We both found these extremely useful and eye-opening. In particular, I was interested to discover that I had the choice as to where I could have our baby. I hadn't been informed of this before and considered the options available.
I discussed home birth with a bond team midwife and was told that I could plan for a home birth but that if the hospital was short-staffed I would have to come in anyway. We then considered other hospitals. The only other hospital close enough to get to in a hurry from home is Worthing Hospital. We heard good things about it and when I phoned them and was offered a tour, I immediately saw this as a good sign. We eventually chose Worthing Hospital because it was clean, friendly, and small.
I started labour on a Thursday and finally had our daughter by emergency caesarean section on the evening of the Saturday. Despite the whole experience being the strangest combination of the worst and best time of my life all rolled into one, I could not have asked for better care by the hospital staff and my expectations were exceeded. The staff acted professionally and quickly when it was realised a caesarean was needed – within an hour of a consultant deciding it was necessary, our daughter was born.
The same Midwife stayed with me throughout and even came to check on me first thing in the morning before she went home. My daughter and I were checked at least every hour during the night and if ever I pressed the buzzer, someone was with me in seconds. As I was unable to sit up or move my legs, I needed a lot of help with the baby during that first night and I never felt like anything was too much trouble.
The first few weeks after returning from hospital with our daughter are a bit of a blur. I couldn't say exactly how many times and when we were visited by a Health Visitor, but I do remember feeling that the number of visits were ample and that there were plenty of opportunities to ask questions. On the negative side, I had an infection after my operation and my Health Visitors failed to spot this. I trusted their judgment and thought the amount of pain I was in was normal so it was weeks before I went to the GP and found out that it wasn't. However, they have been extremely helpful and kind whenever I have had a question – however silly and trivial it must seem to them. There is also a weekly 'weighing clinic' locally where you can drop in any week and have the baby weighed and have a chat with Health Visitors.
Looking back, albeit with rose-tinted glasses, I would still have to say that my experience of pregnancy, birth and beyond has been wonderful. However, I was not prepared to sit back and let this once in a lifetime experience become a negative one. I asked a lot of questions and read a lot along the way and was fortunate to find out that I did have choices. I don't think you should have to be so proactive to get the most out of the NHS and dread to think how things may have been different if I had been a passive patient.