Expat Perspective on Giving Birth in Ireland

You’re nearly there and your doctor has informed you to be prepared for the hospital. What does that mean? I hope to tell you about my experience so you learn more. I’ll go over five main topics:

Birth Plan
Hospital Bag
Other Stuff

Birth Plan
Write up your birth plan. This is what you definitely want and definitely don’t want. Like a wish list. Keep in mind, the baby is really in charge so you may write down that you want one thing then your child will change the plan entirely. It is your very first lesson on flexibility as a parent. My birth plan was as follows:

  • Have a private room (I am a very light sleeper)
  • Use the birthing ball and walking to progress labor naturally
  • Epidural, as an option
  • Skin-on-skin for one hour after birth (this is actually standard at CUMH)
  • Welcome my child in whatever way assured healthiest delivery for him

Yes, I sound so chill, don’t I? Well, I wasn’t in the beginning then we were told LB would be low birth weight and I had low amniotic fluid and my weight gain was low and there was a tumor growing in my liver. With all that swirling around in my mind, I just wanted whatever was necessary to have LB. But I’ll get into that in a moment. The skin-on-skin was included in my birth plan, but it would have happened anyway since it is standard operating practice at Cork University Maternity Hospital. Oh, and I ended up being pretty chill during labor and delivery too. I watched some TV on my iPhone, Tweeted with friends about apple crumble I had made earlier that day and about TweetMeetTues, and in delivery I totally forgot to yell or curse at my husband or even scream. Oops! Of course, I also had so much fun at my wedding visiting with everyone and eating that we forgot to dance, so I guess I’m just forgetful.

I’ll admit I did not want an epidural. Not for any noble “no drug” delivery intention, but because as a child I had multiple spinal taps and it was very traumatic. I was concerned that in a high stress situation of childbirth, having a needle stuck in my spine would bring back that trauma and make it even more difficult. But I was told by a few friends that to say you want an epidural is better because when you are dilated to the point when you’d receive one, you are offered the epidural. However, if you say you do not want one, they may not offer it to you when the timing is right for it. It is nice to have it as an option. When I got mine it was between contractions so I was so focused on the labor pain and staying still and my breathing that the needle was just one of a symphony of focuses and not the same trauma as my childhood experiences. Why did I choose an epidural? This is a very personal choice and each person has their own approach to pain management, but, for me, it was the choice I made. I won’t say it was the right or only choice because I think I could have done fine without it, but knowing LB was low birth weight and the low amniotic fluid, when I had the option to receive the epidural I was told I would give birth quickly since once my water broke there would be little left in there for LB and he’d need to get out. When all was said and done, my labor lasted one hour and 36 minutes between water breaking and his birth. But it felt like half that time. Knowing the intensity of labor and contractions, I felt I could better devote all my energy toward helping my little guy into the world if I wasn’t distracted by the pain. I had experienced intense contractions for about three or four hours prior to that and pressure before that so I knew what I was in for and felt informed to make the choice. But I have family members and friends who have gone for drug-free deliveries with great success too. The other main pain management offering is breathing gas. This doesn’t block pain so much as take the edge off of it. I was concerned with my asthma it wouldn’t be possible, but it worked well and more than anything breathing the gas helped me self-regulate my own breathing properly.

From a patient’s perspective, CUMH has an interesting and modern partnership between midwives and doctors. This isn’t the midwifery of days past in country homes with the father pacing in the hallway, but one of today and very current with medicine as well as traditional approaches. For instance, all healthy infants of the necessary weight (2.5kg or more) room in with the mother. This means, baby is sleeping in a bassinet right next to mother’s bed. From the moment baby is born, mama is on the job. I was only separated from my son once in the hospital and that was when they checked his blood sugar in NICU. He was a low birth weight (but full term) baby without any fat reserves. So, it is entirely possible that with a full term chubby little baby, you will never be apart until you take your first girls’ night out or go back to work

Midwives are amazing coaches and really know about the pregnancy and childbirth process. I was delighted to have this presence since my mom couldn’t be with me. My non-midwife mother was in the delivery room for three of the four births for a friend’s children and a labor coach for another friend as well. She has a very encouraging manner and is great in a crisis. Plus, she had me so she’s been through it! But, by the time I gave birth, her health wasn’t stable enough for travel, so I was grateful to have a super husband who rocked the role of labor coach along with my amazing delivery midwife, Ann.

Hospital Bag

Don’t bring your breast pump or bottles from home, they can’t use them. Keep it simple. And one thing I highly recommend is the disposable underwear at Tesco. It is useful for the hospital stay as well as the weeks after giving birth when your body is adapting to a vacant womb (for lack of a better term). Don’t forget baby clothing when you go to the hospital. They call the feety PJ things BabyGros here. And a vest is a short-sleeve onesie.

Other Stuff

In the week or so before I gave birth, the low amniotic fluid and low birth weight issues were cause for concern so I was brought in to have the baby’s heart beat checked every other day and had to monitor his kicks. I looked at various iPhone apps for keeping track of kicks but ultimately used Twitter. I created a private account for my baby and when he kicked, I’d tweet “kick” and if he was having a little kickfest, I tweeted “dancing” or something like that. It worked for me because it was just typing a word and not having to learn the ways of a new app, so no extra brain power needed. The cautionary checks were done nicely and very respectfully of my time, but it took longer than my regular appointments. I later learned that in the States, the threshold for a C-section or inducing labor is different in these situations so had I been in American my son would likely have been born a week earlier and with less patience for nature to take its course (e.g. C-section). Instead, they monitored him closely and after a week chose to admit me to induce labor. They delayed as long as possible to leave time for him to gain weight and get above the magical 2.5kg threshold, but then decided it was time to welcome him into the world when his growth slowed considerably. I was admitted into CUMH and put in room with other women who were on the verge of delivery. They swept the membranes (OMG, as I write that my brain is screaming TMI) then said the next morning they would induce but before they could begin the Pitocin drip as planned, contractions started. The whole thing lasted about seven hours from contractions to welcoming our son. I am so grateful I had the chance to let him be born on his terms.

Don’t forget to take a family photo in the delivery room or soon after, even if you think you look a mess. I thought I looked horrible so I said no to a photo and I’m kicking myself now.

After you give birth, they bring in a tray with tea and toast with butter and orange marmalade. It will be the best tea and toast you have ever and will ever eat. Enjoy it. You earned it.

You will go home within three days (mostly sooner), but before you do they will give you a new mother group educational session on birth control, a vaccine for baby, a paediatrician check privately in your room, and you must go register your baby and file the name you have chosen. You have something six weeks for the name registration, but we had ours ready so easier to do it when we’re right there in the same building.

After you go home, there will be more to do. But that will be in tomorrow’s blog post.


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