Technically speaking, Northern Ireland isn't a different country (depending on your politics) but there's a significant body of ocean between me and my children's place of birth, and the whole process of antenatal care seems to be handled very differently where we now live, compared to my experiences in London.
So when I turned up at the hospital for my 12-week scan and the receptionist took one look at me, glanced at my notes, and deemed me "midwife led" in an accusatory tone, I didn't really have a clue what she was on about. It seemed like a label I was being lumbered with for no apparent reason, so I smiled meekly and went along with it.
A few minutes later I was peeing in a cardboard bowl and passing it through a little hatch to a seemingly-disembodied voice, as you do.
Is there any other stage of life wherein you routinely pee on demand in awkward places and willingly hand over your bodily fluids to perfect strangers?
Then a few minutes later another midwife appeared in the corridor holding aloft two cardboard bowls of pee and demanding to know: 'Which one of you is midwife-led'?
"Me... apparently, um, I think," I stuttered apologetically, before being ushered in to another room to wait for the sonographer.
I was halfway through trying to explain this confusing 'midwife-led' malarkey to my husband when the sonographer appeared. She took one look at me and muttered pityingly: "Ah. Midwife-led."
Then just as I was summoning the courage to ask what the heck that meant she leant towards me, adjusted her glasses so that they were resting on the bridge of her nose and said very slowly "DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH?"
"Yes," I said, by now utterly bemused and beginning to wonder if we'd taken a wrong turn on the way to hospital and ended up in the Twilight Zone by mistake.
"Oh," she replied, narrowing her eyes and sizing up my husband. "Is it him that doesn't speak English?"
I felt the need to point out that (a) he can speak for himself and (b) he's Scottish, so you could argue that English isn't technically his native tongue but in spite of this I find he makes himself understood.
By this point in the proceedings I was feeling like a fish out of water and longing for the comfort and security of the birthing centre where both my boys were born. The one with the Starbucks nearby and the little Marks & Spencer food hall just a few doors down.
What I wouldn't have given for the soothing familiarity of having my antenatal appointments with the very same team of midwives who took care of me during my previous two pregnancies. So I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like to give birth in a country far from home or in a place where you really don't speak the language.
Anyway, eventually we established that 'midwife-led' simply means that I am under the care of my local midwife instead of a consultant. That's for a number of reasons, the most significant being that I live 30 minutes' drive away from the hospital so it's just less hassle to have all my antenatal care at my local clinic around the corner from where I live.
And as for the assumption that we didn't speak English, that's all thanks to my surname which, granted, isn't all that common in Ireland. (Or anywhere in fact, outside of Hogwarts.)
But pregnancy is a vulnerable time, and I already felt pretty out of kilter with the whole process before the scan, what with being over the hill and soon to be outnumbered. So when I finally hopped up on the bed I was quietly grateful for a moment of peaceful reflection. And there, curled up in a corner of the screen was the unmistakable outline of our baby.
He or she was a tad camera-shy and clearly just wanted to be left alone to snooze in peace, but we got to hear the baby's heartbeat and we took home a 'photo' for our sons of their tiny sibling.
And in those few moments it occurred to me that it doesn't really matter what kind of care I receive or how 'at home' I feel in a system that's nothing like the one I'm familiar with.
All that really matters is this: there's definitely a baby in there. (Just the one - that's the first thing I asked the sonographer to confirm.) And regardless of whether we're ready or not, all our lives are about to change...
More on Parentdish: Check out Dad's Pregnancy Diary
More:Pregnancy Week By Week
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