When second-time mum Michaela Packer upped sticks for a temporary move to Australia at six months' pregnant, she wasn't sure what to expect. Here she tells us about two very different births in two very different places.
Where did you have your first baby?
My first son was born in Reading, near to where we were living, in May 2006.
How was that birth experience?
Up until the birth itself, my experience of midwife care had been extremely good, but my memory of the hospital birth is a little less upbeat!
When did your labour begin, and what did you do?
Two days before my due date, my waters broke at 3am. I was really excited and expected something to happen – but nothing did! I phoned the hospital and they told me to come in. They checked me over and decided I was ok to go home as I wasn't having contractions and everything seemed fine.
How long did you stay at home for?
The contractions started soon after arriving home, I managed 24 hours of labour with just a TENS machine. Then I went back to hospital as I was finding the pain too much.
What happened next?
I got sent home again! They said I was only 1cm dilated, which came as a shock!
When were you finally admitted?
After a few more hours at home, I went back to hospital and was admitted. However, they were really busy that day and we had to queue in the labour assessment unit. That was very upsetting. But eventually I was moved into a labour room. By this point, 28 hours had passed since my waters broke, and I had also started to bleed heavily.
I was unable to tolerate any further pain and was becoming a little distressed. So I was offered an epidural, which arrived straightaway. I have absolutely nothing but positive things to say about the epidural – it arrived quickly, an anaesthetist was available immediately and the pain relief was amazing. So amazing in fact that once I was pain-free, I introduced myself properly to the midwife as up until that point I was so tired and in so much pain I'd stopped being myself!
How quickly did your baby arrive after the epidural?
The epidural slowed everything down, and by midnight I was told my baby would have to be delivered by c-section if he didn't make an appearance within the hour. Fortunately, he arrived at exactly 1am. I pushed him into the world to music – Norah Jones!
What was it like to see him?
I felt nothing but pure love and amazement. The love just exploded out of me. All the pain, effort and distress of the past 46 hours was just forgotten. I didn't cry...I just looked at him in total amazement and absolute awe...although I promised myself I'd never do it again!
But you did! How did your second birth in Australia differ?
Maternity care is obstetrician-led, while midwife-led care is still an emerging concept unlike the UK. I was lucky enough to find a midwife-led unit, which meant that everyone was keen and eager to work in this new style, and this reflected in the care they gave. However, there are no choices such as water birth or home birth in Australia, so it was always the plan that I'd have to go into hospital. The choices are still limited out there.
My waters broke, two days after my due date. I phoned the unit and they told me to come in straightaway. Although I wasn't having any contractions and everything was fine, they offered to admit me anyway, rather than go home. So I chose to stay and was given my own room complete with reclining chairs, bean bags, and a bathroom with a huge bath and shower. I stayed in this room until I was discharged, which was lovely.
What pain relief were you offered?
Once my labour began, I declined gas and air and pethidine as neither had worked for me the first time round. By the time I reached 6cms, I asked for an epidural. I was given this but had to wait a little while, unlike my NHS experience which was better from that perspective.
When did you finally give birth?
The epidural slowed everything down, and seven hours after receiving the epidural I finally began to push. Jamie was born one hour later at 1pm – again to Norah Jones!
And how was it to see your Australian son?
Exactly the same feelings swept over me as with my British son! Again, pure love exploded out of me, followed by amazement and awe. But this time I also couldn't wait for my older son to see his new brother, and he arrived about 90 minutes after Jamie's birth. It was wonderful to see the two of them together. It was a very special moment.
How quickly were you discharged?
I stayed in for two days, which is standard. Additionally, Jamie was placed in the nursery if I was tired or needed a rest, and was brought to me if he needed feeding. The support was incredible.
In your experience, what was better - UK or Australia?
There are positive and negatives to both. In my experience, antenatal midwife care in the UK is fantastic, but in Australia there is more support post-labour. However, your birth options are limited, whereas the UK offers women a great deal of choice. But at the end of the day, giving birth is what it is, no matter where you are.